Community Engagement & Service
April 22, 2013 by Elizabeth Miller
My last post was from a speech I gave about service, but this time I’m doing one better. Below Emma Merrill ’13 speaks to the audience at Celebration of Service on the need to give one’s hands and heart to service. Emma’s commitment to social justice, active citizenship and community is an inspiration to many on this campus and in our office. Emma was also honored with the Alumni Humanitarian Award that evening.
April 11, 2013 by Bailey Thomson
Greetings from Johannesburg, South Africa, where fall has officially begun! While the College is getting warmer and the Sunken Garden is filling up with sun-soaked students, I am turning on my space heater and bundling up in my cottage. I often wish I could just move from place to place following summer on its annual journey across the globe.
Since I last posted, we opened a school! On January 14, Spark Ferndale Primary School opened its doors, and three months later, we are going strong! The school serves 161 students and their families and employs 9 incredible educators. Our students hail from across Johannesburg; they are eager to learn, absolutely hilarious, and so kind. Our teachers are hard working, mission driven, do-what-it-takes educators committed to their students. I continue to be grateful to serve on the eAdvance team, a visionary crew with a no-excuses attitude. The second school term (of four) began this week, and we are in the midst of celebrating our students’ academic and personal progress from last term. That’s a very short way of saying much has happened since I posted in October, and I have much to be proud of and thankful for.
During school term holidays, I had the opportunity to return to the United States for about ten days. I spent half the time in California, where I visited friends in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Oakland, and San Jose. I also got to see and teach my former students at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary School during two afternoons. Then, I flew to Richmond, Virginia for the last half of the trip. There, in addition to spending time with family, I had the privilege of speaking at TedxCollegeofWilliamandMary, an independently organized TED event at the College.
Let me give you a peak inside my brain for a moment: I got to return to the place I love the most (the College) to speak at a conference licensed by my favorite “ideas organization” (TED) about the cause I am most passionate about (education reform) alongside the people I most respect (William & Mary students, alumni and professors). I was absolutely thrilled—and also seriously nervous.
What I should have anticipated was that my talk was not even close to the highlight of my Tedx experience. My talk was the last in a 4 hours series of thought-provoking talks on innovation in storytelling, data-driven international aid, myth in religion, community engagement, gender equity and more. By the time my talk about education reform and habits of innovation came around, I felt like much of what I had to say had been expressed over the course of the afternoon by the other speakers. It’s a beautiful thing to feel like the essence of your ideas is also encompassed in the ideas of others. This community conscience – one that simultaneously values tradition and newness, and in all things, seeks to serve others – may be the William & Mary-est thing about William & Mary.
April 4, 2013 by Elizabeth Miller
William and Mary’s Circle K International is one of the many organizations on campus that exemplifies a commitment to community both on and off campus and serves as motivation for the work that I do in the Office of Community Engagement. I had the opportunity to speak at the CKI induction ceremony recently, and I thought I’d share with you some of what I said:
Good evening everyone, and thank you for providing me with this opportunity to speak with you. I’ll admit that at moments like this I struggle because convention says I should be here to impart wisdom or dispense inspiration, and in my nervousness about that I reverted to the TWAMPY tendency of research.
I poured over the CKI website and sent emails to some of your exec board. What I kept returning to were your three tenets of “Service, Leadership, and Fellowship.” This reminded me of one of my favorite calls to action, “Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.” It seems to me that that is what CKI is asking its members to do, and it’s a challenge, first articulated by Dr. King, that CKI constantly strives to achieve.
Having settled on dangerous unselfishness and service, leadership, fellowship, I started to think about the structure of this speech. I considered a five paragraph essay with snazzy introduction, a paragraph on each tenet, and then of course a motivating conclusion. But with Dr. King’s words in my head, I was reminded that those three tenets are not separate paragraphs, they are parts of a whole. CKI is asking its members to see that service, leadership, and fellowship are tied together into one’s identity as an active citizen who wants to make the world better.
CKI provides daily opportunities to take a stand and make the world better through dangerous unselfishness. Coming together to complete 2,400 hours of service last year; having members research and share issues in our community; hosting the Children and Hunger event which thoughtfully and effectively put a focus on an important community issue. Packing the meals, raising the funds, learning from organizations about hunger—that’s dangerous unselfishness because it’s combining the power of service, leadership and fellowship. That’s what you graduating members have done and new members are joining.
Your exec suggested I tell you about my most meaningful service story, but the story I want to tell is not mine, it’s yours. It’s what you’ll do after you walk out of this fancy old hall. If that’s as a new member, perhaps it will be signing up to work with people with disabilities at Dream Catchers, partnering with Charity Water to increase access to clean safe water in international communities, or perhaps being the kind open friend that allows someone else to share their mental health struggles with you. Maybe it’s seeing something on campus or in Williamsburg that’s not good enough, gathering CKI, and making it better.
And I haven’t forgotten about those of you who will leave this hall only to walk through this building in a few weeks to whatever is next. Yours will be the story of dangerous unselfishness unleashed. In your new realm, will you join Kiwanis, register to vote, call your United Way to find volunteer opportunities, organize your alumni chapter to host a food drive for a local food bank? Will you wear your CKI pin on the days when maybe a little reminder of the fellowship of this hall will give you the confidence you need to stand up?
Because for all of us there are still so many things to stand up for, still a need for that dangerous unselfishness that service, leadership, and fellowship unite to create. I want to congratulate you, members new and old, on being a part of two historic and powerful institutions, W&M and CKI. In fact I checked, CKI was founded in 1963, which is strikingly close if you scramble the numbers to 1693. So it’s fitting to host this event here in Wren’s Great Hall. Your time at William & Mary and your future as W&M alumni can be defined by a lot of things, but an important part of that definition is your membership in CKI and is your dedication to service, leadership, and fellowship.
Thank you for developing a kind of dangerous unselfishness. Thank you for recognizing that we need life-long responsible citizens and you can be them. Thank you for putting up with my non-five paragraph essay which lacked imparted wisdom and dispensed inspiration. So let me close with that:
The time is always right to do what’s right, so hark upon the gale!
March 19, 2013 by Admission Ambassador
I always knew I was a little quirky so I needed to find a school that would celebrate what made me different. When I walked around William & Mary for the first time, I was able to feel the quirkiness oozing out of every student and immediately I felt at home! Like most students, I was pretty afraid to start my freshman year at college because I had no way of knowing who I would meet, what organizations I would join, what classes I would take, and most importantly, how I would feel! During the summer prior to my freshman year I ended up applying for the Sharpe Community Scholars program, which is a living and learning service and research community for incoming freshmen. Looking back now at my freshman year, I cannot even begin to imagine how different my experience at William & Mary would have been if I had not joined the Sharpe program. It was truly one of the best decisions I ever made as a student here! My Sharpe experience has most definitely shaped how I plan on spending my remaining time at William & Mary.
The Sharpe program was obviously filled with students interested in civic engagement, but we were all so different. Some people were interested in combining service with medicine via public health, whereas others were interested in enlightening the college community about organic foods. But disregarding everyone’s commitment to community service, I found that everyone in the program was just as quirky and individualistic as I was. The people in the Sharpe program (or Sharpies as we liked to refer to ourselves) became some of my best friends and are still my closest friends here at William & Mary. I came to William & Mary with the hope of meeting some people who were diverse, interesting, interested, knowledgeable and, of course, quirky! That’s who I met in the Sharpe program. The people I met in the program were so very different from one another, but I loved getting to know each and every one of them. They’re why I truly love being a member of the Tribe!
March 14, 2013 by Admission Ambassador
2012 was a great year, so far 2013 is sure to be even better!
March 13, 2013 by Laura Aragon
Every spring, the Sigma Chi Fraternity hosts Derby Days, which is a week long philanthropy event that raises money for the Children’s Miracle Network. Throughout the week, William & Mary’s sororities compete in different events for the title of Derby Days champion. Because all of the sororities participate, it is one of the biggest philanthropies of the year, and it just happens to be going on this week!
Each event of Derby Days scores sororities based on their participation and creativity. Then at the end of the week, all of these scores are combined to determine the winner. The events raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network in a variety of ways, including selling Derby Days t-shirts, rewarding the sorority that raises the most money (which encourages sisters to donate), and of course, Penny Wars, where sororities are each given a jar and they compete to fill theirs with the most coins. The most popular event of the week is the Lip Sync, in which each sorority dresses up in fun costumes and performs a choreographed dance. The Lip Syncs are as much fun to watch as they are to participate in, and many people see this as the grand finale of Derby Days.
While Derby Days is a lot of fun, it also raises money and awareness for an important national philanthropy, and it brings the Greek community together. Students definitely look forward to it all year, because even if your sorority doesn’t get first place, it is always a good time for a good cause.
March 5, 2013 by David Aday
B-team arrived on schedule, and as predicted, silliness ensued. It is a measure of their engagement that the later arrivers could not wait for a full briefing on the A-team’s accomplishments. The promise of a full disclosure at the team meeting (around 11pm) was not sufficient to defer questions (bordering on inquisition). I savor this moment, which is filled with anticipation and boundless energy. Tomorrow will be given mostly to counting and sorting pills and the tedium of logistics.
Yardley Albarracin ’13 (and veteran of half-a-dozen trips or more) needed to confirm details for some of our remote clinic sites – and wanted the opportunity to get the newest team members into Cuje before the first clinic day. We learned more than in previous years about local “mountain-to-hollow” shouting conventions and team members saved more than a few torturous trail steps by executing (probably poorly) those conventions. For me, this was the first trip back to El Mojon (uno y dos) in more than five years. In the first years of the project, the field research teams attempted to map the micro-region without the assistance of 4-wheel drive – or vehicles of any sort. That meant walking from the clinic outpost in Las Menas to eight communities spread across 50 square miles on three mountain tops. It was good to remember some of the places in the Mojons and to see them while still being able to draw.
The first of the week’s clinics was in Mojon Dos in a recently constructed cinder-block “community building.” Team members had purchased plastic tables and borrowed plastic chairs from our hotel in Ocatol to furnish the single room open space. Dr. Roger Martinez, back with us for the seventh year and veteran of approximately 10 trips, arrived from Managua on Sunday and was at his post, as usual, in the clinic. Dr. John Showalter, internal medicine doc from Knoxville, TN, returned for the third year as a volunteer medical provider and was joined by Dr. Robbie Duerr, orthopedic resident from the University of Pittsburgh). With the support of the director of the residency program (Dr. Mark Sangimino), Dr. Duerr will provide medical consultations and do broad assessment of the prospects for a partnership with the University of Pittsburg residency program that could result in significant expansion of medical resources for the micro-region. For some years now, we have been aware of the muscular-skeletal issues that we see among residents. We have been frustrated by our inability to do more than provide very, very modest pain relief. There may be extraordinary prospects for the future.
March 4, 2013 by Drew Stelljes
Civic engagement is often described by individual or collective action, conducted with a systematic approach, designed to address issues of social concern. Grounded in democratic governance, it is a means by which balanced and measured decision-making for the public good determines the policies by which decisions are made or reform is enacted when it does not meet the common good. Are colleges meeting this great democratic aspiration with the proliferation of centers for civic engagement?
Civic engagement, shaped by activities and programs, are often couched in the college or university organizational hierarchy as a center. The Center exists in physical and cyber space serving as a connecting point for students and faculty that might be most inclined to become civically engaged. It provides the safe space for cultivation of ideas for those interested in experimenting with some form of engaged learning. In most cases the Center becomes another silo politicking for scarce funds, using the rhetoric of the institution’s founding purpose, to call upon funders, internal and external, to answer the call to action. Many times, a small and dedicated cadre of renegade professors, feeling themselves marginalized, get a morsel of funding to experiment with pedagogy. These centers are generally good and safe for the keepers of our organizations and governance. A new center, while a slight strain on existing resources, also brings with it the appeal of something true to core mission while not altering the existing structure of the University. The new Center can get in line with the others and make their pitch. It does not require the institution to change its operating system. This model is proliferated across colleges and universities and in most cases lauded for its outreach, clothed in the vocabulary of community partnership, mutual benefit and reciprocal learning.
Centers that provide programs and services are flourishing. They tell a good story of the student experience. Quantifiable are meals served, children tutored, houses built. It’s the cheap and easy way for colleges to “do civic engagement” and it looks good on the web and on paper. It resonates with service-oriented donors, prospective students and families. The problem is the academic core of the college, the space where students actually learn something about engagement, suffers. Decades worth of faculty, staff and students have advocated for a change in the system that shapes the academic culture of the entire organization, removing the now stale argument against service-learning or community based research, in favor of the more familiar publish or perish, teaching, research and committee work professional reward system. Civic engagement pushes against the dominant framework of singular expertise. Colleges hire experts, in very particular fields, and expect that the person become even more expert over decades, through a combination of research, writing and reflection. The persistent framework rewards the familiar – a new center that mirrors a successful one; a tenure review process that stays the course. A consistent messaging of what we’ve done and will continue rewarding
In this era of rapidly eroding financial support for public higher education and tuition increases that outpace inflation, the prospects for attainment of an education that teaches with civic engagement in the bulls-eye of the educational framework, is increasingly difficult to attain. Simultaneously public opinion of the mission of higher education is increasingly perceived as a market-driven institution existing for the economic benefit of the individual, the upward mobility of a social class and in turn further sedimentation of the class hierarchy. Now, more than ever, colleges and universities should take the hard road, but the path that has meaning and purpose, where engagement means fixing the system that created our national conundrum.
The Institution itself, charging for services, instantly creates the inequity divide. Outreach can inadvertently perpetuate that chasm, making the handout become the habit rather than the obstacle toward real progress. Our nation is in desperate need of effective, deliberate, developmental socio-cultural, economic and political discussions and shared understandings. Various publics are increasingly expecting financial reward for financial input. If an individual pays a larger share for a good and service, they expect a larger financial reward. Problem is, colleges are not, at their core, career factories. They resist, with varying success, the increased pressure from their customers to focus primarily on training for a vocational skill.
The history of higher education in the first part of the 21st century is partially written and it does not read well for civic engagement. The dominant form of civic engagement that has emerged in higher education is rich in outreach and handouts. It is largely deplete of the democratic virtues our nation is so desperate to recapture. Many colleges and universities are touting their most noble mission as that of reciprocity and yet the systems and structures have yet to change. If a college were to be bold in the face of an eroded or vacant trust in the civic mission of their work, a remodeled system would include new goals, strategies and roles for its faculty. A new way of reward would abandon tyranny of the top tier journal, of review of peers, by peers, and instead be dominated by assessment from community peers. If a college were so bold as to remain wholly dedicated to its civic mission and to embark on the difficult task of culture change focusing on shared understandings, community engagement, common frameworks for discovering within and with community, that college could take back the first part of this century from market-driven pressures.
Colleges devoted to their civic mission, do not educate for a job, they educate for citizenry and for citizenship. Job training skills can be acquired outside of an expensive assortment of buildings. The framework that will allow our society to persist, to exist through this turmoil of the first part of the century, is the framework of civic engagement. The public needs colleges and universities to train for constructive exchange of ideas, peaceful cooperation among a diverse citizenry with myriad perspectives on hard-to-solve problems.
The staffs in centers that promote civic engagement are themselves, called to action. A systemic approach to changing organizational systems could be the great work of the first part of the 21st century, the lasting legacy of the great democratic aspiration of civic engagement in higher education.
March 4, 2013 by David Aday
It’s 8:30 pm. The advance team has been busy since eight this morning, when we left the hostel. Chrissy Sherman has arranged the agenda, which includes visits to Chaguite homes to ensure that they know about the clinic and the community meeting that is scheduled for Monday; visits to the homes of brigadistas (community health representatives) in Buena Vista and Quebrada Grande to ensure that they know the day and location of the clinics for their communities; and a meeting with the newly selected mayor’s representatives in Chaguite. The team is reviewing and clarifying field notes. With two speakers and two recorders/observers, the notes are thorough and team members quiz each other about what was said and who said it, one conversation at a time. When we return to campus, these transcribed notes will be examined more closely to extract data to describe ongoing activities and emerging infrastructure.
The “B team” (the remaining students, three doctors, and our friend for life Freddy (professional driver and cultural guide) will arrive around 10pm. There will be embarrassing displays of affection and general silliness, which will give way to debates about whether the “updates” and “progress reports” should be done tonight or could wait until tomorrow. We’ll stay up too late and get up too early and tomorrow will be filled with logistics, pill counting, sorting, and bagging, and more logistics.
This year will be no easier for senior team members, who will try not to notice that these are their crowning moments and culmination – and I will be no more adept at expressing my appreciation for all that they have done to build forward from the work of those who preceded them.
March 4, 2013 by David Aday
Introducing a new team member to the region and community is always interesting. It is one thing to communicate the approach, the core concepts and theory, the methods, and the accumulated understandings from six years of work in Cuje and Chaquite. It is quite another to describe the look, feel, and only partially grasped character of a place and the people who live here. We are in Nicaragua again, preparing for our seventh annual project work: a free medical clinic, this year with three physicians and community-based participatory research to advance our ongoing partnership with the community to improve health and health care. Kristina Ripley is fluent in Spanish, went to high school in Managua, and is participating in the MANOS project for the first time now. Like many who preceded her, she is uncertain after the first day – about how this compares to what she imagined; about how to make sense of the work we’ve done and that we’re prepared to do this year; and about her role in a project that calls on diverse skills, challenges preconceptions, and requires navigation of hairpin turns (literally and figuratively). And all of this in spite of her personal familiarity with Nicaragua.
Those of us who are returning (Stephanie Wraith ’15; Yardley Albarracin ’13; and Chrissy Sherman ’14 – the advance team sent ahead to prepare for the week’s work) are accustomed to the sights and sounds and meet friends as we travel through the community to arrange meetings, check on clinic sites, and announce the schedule for the coming week. Even in this seventh year, I find the first day unsettling. We see changes that we hope local residents find encouraging, but the persisting devastation caused by first-world exploitation of the region is not easier to accept. More than 60 years ago, American corporations led the way in clear-cutting this region of Nicaragua, transforming lush evergreen forest to high mountain desert. The companies promised re-forestation but planted scrub varieties that would not survive – and if they had, the resulting trees would have been stunted and of no economic or productive value. Our trip up the mountain road at midday is dusty; the few cattle are underfed with bony haunches and sharply defined ribs. Terraced fields look hopelessly under-nourished, dry, brittle. The faces of those who walk the miles of road up and down the mountain are determined. The trip down the mountain in late afternoon is a dirt storm. Those who are still walking scramble for protection, covering noses, mouths, small children and babies.
Our friends in Chaguite greet us warmly and tell us of the work that has progressed since we were here in January. In the coming days, we will learn in detail about the water project that is being advanced through a partnership with universities from Managua. We spoke briefly with some of these partners in Managua before leaving yesterday. Residents are eager for the resources that will come through this arrangement, but it’s clear also that the work will result in only partial realization of the goals of the first stage of the 5 year plan. Much of our work this week will focus on understanding how the residents believe we can collaborate to build from what currently is anticipated to what, together, we have envisioned as the first objective.
The advance team will be busy tomorrow and Saturday as we prepare for the arrival of the full team on Saturday. There are more newbies in that crew, and undoubtedly, they will add to the store of insights, questions, and puzzlement.