Serving to Learn: Personal and Cultural Shifts

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.

https://amizade.org/serving-to-learn-personal-and-cultural-shifts/

SRU 2018 Bolivia Group
Finishing our service at la Escuela Caramarca Otavi in Vinto, Bolivia, photo by Marshall Tuten

Header photo by Javier Collarte on Unsplash 📸

Learning to Serve: Service-Learning in Cochabamba, Bolivia

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.

Map of South American with a pinpoint on Cochabamba, BoliviaA zoomed-in map of South America focused on Bolivia

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.

Logo for the Slippery Rock University Office of Community-Engaged Learning
Connect; Tranform; Inspire.

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/Logo for Amizade Global Service-Learning

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!):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
A photo of Sammie Walker with her Spanish homestay family
Meeting my Spanish parents during Summer 2013

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!

Bonus! Slippery Rock University has posted an article about our trip here: SRU group to practice fair-trade learning during service trip to Bolivia

Header photo by Milos Hajder on Unsplash 📸

Higher Education Environments: Placemaking at Carnegie Mellon University

Introduction to Placemaking

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

CMU Mission and Vision
Carnegie Mellon 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.

Evidence #1

Evidence1
Construction of the David A. Tepper Quadrangle or Tepper Quad

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.

Evidence #2

Evidence2
Morewood Gardens Makerspace A

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

Evidence3
Cohon University Center Fitness Facilities
Evidence4
Tartan Collaborative Commons located on the 3rd floor of the Cohon University Center

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.

Evidence #5

Evidence5
Carnegie Mellon ArtPark Lab

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.

Conclusion

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.

Bibliography

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 stacy.jacob@sru.edu or via Twitter @stacyajacob.

Header photo by Nathaniel Shuman on Unsplash 📸