Thursday, December 1, 2011

End of the Semester Celebration for Smart Start at Lucy Cuddy

"Farming to the Rempels isn't just a job - it's a way of life!" That was one student's comment, Cheltze Booker, attending a luncheon put on by her class at the Lucy Cuddy Center late this fall. Professor Shannon Gramse's Smart Start class had a CCEL minigrant this semester to address critical community needs for local food in the rich subsistence culture in Alaska and to inform others about the benefits of locally produced foods. Their activities culminated in a luncheon that involved UAA's Culinary Arts, Hospitality & Restaurant Management, Dietetics & Nutrition, and the Rempel Family Farm.

Following a hearty lunch that used some of the vegetables from the Rempel farm, students from the class came to the microphone to talk about what they had learned from the readings, their work on the farm through class trips, and the class discussions to incorporate their experiences and the academic reading. Voa Totua spoke about how much food she realized there is in the land of Alaska and how much we can do for ourselves - without relying on industrial food. Becca Arman spoke about the term she learned through reading Michael Pollen - "industrial organic - a fake kind of fresh!" For Arlene Ferrer, the learning that stood out was how government politics have controlled farmers' plans and how the plans are carried out for farming. And Chris Hess empathized with farmers who, having been brough up in a farming way of life, are forced to cash out. Hess shared, "It was an amazing experience to see former farmland that had been turned into suburbs . . . an eye-opener to see the impact . . . not that growth and development isn't important, but just because we can, doesn't mean that we should.

The Rempels attended with their four children, all of whom are home-schooled. Professor Gramse will be presenting his work with the Smart Start class as a part of our informal Faculty Breakfast Colloquia in the spring.

Take Wing Alaska - A Documentary Project with Paola Banchero

Paola Banchero, Associate Professor of Journalism & Public Communications at UAA has been working with Take Wing Alaska for months now on a program that brings high school youth from rural Alaska to UAA three times during their junior and senior years. Take Wing, a program of the Alaska Humanities Forum, has an objective to familiarize rural students with what's possible in their futures, the transition challenges and the resources they can draw from to be successful in higher education. Banchero set out to document the students' experiences in a way that would support the program for marketing, outreach, and fundraising. Take Wing focuses on Yupik heritage in the Yukon area so far and begins in the sophomore year to ease that transition. Students come for nearly two weeks for an immersion experience. They return in their second year with a chosen adult, their "community sponsor." A third visit in March of their senior years is also shared with their community sponsors, and the first cohort of 25 students will graduate from high school in May-June.

Not all students will attend UAA, but Take Wing seeks to have students complete some form of post-secondary education, college or Job Corps, and return to the community to contribute - perhaps not by living there but to consciously contribute back to their communities. Banchero began production March 20, 2010 with a mini-grant from CCEL to tell the story of that pathway from high school to higher education success. Two student assistants helped her to gather video during the 4 days that the rural high schoolers visited the campus. Difficulties arose when they lost all of that video material in an "end of the year" department clearance of their servers, and they gamely started over!
Banchero told an audience at the Faculty Breakfast Colloquium in November what she had learned in the process. Number one is having a deep appreciation of the challenges to rural Alaska Native youth; other take-aways include learning about post-production headaches, the differences between writing and video production, and what she might have asked for in a mini-grant! Next steps include revising, polishing, distributing the documentary piece and beginning to think about a longer production piece.

The experience has encouraged Banchero to reach out to students more and to strive to understand what they are dealing with that might not be immediately visible. Some of the goals for Alaska Native students through this process include the ability to thrive in multiple cultures, to nurture and celebrate their personal identifications, to master life skills and build positive social networks, and to demystify post-secondary education.

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