Hello all! Amizade Global Service-Learning reached out to me after our recent Winter Break program experience in Bolivia (described in my introductory blog here) to write a post-program piece. Please take the time to read the below reflection of this life-changing global experience. I can’t thank Slippery Rock University enough for organizing and engaging us students to learn and grow in such powerful ways.
Hello all! If you’re hoping to call me or hang out in person soon, you may want to wait until after the 19th of this month. I will soon be traveling to Cochabamba, Bolivia to participate in a service-learning experience with students and staff at Slippery Rock. I’m very excited to go abroad once again (I studied abroad in Spain five years ago) and to support a long-term project in a Latin American community.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Who are you going with? And how long will the program be? I am going with staff members and student leaders within SRU’s Office for Community-Engaged Learning as well as other undergraduate students at Slippery Rock. Our team of 12 is getting ready for the upcoming altitude shift (over 7,000 feet!). The trip should be a little over two weeks and I’ll be staying with a Bolivian family via homestay.
Who put this on? This international alternative break is a joint partnership between SRU’s Office of Community-Engaged Learning (OCEL) and the Pittsburgh-based non-profit, Amizade Global Service-Learning. OCEL is the hub for student volunteerism and civic engagement on campus. Throughout the Fall and Spring semesters, OCEL leads long-term service projects within Butler county and the Pittsburgh area as well as short domestic Alternative Breaks during short breaks. One framework that they abide by for their projects is Place as Context; Service-Learning as Strategy; Civic Engagement as the Goal. Below is more detail about their alternative break programming:
The Office for Community-Engaged Learning develops alternative breaks for students to learn about partner communities through the lens of direct service. The knowledge gained through service and pre-departure education will serve as context as students confront the social issues of the partner communities, unpack personal responsibility regarding these issues, and create a plan to continuously address these issues to create positive social change.
Amizade, which means ‘friendship’ in Portuguese, is has been hosting service-learning experiences in multiple countries (including the United States) for 20 years. One important aspect of their work is their focus on Fair Trade Learning, based on the move toward fair trade labor in developing countries. Overall, they focus on how service should be reciprocal and beneficial to all parties participating; they don’t just focus on American students “feeling good” about their service but helping students reflect meaningfully on their global citizenship while providing members of the community served with their own professional development and adequate compensation. Learn more about their work in Bolivia here: https://amizade.org/site/bolivia/
What are you doing there? Part of our days will be service for a local primary or secondary school in Cochabamba, which will include construction. We will then return to our homestay families for the largest meal of the day, lunch, and family time. Every day our team will participate in whole group reflections focusing on our impact, our cultural transitions, and group dynamics. Some days we may travel to a nearby city or go salsa dancing at night, or go to church with our families. I’m
How did you prepare for this experience? There were some logistical pieces like getting my passport ready, getting a few vaccines, and filling out some forms but with a few months of prep time during the semester, it worked out well. One great part of the program was our monthly pre-departure programs touching on topics such as site specific, group dynamics and member roles, cultural humility, and community development through Fair Trade Learning.
Goals: I want to be as flexible as possible during this trip so I’m hesitant to make goals that are too specific, especially before I better understand that context of our service and stay. However, I do have some hopes that I’d like to share below that I will further reflect on when I get back (and through a new post!):
As one of the four members of our trip who know Spanish, I hope that through this experience I can be less shy speaking the language. I’m excited to be able to connect to my homestay family and learn more about their lives and help my teammates connect as well.
One of the main reasons I joined our team for this trip was because I wanted to learn more about service-learning and it’s function within higher education, first-hand. Last Spring, I interviewed our site leader, Jeffrey Rathlef, regarding his role as Director of Community-Engaged Learning about this functional area. Through this interview, I gained insight into theories such as Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why’, David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, and civic engagement associations such as Campus Compact. I hope through this trip that I can see these models in action and see where I can apply them once I’m back on Slippery Rock’s campus.
3. I will (not hope to!) commit myself to journaling and documenting my thoughts, feelings, unique experiences, and cultural observations during my two weeks abroad. I previously studied abroad in Spain for the summer after my first-year in undergrad and so appreciate the blogs that I wrote my my family and friends. I now realize that I also wrote them to myself, giving myself a glimpse of who I was then and reflections on how hard the transition was at first. I hope it’s a little easier for me now five years later.
4. After the program, program participants and member of the SRU administration will attend a re-entry dinner where we present about our unique experiences. I’m excited to have to opportunity to share what we’ve learned and leave something for future participants in programs like this. Though I’ll be graduating in May, I hope that I can further educate about Amizade’s mission and service-learning to my cohort mates.
Follow along my journey via my Twitter account. I’ll see if I can tweet out pictures and experiences after our long days! I will be keeping a journal of my travel experiences and I’ll be sure to post the highlights before the end of the month. I’ll see y’all again when school starts!
The environments in which we develop and learn are often more active factors in the way we develop and learn than we initially imagine. The university as a physical place of learning has a lot of merit yet is becoming more critiqued, especially as the growth of online learning inherently places pressures on the on-campus experience. Will we continue to need physical campuses when we can instead learn online? This question has been the spark of numerous debates, opinion pieces, and research proposals. What makes a physical university a place of learning?
Within the higher education environments literature, the concept of placemaking helps answer the above question. “Placemaking is about the creation, transformation, maintenance, and renovation of places we inhabit (Schneekloth & Shibley, 1995).” These places often include the “buildings, landscapes, and circulation systems…” that we act upon and are acted upon daily. The question that guides this piece is how does Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, use placemaking to establish itself as a place of learning that aligns with the values it puts forth? As we dive into this question, we must first examine the vision and mission of this institution of learning.
Carnegie Mellon University Vision and Mission Statements
The above vision and mission statements mainly focus on the following principles that CMU hopes that their education fosters in each student: transformation, research, creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Environmentally, they claim to “[create] a collaborative environment open to the free exchange of ideas” where the above principles can flourish. Lastly, and still speaking to their physical environment, they hope to “[engage] with partners outside the traditional border of the university campus.” This may look like cross-university partnerships, partnerships with organizations and events such as the Tony Awards®, and even more locally, engaging with City of Pittsburgh. Though this project, I will next examine five pieces of evidence I collected where I found CMU to uphold and ignore aspects of placemaking as it relates to their vision and mission statements.
For the past few years and in alignment with their 2025 Strategic Plan ‘Ecology of Infrastructure’ section, Carnegie Mellon has been investing their resources into creating new learning and living centers on campus. The Tepper Quad, expected to be open by May 2018, will host “a cutting edge technology-enhanced learning center, a new home for CMU’s Tepper School of Business, a new visitor center, and collaboration, meeting, dining, and fitness spaces for use by the entire university community.” As a former undergraduate student from 2012-2016, CMU was consistently in a building and rebuilding period, closing off parts of campus for a short time to re-open with enhanced spaces and up-to-date technology.
Investing in campus spaces does not only mean building new ones. An important aspect of placemaking is the renovation and maintenance of spaces that are currently utilized. The introduction of the Makerspaces in the Morewood Gardens residence hall not only transforms these study spaces but also ties into Carnegie Mellon’s goal to promote innovation and collaborative problem-solving not only in the classroom. These 24/7 accessible spaces include power drills and soldering equipment, dress forms for making and displaying clothing, and a laser cutter.
Evidence #3 and Evidence #4
The expansion of the Cohon University Center, completed in May 2016, included the incorporation of a new fitness facility on the first and second floors as well as a new study space, aptly named the Collaborative Commons, and a graduate student lounge on the third floor. By developing more spaces for both personal health and well-being and more study spaces, both requests by the larger student body, the university is not only saying that student voice matters in the creation and renovation of spaces, but also shows it.
When walking past the ArtPark during this project (and for the thousandth time since I enrolled at CMU), I tried to remember the last time that it was used for a performance art piece as intended. Since my attendance at the institution, I believe I saw one demonstration hosted in this space. As further evidenced by the lack of updates on the ArtPark page on the CMU website (as of September 2017), a critical view of the lack of maintenance of this space can be seen as a lack of university importance for what this space means – the importance of public art on/near campus property. However, as a university well-known for their School of Drama and overarching College of Fine Arts, it’s more than likely that the ArtPark has dropped down the list of priorities when it comes to promoting artistic expression. In fact, The Frame Gallery on Margaret Morrison street has been steadily increasing in the number of shows they’ve hosted and attendance at these shows. The importance of public art and artistic expression is not unimportant, yet this function “outside the traditional border of the university campus” is does not seem to be well-attended right on the border of the university.
Overall, Carnegie Mellon’s focus on innovation, student spaces for personal health and well-being, and spaces for research are highly supported by the creation of new buildings, renovations of the centralized Cohon University Center, and the focus on making these updates with the student voices and needs in mind. There may be more to be desired in landscapes such as the deserted ArtPark but I am hopeful through the 2025 Strategic Plan, specifically where the development of the ACTIVATE program seeks to “create spaces, structures, and resources for interdisciplinary research and teaching that lead to some form of social change and/or raise awareness on topics such as immigration, public health, sustainability… among others” is detailed, that these renovations will continue to uphold and honor the vision and mission of this institution. With this said, I do believe that this physical university is working to maintain their functionalities, is aligning with their values and goals, and are successful in embedding these values onto their students and alumni.
Strange, C.C. & Banning, J.H. (2015). Designing for Learning: Creating campus environments for student success (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
This post is based on an assignment for the Spring 2017 section of ‘Higher Education Environments, Cultures, Students’ taught by Dr. Stacy A. Jacob at Slippery Rock University. She can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @stacyajacob.
I’m writing today to share my experience working in a graduate assistantship (or GA) at Slippery Rock University’s Office for Inclusive Excellence (OIE). My goal is to reflect on what I’ve learned in the past year but to also shine light on the experiences of working in a multiculturalism-based GA. If you’re considering a GA in this functional area or would like to learn more, keep reading!
Prior to this GA, my experiences with underrepresented student populations included volunteering for two summers with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Youth Leadership Institute and during the last two years of my undergrad as a model and then executive board member for SPIRIT Fashion Show, a show formed out of the black student advocacy organization at Carnegie Mellon University. Not to mention that I identify as Mexican-American and grew up in South Texas!
When I applied to Slippery Rock’s program and searched through their webpage of available assistantships, this one was my top choice early on. After eight different interviews and three offers in my hand by Spring Break, I chose this graduate assistantship because I knew I had so much more to learn.
At Slippery Rock, the OIE develops programming year-round to address issues of social justice and inclusion on campus, oversees all multicultural student organizations, and hosts a high school to college transition program called the Jump Start. I mainly work with students in Jump Start, which serves first-year and transfer students who elect to move to campus a week early for an orientation on campus resources and who are matched with peer mentors who meet with them once a week to support their academic, social, and personal transition to our university. Here are the three main lessons I learned in my first year in my role:
The importance of having a space. I had not understood the importance of a safe space, a space where students from historically marginalized backgrounds can congregate and relax, until my assistantship at SRU. Not because I couldn’t imagine how a space like this could be beneficial, but because I never had been exposed to and active in one — and I honestly never needed to be. But seeing the Student Development Suite (where the OIE is housed) in such a prominent part of campus is so impactful. It makes a statement. It’s important that these spaces are accessible and noticed while still protected by professionals looking out for the cultural, social, and mental well-being of our students who need and desire the space.
How to make a good first impression. As a GA, I supervise 15 students individually on a bi-weekly basis, a pretty different supervision experience than I had before. My goal for our initial meeting was try to set myself up as someone who may not understand an experience or an identity first-hand, but could empathize and provide a supportive space. During the first one-on-one of the year, I asked each mentor, toward the end of the conversation, if there was anything that they thought I should know that would be helpful for our relationship. The responses ranged from uncertainty about counseling and mental illness to preferred method of contact and “I’m just a really chill person.” This one question opened many doors and truly helped me connect with students, allowing me to better remember their individual needs and preferences.
Getting deep and learning about the lived experience of students. In addition to my daily interaction, supervision, and advising, I had the opportunity to interview a few students to learn more about their personal and cultural backgrounds. Through my Environments course, I was encouraged to a create a semi-structured interview to better understand a specific student subculture’s perception of their learning on campus and create programming ideas. In this blog, I detailed what I learned from three African-American students at a predominately white institution. Ignoring the focus on the university environment, I learned a lot about each individual students’ background, how they felt they fit within overall campus culture and black campus culture, and again, the importance of the Student Development Suite as a space to be supported as themselves. I enjoyed this deep one-on-one experience, which brought me to developing a new philosophy: I work to learn without demanding an education from my students and I am dedicated to supporting them.
My Next and Final Year
This year I’m coming into my second year with more of an understanding of the various experiences and identities that interact within our campus community as well as the different goals our mentors and first-year students want to get out of the Jump Start program. I’ve built great mentoring relationships and friendships on campus that I’m excited to continue as August soon approaches. These relationships are the best part of my work and I’m excited to come in and meet this year’s incoming first-year class. Thank you for joining me and let me know what else I can share!
During my Slippery Rock University interview day in January 2016, I chatted with future cohort members about what experiences brought them into Student Affairs. After some informal polling, it seemed like residence life and orientation were the strongest pulls toward the field. These functional areas make sense as all campuses host Resident/Community Assistants and Orientation Peer Leaders, yet not all hire undergraduate career advisors. Though many career centers employ undergrads, not all host active, peer-driven career advising programs, programs like ones hosted at George Mason, Boston College, and my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon (CMU).
In my role as a Career Peer Mentor (CPM) at the CMU Career and Professional Development Center (CPDC), I always looked forward to the opportunity to work individually with a student on one of their career documents, usually a first year student with a mocked up resume made the day before. I learned that career, to someone on the outside, can seem like a passive transfer of a student through the meaning-making of academics to the soul-sucking real world. However, I know that thinking about oneself in a professional manner is a really personal, narrative-based experience that is difficult for a student to convince themselves to go through, adding to the need to demystify the career education. I have worked with students who have told me that “I’ve never done anything, I don’t have any skills,” which is heartbreaking to hear and even more heartbreaking to see that person with their head down, feeling defeated before they even start. To alleviate this negativity, I asked students to detail a volunteer/part-time experience, what they did, and what resulted. They detailed their role for a minute or so as I jotted down key words and impressive phrasing, adding a strong action verb to the start. “So, you said that you ‘Led a cabin of 20, 8-10 year old students and provided them an environment of physical and mental wellness?’” Their voice after my summary suggested confirmation of my interpretation but their face displayed amazement, amazement that they truly have made a difference and do have skills. I saw my role as a CPM as a translator, interpreting a student’s disappointment, role explanation, and job description into short action statements and actual action plans. After translating an experience of theirs, I asked them to do the same thing for the next experience listed, with my guided help: “Say out what you’ve done, pick apart the themes that come through, and whittle it down to a few bullet points.”
It’s obvious that Career Services/Education is misunderstood by students in general, as shown by this Inside Higher Ed article stating that “only 17 percent of those who graduated from 2010 to 2016 said they found their college career centers to be “very helpful,” with another 26 percent reporting that the career office was “helpful.” I agree with Andy Chan, Vice President for Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University, who in this article states that “one of the challenges is helping students understand that going to the career office is a multioccasion, multiyear experience, not just going ‘at least once.’ Sometimes students think they’ll go one time for 30 minutes and get everything they need, but it’s not that simple.” As CPMs, we address this issue by encouraging students to attend multiple CPM hall programs and teaching students how to request counseling appointments in the Career Center.
Within the CPM residence hall mentor roles, we spent a lot of time building relationships with Residence Life and working with RA liaisons, attending extra hall events, adjusting our schedule for theirs, and making sure to update Housefellows/Resident Directors on our progress mid-semester. Even with these adjustments, we sometimes encountered negative feedback regarding the presence of CPMs in first-year halls from ResLife staff. Once, a staff member told my supervisor that our presence in the halls may cause students stress, pressuring them to have an internship by the second semester. I have come to understand her statement as both a misunderstanding of our role and the purpose of the program as well as a denial of the pressures students inherently face when attending a prestigious and expensive school well-known for the stress students undertake. We have found that peers offering career advice and addressing the professional needs of students literally where they are allows them to feel more comfortable in the process. Additionally, though we have specific workshop topics, all mentors worked with students where they were at, and addressed the needs they had at the time, preparing them to think about these topics before they got to their senior year and didn’t know what to do.
I believe it is important to defend what you love and more importantly, let others know why you do. I hope that as I’ve described a couple of the myths related to Career Services and what I’ve gained from the excellent Career Staff at CMU, that others who may feel like it’s not something they’d like to do may give career a second chance. Every day I think to and use the skills that I gained as a CPM as a Student Affairs Graduate Student and within my graduate assistantship in Diversity and Inclusion. When I think to my future internship and job applications, I look with excitement and proactivity rather than fear. I’d even venture to say that my time at the Career Center, changed me very personally, as CliftonStrengths (formerly known as StrengthsQuest) has determined my top strength as ‘Futuristic.’ This position changed me as a person, secured my self-image as a leader, and continues to prepare me for the challenges I anticipate I’ll face as a professional. I thank the Career Center for what they taught me and hope to bring peer mentor programs to other career offices once I graduate.
Does your campus host a Career Peer Mentor-like program? If it does, what benefits and drawbacks have you seen? If not, how do you think a program like this could be implemented?