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 CafĂ©.
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.