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