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.”

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