Monday, November 29, 2010

What is a CESA?

By Stephanie Wonchala

UAA’s Center for Community Engagement & Learning (CCEL) is now accepting applications for Community Engaged Student Assistants (CESAs). Hidden within the acronym lies an opportunity for UAA students to create connections within the community and work alongside faculty.

As the name implies, students utilize their major’s skill set to further their education. As a CESA, students are able to gain work experience with community members and faculty, as well as earn tuition waivers to compensate for work performed.

“A Community Engaged Student Assistant is someone that has a desire for social justice and impacting their community in a positive way,” said CCEL’s program coordinator Shauna Dunn. “We pair this passion with a faculty member so that students can practice their skills in community engagement while assisting a faculty member with their project.”

Stephanie Stamm, whose project focuses on breast and cervical health among women with disabilities, considers being a CESA an invaluable opportunity.
“It never ceases to amaze me how much Anchorage is lacking compared to other cities,” said Stamm. “It’s up to the youth to come up with even better programs and ideas to improve the lives of others.”

While CESA positions and tuition waivers are faculty driven, interested students can speak to a faculty member who has received waivers before or contact CCEL directly.

CESA work varies greatly among assistants but can generally be tailored to a student’s interests and educational path. UAA Professor of Geography Dorn Van Dommelen utilizes a group of 14 CESAs to further his Geography and International Studies 101 course.

Students in Dommelen’s class are exposed to important global and regional issues through case studies. In order to reinforce what is learned in class, students are required to do a service project. Partnered with Hiefer International, a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to relieving global hunger and poverty, 14 CESAs guide 150 students through service projects and relay progress to Dommelen.

“What it’s become is a de facto mentorship and leadership program whereby students not only mentor, but also lead the service projects and make sure it’s done well,” said Dommelen. He believes that if students feel courses are more than GER boxes to be checked off, they can use their experience as a CESA to truly make a difference. “It’s about learning to be a citizen in the fullest sense of the word,” he said.

CCEL supports the program because everyone involved benefits. “It deepens (students’) resolve to be true change makers in their community,” Dunn said. “It takes the knowledge they’re learning everyday in the classroom and demonstrates its true power.”

More information is available at

Award Encourages Students to “Bridge” out

Stephanie Wonchala

Most everyone has crossed a “first bridge” of sorts. Whether having experienced a racial injustice, acclimated to a culture shock or struggled with poverty, these events have molded our life experiences and prepared us for a “second bridge.”

Funded by an anonymous donor, UAA’s Center for Community Learning & Engagement (CCEL) is now accepting applications for the first ever Second Bridge Scholarship Award. This award allocates $1,000 to a motivated student looking to stretch the boundaries of traditional education by immersing themselves in a service-oriented project.

“The name of the award is a metaphor for something that is a little bit adventurous, a little out of the mainstream,” said the donor. “Crossing the first bridge is going somewhere that is a little challenging and out of your comfort zone, and crossing the second is for students to take a little risk and do something they normally wouldn’t do.”

The Second Bridge Scholarship was created as an attempt to encourage divergent thinking and to prepare individuals for a future world that will be very different from today. The donor encourages students to think about sustainability, alternative forms of education, charitable service, or even mission ideas when formulating their proposal.

“I just want to see UAA students doing really cool, interesting things that are out of the box. Out of the box is very important to me,” said the donor. “Students who are willing to take risks like this are also likely to become leaders in society.”
Both domestic and international project ideas are applicable and may be executed in conjunction with other projects or travel.

For example, a UAA student studying women’s issues may utilize the award while traveling abroad and volunteer in a foreign women’s shelter. Another student could use the award to travel to rural Alaska to better smaller communities. The award could supplement a trip to Iceland to study eco-villages, or contribute to expanding the arts into underprivileged communities.

A defining characteristic of this award is its allowance for creativity – learning in an environment that is intriguing or important to you. It provides some financial incentive for undergraduates in any degree-seeking program to convert classroom lessons into more meaningful real-world experiences. Applicants should be motivated to work out of their comfort zones.

“Our world faces some grave challenges and requires people willing to take some risks,” said the donor. “Many of the rewards set up through the University reward students excelling scholastically… or doing undergraduate research, doing ‘what they are supposed to do.’ I hope this scholarship awards students who are not doing what they traditionally are supposed to do, but things that ultimately will help.”

To apply for the Second Bridge Scholarship Award, students must submit their proposal along with a faculty letter of support by November 23rd to More information is also available at

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book of the Year Author visits UAA

By Stephanie Wonchala


“I learned many invaluable lessons in Istanbul,” says author, teacher, and former Peace Corps volunteer Robert Rosenberg, “One of which was ‘rich kids have problems too.’”
Reclined casually in the Consortium Library’s CAFÉ meeting room, a gently-spoken Rosenberg met with UAA students to discuss his first novel and UAA/APU Book of the Year, This is Not Civilization. He shared with Community-Engaged Student Assistants (CESAs) and students enrolled in Introduction to Civic Engagement his civically-engaged experiences both in and out of the country. From Peace Corps volunteer to English teacher on an Apache reservation, Rosenberg drew from his own experiences to craft his book.
An eager educator, Rosenberg was one of four original teachers to start a high school in Apache territory, and also founded an English as a second language after-school program in Kyrgyzstan. His unique experiences as an instructor and Peace Corps volunteer domestically and internationally lent themselves to his writing. While not autobiographical, Rosenberg did draw from the knowledge he gained while traveling to bring his book to life. Having gained a knack for Istanbul school children’s vernacular, jokes, and culture, Rosenberg felt well-equipped to write from their perspectives.
This is Not Civilization is a multi-faceted novel based on service. Selected as a UAA/APU Book of the Year to highlight the importance of humanitarian efforts, it touches on the effects of an individual’s responsibility to society.
From Rosenberg’s point of view, benefiting society does not always have to happen through dramatic events or large amounts of people. “I want to emphasize that when I felt successful, it was on a very one-on-one level,” he said. “My great joy as an educator is in considering the changes I made in the lives of students.”  Rosenberg also stated that in building a small amount of people with broad minds, it affects many more.  
His insight was valuable to UAA CESAs in attendance, some of whom were considering joining the Peace Corps themselves. Convinced that the Peace Corps is one thing most people can agree is “America at its best,” Rosenberg supported students’ notions to join. “When you hold a Peace Corps volunteer pamphlet in your hands, if you’re meant for it, there’s a surge,” said Rosenberg. Although the application and acceptance process is intentionally difficult, admittance leads to intensive training in language, job duties, and cultural sensitivity.
Rosenberg also read from his book that evening in the UAA Arts Building recital hall to a full auditorium of enraptured listeners. His novel, deemed “A sensitive story about the cost of trying to do good… a wonderful work,” by Library Journal, is available at a 20% discount if purchased from the UAA Bookstore.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

$2,500 Dr. Alex Hills Award for UAA Engineering Students

By Stephanie Wonchala

Engineering students looking for extra cash and real-world work experience need not look further.
The third annual Dr. Alex Hills Engineering & Civic Engagement Award application period is now open. The award encourages one lucky UAA undergraduate to partner with a community organization and apply their engineering skills.  
2009 award recipient Garret Yager’s project addressed the high concentration of suspended sediment in Little Campbell Creek. Yager found sediment transport to be a particularly interesting topic and worked alongside faculty member Dr. Thomas Ravens to restore ecological function.
“You can direct your own research project, whereas most research is conducted under the direction of a professor or graduate student,” said Yager. “If students have any desire to pursue higher education in engineering, it is critical that they are involved in research.”
Dr. Alex Hills, long-time Alaskan and professor at Carnegie Mellon University and UAA donates the award because of its enormous benefits. Recipients gain meaningful experience working with faculty on what can be the first major engineering project of their careers. The project’s non-profit clients gain engineering services.
To apply, students must prepare a proposal in cooperation with a faculty member who will oversee the project. A client organization must be identified which would also provide executive oversight.
“I had to do some initial research in order to craft my proposal,” said Yager.  “I believe it’s very important to write a good proposal.  Not only will it help you win the award, but good background research can also be used in writing the final report.”
Potential projects range from developing a hydroelectric sustainable energy research station in Girdwood to joining forces with UAA’s Engineers without Borders on international projects. “Find a research topic you are passionate about and the rest will take care of itself,” Yager said.
Yager walked away from his learning experience with the award, a tuition waiver and research stipend for graduate school, and a graduate research position offer.
Dr. Alex Hills award applications are due to UAA’s Center for Community Engagement & Learning (CCEL) on November 23rd. For more information about the award, visit Questions should be directed to Dr. Judith Owens-Manley of CCEL.

*To learn more about award donor Dr. Alex Hills, watch him speak on "The New Young Professionals" here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

CCEL hosts Speed Dating of a different kind

Faculty and non-profits partner to benefit students, community
By Stephanie Wonchala
Consortium Library Room 307 was alive with the hum of speed dating this past Friday, but no one mentioned long walks on the beach.
Hosted by UAA’s Center for Community Engagement & Learning (CCEL) and the Center for Advancing Faculty Excellence, speed dating-formatted conversations took place to bridge the gap between campus and city. In five minute discussions, UAA faculty and Anchorage non-profit organizations discussed each others’ topics of interests, how university students could become involved, and each field’s pressing issues.
Representatives ranged from the Alaska Literacy Program and Alaska Family Services to Catholic Social Services, United Way, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, UAA’s School of Nursing and UAF’s Cooperative Extension.
 “A cohesive university outreach program would be very meaningful since non-profits are so understaffed,” said Becca McClure of Food Bank of Alaska (FBA). By working with FBA, students and faculty would see the many different faces of hunger. “Some stereotypes are blown out the water,” McClure said. “Only 20% of hungry Alaskans are actually homeless.”
Dr. Tracy Burke, Associate Professor of Social Work and host of UAA’s Food Stamp Challenge asked specifics. How could students further their relationship with the Food Bank of Alaska? How could UAA classes be matched up with FBA events? Similar discussions at other tables took place, all bursting with ideas to benefit students, community and faculty teaching.
While connections between academic programs and community needs were being discovered on the third floor, CCEL staff hustled on the second in preparation for their Open House event.
Following speed dating participation, attendees were welcomed to CCEL’s offices with sparkling pomegranate punch, meticulously arranged cheese and cracker plates and vibrant flowers.
CCEL’s Program Coordinator Shauna Dunn could be overheard amongst the excited chatter. “We promote community engagement,” she said. “Service courses that take students out of the classroom and into the community.”  Dunn shared a service learning project led by Dr. Frank von Hippel in which UAA biology students sampled Chester Creek water, proved pollution, and initiated a clean-up of the creek.
The possibilities of bettering the learning process for students and faculty while improving Alaska’s communities are numerous.
 “Everybody told me they made great connections,” said Dr. Judith Owens-Manley, CCEL’s new director. “They are looking forward to continuing the dialogue.”

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Food Stamp Challenge goes Campus-Wide

If you can handle the heat, take it to the kitchen.
By Stephanie Wonchala

Payday isn’t until the end of the week and you’re already down to chicken or beef. Well – chicken or beef ramen noodles that is. Case of Keystone Light aside, you’ve got that and the McValue menu to subsist on for the next three days.
Now what would you do if you had a family to feed?
UAA’s School of Social Work, Center for Community Engagement & Learning and the Food Bank of Alaska have taken on just that by hosting the first campus-wide Food Stamp Challenge. UAA students and faculty can brave a week on a food stamp budget and blog their experiences on Blackboard.
“We take food and eating for granted,” said Amada Arredondo, a student assistant for the School of Social Work. “And if we actually do the challenge, we begin to understand. By being a part of the community and a part of this experiment is how you are able to really learn and empathize with people.”
Arredondo is in her second semester as a Community-Engaged Student Assistant (CESA) and is no stranger to hosting the challenge. In order to eat within the $34 means, she cooked a lot of spaghetti and ate leftovers throughout the week. “Sometimes I really was tired of spaghetti and I just did not eat,” she said, “Which was all fine and well but in reality, I would not be able to do that.”
You may be thinking, “Whatever, I’ve got CARRS chicken strips and Taco Bell on my side for this feat of dollar stretching,” but not so fast. Food stamps apply to unprepared foods only. This means no prepared foods from supermarkets or restaurants, no coffee from your favorite barista, no antacids to mellow out that spicy veggie sandwich from Middle Way Café.
The challenge’s goal is to initiate conversation about the everyday trials faced by low-income people. When asked her thoughts on the participation of students, many of whom live on budgets frighteningly similar to that of food stamps already, Arredondo emphasized the importance of sharing such struggles with the community through this challenge.
Dr. Tracy Burke, Associate Professor of Social Work, has led the challenge within her classes twice before. Some of her students realized they were not as bad off as they thought, others discovered they actually were applicable for food stamps.  “There are a number of folks who have a cash flow problem but can’t consider themselves intrinsically poor,” she stated. “It’s useful for people, especially if they are not struggling hard, to get a taste for some of the constraints others are facing.”
But there is more to the challenge than putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. “This is a big election year,” said Burke. “What is Lisa Murkowski’s record on supporting food stamps and other assistance? How much do we want people to fend for themselves?”
In the last two years, Alaska has experienced a very significant increase in food stamp case load due to the rising cost of fuel and energy and the state of the economy.  Alaska’s Director of Public Assistance Ellie Fitzjarrald says it is important to note that food stamp programs are intended to supplement, not replace income. They are designed for families who are employed or retired individuals on social security.
But ultimately, the campus-wide challenge exists to educate and encourage compassion. “People should give it a try,” says Arredondo, “Not to see if you can make it through the week and still have money, but to become more aware and put your experience into action.”
For those feeling bold, Food Stamp Challenge rules and blog access will be provided at meetings in the Consortium Library, room 307, this Thursday from 7:00-8:00 p.m. and Friday from 5:30-6:30 p.m.