Tuesday, May 1, 2018

More Than A Number: Public Scholar Caleb Duplessis Reflects on Ways the CCEL Changed His Experience of UAA



Caleb Duplessis (center), seated with fellow CCEL public scholars, Moira Pyhala (left), and Lauren Criss-Carboy (right)




Working towards my civic engagement certificate, I signed up for  Professor Owens-Manley’s Learning by Giving course. It covered philanthropy, and how the nonprofit world interacts with both the for-profit and federal sector. Early into the semester, she offered my classmate and I a chance to be CCEL Public Scholars. With this move, we would be the first students in the department’s new internship program.
Before receiving that offer, I hadn’t really put much thought into doing an internship. I thought internships primarily served to get your foot in the door with a business, which didn’t appeal to me at the time. There were several reasons joining the program made sense to me. First, it’s an opportunity to learn about civic engagement theory in my classes and simultaneously apply that knowledge in my everyday surroundings. It’s also an opportunity to meet great people who are also making steps to improve the surrounding community. Then,  just getting your foot in the door with the CCEL department was reason enough to join the Public Scholars Program, as the CCEL department offers connections to many non-profit organizations that are doing great work in the community.
So, of course I accepted Judy’s offer. This was an opportunity to meet interesting people, learn more about the community, help improve the community, and - since this internship also came with a scholarship, it was an opportunity to reduce my tuition expenses.
Since joining the Public Scholars program,  I’ve been able to help organize, promote, and participate in the CCEL’s Think Tanks  - monthly talks that bring university faculty and community organizations together to discuss and implement solutions to difficult problems impacting Alaska. Other responsibilities in my role include helping connect students to organizations, scholarships, and providing general assistance to support community engagement at UAA. Running the @UAA_CCEL (add us) Instagram page has taught me social media marketing skills that will be invaluable in both my personal and professional future. That said, the way that I’ve most benefited from the Public Scholars program has been completely unexpected: I began enjoying the time I spent on campus.
The CCEL's Public Scholar program gave Caleb a gift he never expected: He began enjoying the time he spent on campus
Before joining the Public Scholars program, mandatory attendance was essentially the only reason I would spend any time at UAA. Even then, I tried to sit in the back of  my classes, participate only when needed, and would leave campus as soon as I could. My personal experience in college honestly made me feel like I was thought of as only a number instead of an actual flesh and blood person. I felt subliminally encouraged to get in and get out of UAA with my degree as fast as I could, without trying to be a part of the UAA community. That started to change when I began as a Public Scholar. Joining the program allowed me to experience the side of UAA that exists outside the classroom.
Of course I knew UAA had student clubs and student events outside classes, because they were briefly introduced to me during an optional student orientation in my freshman year. Since then, my only interaction with extracurricular UAA groups involved being asked about registering to vote. However, before Professor Owens-Manley asked me if I wanted to do something outside the classroom I honestly can’t recall anyone.ever extending a personal invitation to become more involved at UAA.
I have spoken with many students who feel the way I did, and I’m not suggesting that UAA intends students feel this way. Our student body is full of potential and many of my classmates have perspectives and ideas that go unrecognized each year. The university and the Anchorage community would benefit from more actively encouraging and incentivizing students to participate outside of the classroom and in the surrounding community. The CCEL/Public Scholars program is a perfect way to do this and I think it will also benefit the students the same way it benefited me.
The Public Scholars program is the reason I now feel a connection to both UAA as an organization, and the people who I interact with on campus. When I walk from one class to the next, something now drives me to look at the flyers posted on the walls. I have an increased sense of appreciation for students who are spending their free time trying to collect signatures or register other students to vote. Even class has become a mostly enjoyable experience, which I never would have believed possible. Thanks to the Public Scholars program, college experience now gives me energy instead of dragging me down,  and this has been reflected in my grades. Joining the Public Scholars program has not only better equipped me for the future, but has provided me with a sense of connection at UAA that has significantly improved my college experience.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Helping English Language Learners (ELL) Parents Find Their Voice: A Reflection by Hannah Claugus

Hannah Claugus (Left), pictured here (L to R) with two of her English Language Learners, Carmen and Ysabel, and Katie Bisson, the ELL Program Family Liason


In Anchorage we have some of the most diverse public schools in the nation. Families from places like Honduras, Somalia, India, Vietnam, and Samoa are proud to call Anchorage their home. For my Social Work practicum this year I’ve been placed at the English Language Learners (ELL) Program for the Anchorage School District (ASD). The goal of the ELL program is to provide ELL students and their families access to a wide range of educational programs and services and to ensure that they’re able to successfully engage and acquire academic language in a school setting.This year, I’ve been working with the family and refugee liaison at Wendler Middle School on assisting ELL students and their families. I’ve had the privilege of assisting parents from all over the district in  our weekly Parent English Class and also supporting students in the Newcomer’s Center. One of the most important things we strive to do is to help ELL parents build the confidence to have a voice in their child’s learning.
Parent English classes are open to any parent in the school district and are one way parents are able to develop their voice . My hours are spent assisting the family liaison who facilitates the parent English classes. We offer a beginning and intermediate class twice a week. Class duration is an hour and a half and in that time we provide information about school-based topics. Many of the families we work with are limited English speakers, and by providing them information about school topics, we help them gain the tools they need to be able to navigate the school system. One particularly helpful lesson we do in every 6-week session of classes is help parents learn how to access and use the ASD’s Zangle system.  Zangle is an online parent connection tool where parents can check their student’s grades and connect with school staff. So, naturally, we call the lesson “How to Access and Use Zangle.” We have iPads that parents can use to login to their individual Zangle accounts as we go through the lesson. During this lesson we also assist parents in learning how to draft an email that can be sent to their student’s teacher if they have concerns or questions. This lesson helps parents develop written skills but also encourages parents to get involved in their child’s learning. Due to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, schools are required to provide interpretation and translation services for individuals with limited English proficiency. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires anyone who receives federal funding to provide language assistance services to individuals whose English is limited  and prohibits from discriminating based on national origin. In our parent classes we encourage parents to practice this right by requesting interpreting services when needed. Many families and even school staff are unaware that the school district is required to provide these services. Interpretation and translation services are a very important part of family engagement for limited English proficient families. If parents are unaware of services or don’t feel comfortable asking for an interpreter, it inhibits their ability to engage in important school activities like conferences. Because of this, one of our most important goals in our parent class is to get them feeling comfortable with asking for an interpreter.
Another project that we have also worked on in parent class is called Immigrant Stories, a digital storytelling project. Using an online program and curriculum from the University of Minnesota, we’ve helped parents write, record, and develop a video that tells their story. They might tell a story about their journey to the United States, a treasured object, the struggles they have faced since migrating, or another topic of their choice. This project gives parents an opportunity to share a piece of their unique life story. Some parents had only ever written less than a paragraph in English before this, so they were overjoyed when they finished writing their stories. It was inspiring to be a part of that process.
           I’ve had a great experience working with the ELL program. It has been eye-opening to learn about the struggles that many newly-arrived immigrants experience. Learning about these struggles has made me more aware of issues involved in refugee resettlement and immigration and has also helped my understanding of how we can assist families who have newly-arrived to the U.S.  This experience has taught me that I will forever look through a lens aimed at finding ways to successfully engage ELL students and families.



Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Why I'm Involved with UAA's Center for Community Engagement and Learning: A Reflection by UAA Student, Lauren Criss Carboy








Student meeting with activist & philanthropist, Marika Anthony-Shaw in February.
Lauren stands beside Marika on the right.



My involvement with the Center for Community Engagement (CCEL) came about due to happenstance. After moving to Anchorage and starting school at UAA in fall 2017, I was looking for any opportunities to work more closely with members of the Anchorage community. I walked into Judy Owens-Manley’s office hoping to find an internship, and what I gained was much more valuable: A relationship with the Center and a new sense of connection with the community around me.


Coming from Fairbanks, the transition to life in Anchorage was startling.  Also, I feel that by living and working on campus, it’s very easy to view ourselves as separate from the rest of the city. CCEL and civically engaged courses offer a solution. My first year college experience would be much different if not for the opportunities that community-engaged courses and the Center have provided me.


I now have a position working as a student assistant in the Center for Community Engagement and Learning and I serve as a Public Service Scholar for CCEL. In the office, my first project was to help plan the annual Urban in Alaska Conference, which showcases faculty work in connection with community partners. I’ve loved the opportunity to interact with so many unique people and to learn from faculty from all different departments who are making meaningful change in Alaskan communities. Projects like these have taught me that community engaged work is present and necessary in every discipline, which has deepened my desire to find connections between  my major, International Studies and issues present in the local community.


From my experience, civically-engaged courses are different from typical classes in the unique environment they provide. They allow students to explore the intersections between their studies and how I relate with the world around me in a way that I feel is immensely valuable.


Civically engaged courses often include a service-learning project which allows students to tailor their academic experience and focus on specific aspects of a local issue. These projects allow students and faculty to bring their expertise and community leaders to bring their local insight in order to cultivate a capacity for wider community change.


In my first year at UAA, I have had the opportunity to take multiple civically engaged courses, including Model United Nations, Intro to Civic Engagement, and Intro to Oral Communication.  


In my first semester I took an Intro to Civic Engagement course that required we complete a service learning project. I completed mine at East High School working with their Newcomer’s Program. I helped teachers by working one-on-one with English Languages Learner (ELL) students,, and assisted with classroom activities. One of the things that surprised me the most through this experience was the sheer diversity of the student body and the Anchorage community as a whole. I met students from fifteen  different countries during my time at East High, all with varying levels of English proficiency. This experience exposed me to different cultural perspectives, many of which I would not have had any knowledge of otherwise.


In my Model United Nations class, I chose to represent a non-governmental organization called Green Cross International in the annual Model United Nations of Alaska Conference. Through this course I greatly improved my understanding of the role of NGOs and international organizations like the UN in promoting global collaboration. I also had the chance to explore the complexities of international policy-making. Through this experience, I will have the opportunity to help tutor students and prepare them for their own conference at Romig middle school in April.


This semester I’ve also been involved in the Campus Votes Project, a community-engaged component of professor Marsha Olson's COMM A111 class. I really enjoy the format of the class because we have a lot of freedom in how we want to accomplish the goals of our project, which is to increase voter turnout at UAA. We set up voter engagement booths to get people registered to vote and collect survey data on the voter attitudes of UAA students.


Looking back on my experiences over the course of these two semesters, I’ve realized how crucial my civic-engagement courses have been for making me feel like an invested member of the Anchorage community. These classes allow students to examine critical issues in both local and international communities, while we  research and learn what we can  do  to respond to these issues. They instill students with a sense of responsibility for their communities and make opportunities to engage in community action more accessible.


I feel that a lot of UAA students remain unaware of the opportunities that community-engaged courses can offer and how applicable they can be,  regardless of your major. If you have the opportunity, I’d urge you to take a course in civic engagement because it might just bring a whole new perspective to your educational experience.










Thursday, March 1, 2018

Come On In: Fostering High-Impact Opportunities and Engagement in UAA's Multicultural Center



Dr. Andre Thorne, Director of UAA's Multicultural Center

You’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard or thought at length about the effects of High Impact Practices (HIPs) on your academic pursuit. After all, overhearing someone in a university setting refer to “hips” wouldn’t exactly sound like a conversation about education or academics in the first place.


As defined by Hahn and Hatcher (2015), however, HIPs reflect “active and intensive learning experiences that have the potential to promote substantial learning opportunities for college students." According to their research, experiences signifying as “substantial learning opportunities” include, among others, diversity and global learning, capstone courses, service learning and community-based learning, and undergraduate research.

            And while these opportunities might prove obvious pursuits or par for the course for some overly-driven or specifically-advantaged students pursuing an undergraduate pursuit, HIPs are not nearly as utilized or sought out by students who reportedly stand to most benefit from them.
Dr. Andre Thorne, the director of UAA’s Multicultural Center, could not have been introduced to this burgeoning approach in education at a better time. On one hand, as a field increasingly backed by significant data and research and now referred to as “a core strategy” for reaching desired teaching outcomes in liberal education, it would seem the case for HIPs proves obvious enough to warrant strong consideration among educators.


However, in Dr. Thorne’s work, and given the focus of his energies in the MCC, HIPs also boast significant gains for the students frequenting the center, as well as those he teaches in his Guidance courses.


“The research shows that traditionally underserved students – these are the students of color, students from other countries – essentially the students we serve in the MCC,” he describes, “they report the greatest benefits of high-impact practices and course work. But the research also shows that these populations utilize HIPs and service-learning opportunities much less than traditionally-advantaged students.”


Dr. Thorne understands why this often proves the case for students attending UAA – and especially those who make use of the MCC – the majority of whom are commuting to school from a diverse array of circumstances and family situations that students living, for example, in a traditional dormitory setting at a four-year university may never encounter or need to consider as they work towards their education and career goals.  



“At UAA, we have to do things very differently in order get students to hang around campus,” he acknowledges. “A typical student at UAA pulls up to campus in a car and hangs out in there and looks at the phone or textbooks till it’s time to go to class. When class is over, that student packs it up and drives home or heads to work.”


“If the challenge for us at UAA is to engage students at this level, we’ve got to learn to do things very differently if we’re going to help them become active and excited about learning opportunities we’re striving to provide for them here.”


He pauses.


“We almost have to grab them,” he laughs, “grab them and tell them, ‘Get out of your car! Come in here! Grab some snacks and get some food and let’s learn something while you’re here.”


And so, the MCC works hard to welcome and accommodate those accessing the center, providing them with all the amenities a student could need in order to be convinced to stick around, to linger for a little bit. Individuals utilizing the MCC’s space find they can work on papers or other school work in the center’s computer lab. The student who needs a pick-me-up can swing in and grab a snack or cup of coffee. Or, they can sit quietly at a table and attend to assignments as necessary, or just sit still and catch a breather from the unending, bustling goings on in the life of a commuting undergraduate student.


Dr. Thorne is quick to note, however, that stimulating students’ interest in community-based learning opportunities or community-engaged course work takes a lot more than a basket of granola bars or free coffee. It’s not as if once you’ve lured students to linger around campus with snacks and a work space, you’ve inevitably fostered new, previously unforeseen opportunities for deep-learning.


“Nothing – nothing – happens to propel our multicultural students forward if we don’t foster relationships with them,” he urges, “and that always requires that we build trust with the students who find their way to us.”


This can prove a challenge, he shares, describing that the typical student passing through the MCC is often already often juggling a couple classes and working one or maybe two jobs. Dr. Thorne credits the MCC center’s staff for the ways they manage to connect with their students and to present opportunities that otherwise might elude them.


“There’s a vital learning component that takes place, for example,” he reflects, “once you ask students to reflect on their experiences – to tell us their stories.” Once the personal connection is made between a student’s lived experiences and what they hope to accomplish by attending the university, Dr. Thorne and his staff find that the window to offer MCC students possibilities and directions they haven’t previously considered or heard about widens considerably.
An MCC student making a presentation with her E-Portfolio



“When I started in this position in 2011,” he recalls, “I was surprised by the number of students of color who had never been outside of Anchorage. Even if they had grown up in Alaska or moved here at a young age, in many cases they’d never pushed past the city limits.”


This recognition – and, more recently, all he’s learned from HIPs research - compelled Dr. Thorne and his staff to find opportunities for MCC students to “get out of Anchorage and into Alaska.”


“Most recently, we’ve established partnerships with the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, as well as the Student Conservation Association, and more." These organizations and offices will come in and tell us about internships and summer job opportunities with the students that many of them never knew were open to them or even on the table for consideration. 


As opportunities in service learning and community-engagement go, you perhaps can’t find a more engaging form of high impact practice than offering a student who’s never seen Alaska outside of Anchorage an opportunity to step into work experiences they’d otherwise never imagined possible.


“You drive five minutes outside of Anchorage and you begin to have a very different experience and understanding of Alaska,” Dr. Thorne offers, continuing, “And when they come back sharing the artifacts from their work experience or internships with our partners in their e-portfolios – pictures of eagles, moose, and salmon and all their stories – you become aware that these students are sharing and engaging in opportunities they never would have experienced if these weren’t made available to them.


  And given the life-changing opportunities that may await them, Dr. Thorne and his staff can't imagine a more compelling reason to continue encouraging students to walk the short distance from the UAA parking lot and through the doors of the MCC to pay them a visit.


MCC students working on their E-Portfolios




Hahn, T.W., & Hatcher, J.A. (2015). The relationship between enrollment in service-learning courses and deep approaches to learning: A campus study. PRISM: A Journal of Regional Engagement, 4(2), 55-70.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Congratulations to Our 2018 Dr. Alex Hills Grant Award Winners!


 
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The 2018 Dr. Alex Hills Engineering and Civic Engagement Award
 

A couple days ahead of submitting his application for the 2018 Dr. Alex Hills Engineering and Civic Engagement Award, UAA Engineering student, Canyon Lewis, had a conversation with his uncle, a mechanical engineering graduate of MIT. They were discussing Canyon’s proposal for an Autonomous Aeroponic Garden and how this farming method could serve to address agriculture and food sourcing issues throughout Alaska in the 21st century. His uncle had a lot of faith in the project’s potential. However, while Canyon – thanks to his training and education – could capably manage the electronics and modular-unit materials the endeavor would require, his uncle suggested the project would have the best chance of success if he partnered with a Biology major who better understood the food-production and farming side of things.
                So, when Canyon met Claire Lubke – a UAA student majoring in Biology and minoring in Engineering – a couple hours after submitting his grant proposal to the CCEL, it could not have seemed more fortuitous.
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Canyon's proposed schematic for the final aeroponic system
                “UAA’s Society of Women Engineers organization (SWE) were having their annual meeting the same day I submitted my proposal. In fact, I ran to the SWE meeting from a meeting with Seeds of Change, who were supportive of my idea for the project and wrote a reference for me.”
                Canyon didn’t recognize many in attendance that afternoon, but sat down close to a friend and started making small talk with Claire, who was also seated nearby.
                “I just started talking with her because the room was filling up so quickly and I was becoming uncomfortable,” Canyon recalls, laughing, “I asked her questions about herself. She told me she was a biology major with a minor in engineering and with an interest in undergraduate research. Once she shared that, I couldn’t talk fast enough about the proposal I’d just submitted to the CCEL.”
                The rest, Canyon jokes, “is recent history.”
                For Lubke, the opportunity to collaborate with Canyon felt mutually serendipitous.
“I’ve had my eye on this grant for a few years now,” she shares, “chiefly because I’m interested in engineering as a tool for social justice and there seems a lot of potential for doing good work with this award.”
                She acknowledges that as a functional or practical career option, engineering isn’t frequently perceived or touted as a force for activism or social change.
                “I think a lot of people get into engineering without always considering the discipline’s larger implications. On one hand, it’s a reliable job or career choice. However, engineers are also responsible for designing the spaces we live in and use, and so it’s impossible to ignore the influence their work has on our lives.”
                Claire cites, for example, the work of the College of Engineering’s Dr. Dotson - an engineer on the forefront of advancing social justice by serving a critical need for rural Alaskans.
                “Dr. Dotson’s worked to design an in-home water re-use system for families in rural Alaska in an effort to help bring water to communities who don’t otherwise meet World Health Organization standards for water accessibility.” While not often an issue that receives a lot of media attention, it’s hard to think of a more pressing or community-minded use of one’s skills than insuring citizens have access to fresh water.
            “A lot of people often express they’re eager for social change – and oftentimes there’s even money and other resources on hand to fund different projects or ideas,” Claire acknowledges, “but working to address or effect change at the infrastructure and design level of things requires a degree of critical expertise.”
                To this end, Canyon and Claire’s collaboration proves ripe with possibility for Alaska and its food sourcing.

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Early stages: Canyon & Claire's project beginning to take shape

                Lewis, who grew up on a farm in Northern California, has had his eye on aeroponic farming research for a while now and notes the ways it could positively impact the challenges Alaskans face in terms of food production.     
                “Aeroponics,” Lewis writes, "supplies nutrients directly to the bare root system [of a plant] through a water mist.” This process allows plants to receive an adequate supply of oxygen and water, both of which often limit growth factors with other, more conventional soil and water systems.
                As a means of growing produce, research shows that aeroponics systems "provide the ultimate environment for the health and growth development of plants." 
Canyon cites a NASA study, for example – conducted on space shuttle Mir – that “concluded aeroponic systems perform better than dirt-grown” produce. Considering Alaska’s mostly “unfavorable” soil conditions, which Lewis describes as mostly loamy, sandy, and acidic, a “dirt/soil-less” means of providing healthy foods to Alaskans seems nearly too good to be true. Among other sustainable characteristics, aeroponic systems have been shown to produced 80% more biomass weight (fruits and veggies) per square meter, while consuming 98% less water than most conventional farming methods, and reduced fertilizer use by 60%.
                In other words, as Canyon and Claire explain for the average, science-challenged layperson, aeroponics might prove a sustainable means to grow more produce in Alaska, as well as varieties of food that otherwise can seem outside the realm of reason in the northern climes.
                 “While Alaska has seen a nearly 700% increase in its population over the last seventy years,” Canyon explains, “only about 5% of the foods we consume actually comes from inside Alaska.”
                The vast majority of produce in Alaska markets, as many of us are already aware, is outsourced, arriving to us on barges. Importing these foods from out of state leads, first, to the inflated market price many of us can’t help noticing during a trip to the grocery store. And then there are other costs as well, such as damage to products during import and the loss of nutritional value and flavor over the course of transportation delays and shipping methods.
      

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Vertical Hydroponic Gardening at Seeds of Change in Anchorage

                While they can’t predict, of course, how successful their aeroponics project will be, now that the award has been secured, Claire and Canyon hope to have one or two growing cycles completed before the end of the semester.
                “The growing system,” Canyon writes, “[combats] the short growing season attributed to the northern climes by bringing the plants indoors, and eliminating the need for arable land.” So, once the parts have arrived and are assembled, they expect to start growing leafy greens and other low-impact vegetables immediately.
                What it could mean for stimulating Alaska’s future agricultural production remains to be seen, too, but both Claire and Canyon couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity to discover where their projects leads them.