Service-Learning Journey

In high school I participated in a Spring Break service trip to South Africa that showed me the ability of education to empower students. Working with children taught me to revalue my education as much as they valued theirs. School was their safe place from the violence, poverty, and uncertainty of their homes. Even in the youngest classrooms, school served as their gateway to personal satisfaction. From this experience, I developed the conviction that school should be a low-risk, high-reward laboratory of life that allows for personal, intellectual, and social development.

Since this trip, I have committed myself to improving the quality of education in my local and global community through my college initiatives. I have served as an academic tutor, volunteered with Teach for America’s spring break service trip, developed educational programs for the sorority community, and organized multicultural education presentations for CampFire USA’s summer camp for children. My research experience with education includes working in Anne Charity Hudley’s project focused on language variation in fall 2009, as well as courses in education policy, community studies, international development, and sociology.

My experience in government classes over the past two years has taught me how institutions, such as education, shape politics. With each class I take for my major, I gain a new perspective of how power over these institutions ultimately shapes society. My government classes also provide greater meaning to the education system and its role in political socialization and fostering greater multicultural understanding. With every assignment I become gain multicultural literacy.

With the greater goal of multicultural literacy in mind, I pursued community engagement research in conjunction with my service trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina that allowed me to explore nonviolent communication techniques and how they can be applied to the classroom. Nonviolent communication is a process of communicating that enables multicultural literacy and intercultural understanding.

Many of my initial paths in service-learning have allowed me the opportunity to give back to other students in the William & Mary community. I currently serve as a mentor through the Sharpe Fellows program and serving as a Teaching Assistant for Paula Pickering’s Bosnia Project course. As a senior, being able to reflect on my own experience and put myself in the shoes of freshmen supports my continued growth as an active citizen as I am able to truly see how far I have come on my journey.

In the future I plan to pursue a Masters in Education and eventually use my degree to create education policy and programming that will focus both on processes of learning and not simply results. In opposition to our current education culture of “teaching to the test,” I seek to contribute a system of public education that develops a knowledgeable citizen of the world.


Developing Millennial Leadership for the Future, Today

(This week I attended my first “virtual conference” on Millennial Impact MCON2012. I won a free registration via Twitter from the Case Foundation! Thanks Case Foundation! Below is a reaction to one of the breakout sessions I wrote for the folks at Millennial Chat)

By 2020, 46% of all U.S. workers will be millennials. By that time, we can also expect an exodus of the bubble of baby boomers from the workforce, rapidly leaving leadership gaps in organizations across a variety of sectors. The face, skills, and expectations of the average American worker will be dramatically different.

What does the next generation of leadership look like for organizations? How can the leadership development pipeline begin to strengthen its paths today? These were the questions asked by the “Creating Millennial Leadership Programs” presenters Zeke Spier (Executive Director, Social Justice Fund) and Kris Putman-Walkerly (Founder and President, Putnam Community Investment Consulting Inc.) at MCON2012.

Today, millennials are already providing an insight into their organizational and leadership values. These are: authentic relationships, inclusivity and diversity, and openness to change. Zeke Spier explored these values through his organization in their fundraising efforts. They found that developing leaders within peer groups and within volunteers multiplied the impact – those leaders welcomed the challenge and responsibility and that leadership pathway gave volunteers steps to follow that tied their personal development to organizational development.

The big lesson this strategy revealed was that young millennials have expendable income to give, they want to be asked and will giving meaningful contributions when asked in an authentic manner by a mission-driven organization. Social Justice Fund did not set a minimum contribution in their fundraising campaign, but instead they found that donors, especially millennials, gave more than they would have expected if they had set a minimum contribution. By focusing on the values of authenticity, diversity, and openness to change, the organization tapped into the values of millennials.

Practically, where does the leadership pipeline begin for future millennial leaders outside of involvement in nonprofit campaigns? Kris Putnam-Walkerly pointed to a variety of internship programs that are equipping millennials with the experiences and skills to thrive in the workforce. These internships and entry-level opportunities are especially apparent in the nonprofit sector, which contrary to the private sector, actually grew by 2% during the recession. Ultimately, millennials are prioritizing meaningful work over higher pay, and they are finding these opportunities to contribute and grow in their careers through the nonprofit sector.

Two great examples of internship opportunities in the nonprofit sector include opportunities coordinated by the Cleveland Foundation and the Exxon Mobil Community Summer Jobs Program.

What types of internship or volunteer opportunities contributed to your leadership growth as a millennial? How is your school or community fostering opportunities for young people to develop their leadership skills in the workplace? What do you envision a millennial-led workforce will look like in the future? What will they value?

Political Economy of the Media

On my to do list for summer – see the documentary “Miss Representation”. Here is the extended trailer. I encourage you to watch:

The media is sending a dangerous message to society: girls’ value lies in their youth, beauty and sexuality. Media’s misrepresentations of women are a contributing factor in the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence.

If people knew that Cuba, China, Iraq, and Afghanistan had more women in government that the U.S. – that would get some people upset.

While opportunities for women of my generation are greater than ever before, these messages are the greatest challenge for young girls and women to feel confident in their skills and ability when they are constantly undermined for how they appear physically. Attending a girl’s school for high school and joining a sorority in college allowed me to explore my leadership potential in a female-centered environment and address the particular challenges women face. Through these experiences, I developed into the leader I am today, better equipped to serve in co-ed leadership positions across my campus in the Student Assembly and in the community. Not every girl will have these opportunities to explore women’s leadership, so it is important to empower girls AND boys to critically interpret the messages the media and eradicate gendered stereotypes.

The media makes it seems like this is what the public wants. No. They’re giving us what the media companies want and what the advertisers what and packaging it in a way to make it seem like its our fault and its not.

Worst of all, are we truly aware of the effects media has on us? The average person spends about 10 hours and 45 minutes on some form of media per DAY! As a social media intern, my job is to use media. We are constant consumers. Yet we also shape it. I am proud to be in the role I am in to take in media with a critical eye and adapt it for the needs of my company and our clients in a positive way.

While I perceive media as the biggest obstacle, it can also be the force for change. Media can maintain the status quo or it can awaken people. As Katie Couric states, “It can maintain the status quo and reflect the views of the society or it can, hopefully, awaken people and change minds. I think it depends on who’s piloting the plane.”

And a lighter take on the false expectations media gives us, submitted by my friend Ling:

You will never be one of these people

What, you can’t pull off a rugby shirt / bikini bottoms / waders outfit? Might as well turn the page — because you’re old and stupid, and you’re not invited on this preppy rafting trip.

The New Global Classroom

This posted was featured in Youth Service America‘s Back to School blogger series. As students head back to school, YSA is highlighting education and service in our Back to School Education Read blog posts from students, educators, and service-learning experts about their experiences with education and service.

Many students choose to study abroad during their four years of college, but I chose a different route to enhancing my classroom learning with an international experience. I spent summer 2010 on a student-run international service trip called the Bosnia Project (BP). Living with a host family, we spent our weeks teaching English to Bosnian elementary students. The BP team received a tremendous amount of support from different offices within our university at the College of William & Mary to support this trip. The Office of Community Engagement and the Reves Center for International Studies supplied grants totaling over $12,000 to help cover the cost of flights, living, and partnership fees with local NGO’s.

I was attracted to the Bosnia Project over other service trips because of its sustainability. The length of the service experience – one month – was more than other service trips on campus. This truly allowed us to engage more with the local community. BP connected to my academic interests such as my government courses in International politics and team members also enrolled in a service-learning course prior to the trip to learn about Bosnian culture, history, and education. BP alumni are actively involved in various aspects of the trip from recruitment to development. In its ten year history, two BP alums have received Fulbright Scholarships to Bosnia; many go onto work in international organizations and government, and several have founded their own nonprofits focusing on cross-cultural communication. The Global Playground is just one example.

My relationship with my Bosnian co-teacher in the school grew over long afternoons of enjoying traditional Bosnian coffee in the local café. My continued relationship with my co-teacher and the NGO leader played an important role in a sustainable project that continues to build inter-cultural understanding between Americans and Bosnians. As a result of our team’s successful partnership, we sent twice as many BP volunteers to Sarajevo in 2011.

“Education is a vehicle for social change.”

This driving idea is what inspires me today to continue working in international education. It is my hope that as the BP continues to grow it will continue to build cross-cultural relationships and creative thinking skills among youth in recovering Bosnia and Herzegovina. Service trips abroad can inspire new ways of thinking – for both the participant and the local community. By experiencing this, I am better able to expand how I will apply my academics to my career and my service experiences.

What options for international service does your University offer? What good comes from sending short-term volunteers to a country, and what harm must be considered if that service is unsustainable?

Public and Private Sector Partnerships – Nexus of Innovation or Controversy?

I believe public and private partnerships will be the drivers for social change and policy innovation. 

Indeed, this dynamic relationship has already seen an impact on national and local levels, even globally.  The Rockefeller Foundation‘s recent Innovation Forum highlighted many of the ideas coming from the technology sectors that will not only drive business, jobs, and the economy here in the United States but also have a direct impact on helping the world’s poor. 

Social entrepreneurs may bring the passion and ideas, but some have posited that accountants will be the true saviors of the planet. If this is true, I certainly hope there is not direct correlation between accounting skills and social impact, seeing how my liberal arts education never demanded I meddle in the subject. While not every accountant will use their career for social change, and not ever changemaker need be an accountant, the concept of nonprofits and the public sector leveraging specific talents often found in the private sector is an idea that is vastly growing in the policy community. With Start Up Act. 2.0 going through Congress as well as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence trend for government departments to incorporate,  public/partner partnerships are here to stay and I believe this will make a profound impact on how we address public service in the years to come.

Instead of focusing on activism or government, communities can find power and effect change through their collective business decisions. 

But we must look at the potential challenges that come with this growing trend. 

This Washington Post article discussed the ‘Rhee effect’ – the problem of having dynamic personalities in public leadership that may attract investment from the private sector – but only as long as that personality is in that role. Depending on private cash for reform is a bad idea, the author argues, because the efforts needed for true education reform (and perhaps any social change) require consistent institutional effort rather than fleeting external support or “pet causes.”

As education historian Diane Ravitch wrote in her book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System”:

“There is something fundamentally antidemocratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy agenda to private foundations run by society’s wealthiest people. . . . These foundations, no matter how worthy and high-minded, are after all, not public agencies. They are not subject to public oversight or review, as a public agency would be. . . .The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one. If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them. They are bastions of unaccountable power.”

Have politics become so broken that we are using the private sector as a crutch for accomplishing what government originally was formed to do? How can public and private sector collaborate for innovation, and not compete? What articles have you found on this issue? Post below.