Road Trip: The Local and the Global

I love quirky campus features, and this mound definitely qualifies. The plaque describes a tradition at Adrian where students from graduating classes add ribbons to a pole that is then handed down to the next class at this site. It's apparently been going on for a very long time. I'd like to see that.

I love quirky campus features, and this mound definitely qualifies. The plaque describes a tradition at Adrian where students from graduating classes add ribbons to a pole that is then handed down to the next class at this site. It's apparently been going on for a very long time. I'd like to see that.

In my last position, I became involved in work led by the Bonner Foundation to engage students in the community--variously called civic engagement, community engagement, civic learning, or many other combinations. At their high-impact institute last summer, I had something of an epiphany. It was stressed at these meetings to ground a college's work with its community in the specificity of the place. This may sound obvious, but I guess it wasn't for me. 

To dig into this idea a little deeper, what was being argued is for us to consider when engaging with the community, what its distinguishing or even unique characteristics are. It is vital to understand that ideas from one place may not work in another: they may necessarily have to be adapted or even thrown out because they just do not translate to a different context.

This concept came back to me during my visit to Adrian College when I was speaking to a class of Social Work majors. These are students who want to finish college and return to their communities and start making real change. As part of their major, they are required to do an extensive internship--a requirement that could be fulfilled through our program. Some of the students in the class asked why they should go to Washington to do this kind of work, when what they wanted to do is work in their community--often their hometown. 

On its face, it seemed like the obvious answer was that they shouldn't: they should start the work they wanted to do down the line as soon as possible, in the place they know, with issues they are already aware need to be addressed. However, part of a liberal education is perspective taking, and I argued to those students that to go to Washington to do their internship would provide them with a better opportunity to help their community: if they only know the specificity of their community, of their place, they won't be able to address the challenges that face that community as fully as they would if they have a larger perspective on those challenges.

Hey campuses: every student center should have fire pits...

Hey campuses: every student center should have fire pits...

For example, if they were to intern for a semester at a local organization devoted to improving access to healthy food options in Detroit, they would get great experience in how that issue works in Detroit; however, if they were to intern for a semester in Washington at a national organization devoted to those issues, they would be able to see what is working in other places--and be a part of the national conversation about that issue and see how national policies were affecting their work on the ground in Detroit. They would be able to take time to approach the issue from more angles than just the local; this perspective-shifting could result in different approaches than had been tried.

Place is important, and it should be emphasized when engaging with communities: just because Adrian might look like the town thirty miles away from it, I'm sure it isn't. At the same time, I think it's important to get outside of the place to which you are accustomed so you can see that place in a new way when you return. 

Road Trip: The Apprentice

No, not that Donald Trump vehicle. Is that even on anymore? I hope not.

Anyway, last week I got to visit Dominican University, which is near Chicago and the suburb of Oak Park. I'll get to the title of this post and Oak Park, but first, Dominican. I had a great visit, having the opportunity to visit with a lot of classes and quite a few faculty members. Dominican has sent a lot of students to DC through our program over the years, so they are very enthusiastic about WII and the opportunities for students. 

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Many (if not the majority of) Dominican students are, in academic parlance, "commuters," which seems to have a negative connotation in some parts. Frankly, I couldn't have imagined being a commuter student, because I simply don't think at the time I was ready for college I would have had the stamina, patience, and resolve to live at home (or off campus) and come to school every day. I laud "commuter students" and I'll try to come up with a better term for you folks. I also think that for those students who don't live on campus and then come to DC with us, it must really be an even deeper acclimation: first to living in a different place, and then to living with complete strangers for the first time. 

Anyway, when the students do arrive on campus, they find a lovely one, with a blend of the old and the new, and some wonderful cloisters, which I appreciate. 

Now to the title. I had actually been near Dominican before because on a previous trip to Chicago I made my way to Oak Park to see many of the houses still standing designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright is a real favorite of mine. There is something about his approach to bringing together the human and natural world in a non-cheesy, birdhouse, weird sort of way that is genius and almost spiritual for me. I like how he plays with scale and changes perspectives in a space to make you feel something. 

At one point in my youth, I wanted to be an architect. I loved playing with Legos and drew many floorplans of dream houses. This is probably normal, but I thought it was really something I might pursue. Years later, I got to meet an architect at Wright's school in Arizona, and he talked about the apprenticeships that he underwent and now led. It is a practice really of medieval times: one craftsperson teaching someone everything to do with their craft. There is mentorship there, but also skills and knowledge passed on--often for the good of the craft itself.

In some ways, I wish internships were renamed apprenticeships: I just feel like there is more respect for that term--and more of a sense of responsibility on both sides. Perhaps I can start on that petition once I come up with another name for commuter students.

Road Trip: Fall is here!

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Given my previous comments about heat, it will probably come as no surprise that my favorite season is fall. I like the weather. I like the changing leaves (that wasn't always the case. Having grown up in Washington, The Evergreen State, my first fall on the east coast resulted in a deep pining for green once all the leaves had dropped). 

I also think I like fall so much because, for those of us in academia, it is the beginning of the year with all that that entails: new students to meet, new projects to start, colleagues to re-connect with--in general, a sense of optimism. Thus, the usual descent into decay that fall may symbolize to many is completely lost on me: I think of fall as representing just the opposite. 

That's THE Saint Anselm

That's THE Saint Anselm

My visit to Saint Anselm's College made me think about fall because, as you can see, the leaves are right in mid-change. It helps that it's in New Hampshire, but even upon my return to DC, the nights suddenly were chilly, and my preferred uniform of shorts and a t-shirt was insufficient and regarded with shock and astonishment by passersby.

My trip to St. A's (in the local parlance) also made me think of my interpretation of fall because they are a new partner institution, and so the students, faculty, and staff I met with saw our program with fresh eyes and reactions. While I enjoy talking with students who know everything (and perhaps more than I do) about our program, it's also fun to walk students through the possibilities that await them in DC.

So, a chill in the air means new possibilities ahead--and the ability to wear what I want without necessarily sweating.

 I don't know what this is, but I love weird things like this on campuses.

 I don't know what this is, but I love weird things like this on campuses.

Road Trip: Acorns and Starting Early

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Last week after visiting Fairfield, I flew down to North Carolina to visit Elon University--another institution I had heard of but had never visited (and, it is often an answer in crosswords I solve). It is another beautiful campus: a historic campus that has been added to by stupendous modern buildings that I would be jealous of if I was attending another college. 

I didn't know that "elon" is Hebrew for "oak" until about halfway through my visit, so the references to oaks and acorns struck me as nice if not a bit random. However, the acorn and oak symbolism throughout campus makes a lot of sense, especially with how focused the institution is on encouraging students to think about their life after college from the very beginning. 

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I participated in the Job and Internship Expo and was impressed by how many of the students I met were first-year students. During my first year in college, I had no idea what I wanted to do (especially after I nixed my plan to be the next ambassador to Belgium), much less actively pursuing possible options. What was most gratifying to me as an adherent to a liberal education that values broad knowledge and critical inquiry was that many students didn't have a major yet--but still wanted to find out what options were out there that may help them focus their energy and interests.  

Thus, I met a lot of acorns on this visit who had the right kind of support and encouragement from faculty and staff to eventually flourish into great oaks (sorry for the somewhat tortured metaphor).  

 

Road Trip: Fairfield and Fields of Experiential Education

Internships often find themselves placed alongside other kinds of learning that take place outside of the classroom--study abroad, research, service learning--under the moniker of "experiential learning." There are some problems with that term depending on how you define "experiential," but that might be a discussion for another time. However, the term has stuck, so in higher education we have this motley crew of disparate kinds of learning yoked together in various ways.

I say this because yesterday I represented WII at a Study Abroad Fair at Fairfield University. In many ways, students coming to Washington for our program are having an experience similar to that of students going to Athens or Pretoria: they are often coming to Washington and experiencing living on their own for the first time or in a city for the first time. They are shifting their perspective, which is one of the greatest benefits of studying abroad. Obviously, they're not learning a new language (though perhaps learning jargon in their internships is close) nor are they confronted by completely foreign mores, customs, or foods; that said, I'd say that there are plenty of opportunities to do that in DC, and, as a newcomer myself, I'd say DC has its own unique culture that differs greatly from other American cities. I would argue that many things people want students to gain by studying abroad can be gained in our program--and there's the internship component that transforms it into a sort of "double dip" of experiential learning.

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So, with my American flag behind me, I didn't feel completely out of place at the fair, though I did get more than a few quizzical looks from students wondering what the heck I was doing at this fair. Those who didn't want to remind me that DC is actually in the US saw the opportunities presented by our program, and many were interested in doing our program in addition to studying abroad, which, especially for students interested in international relations, makes perfect sense to me. I had a lot of fun at the fair talking with a lot of obviously bright and engaged students--and fun explaining how DC isn't a state, and therefore pretty much qualifies as studying abroad (tenuous logic, but it was fun to try to unravel that pretzel).

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I didn't get as much of a chance to see the entire campus as I would have liked, but what I saw was nice, with a ton of trees populating campus and some nice artwork. It also seemed like a really active campus when I was walking around; that is, even when it was during class time, there were a lot of students walking around and lots of great public spaces for them to hang out in. Having a campus that feels alive is important and not accidental, and it was nice to see that there had been some thought put into that. 

Road Trip: Going South

I have very little experience in the South. In graduate school, I drove all the way from Delaware to Savannah to present a paper at a conference. It was my first time in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, but they were all blurs punctuated by South of the Border billboards. Since then, I really haven't been between DC and Florida. 

Probably the biggest reason I haven't visited this area is my aversion to hot weather. I grew up outside of Seattle, so to me a perfect day is 55 degrees and partly cloudy. My first summer living in DC has been a daily battle against sweat, one that I have almost always lost. The idea then of voluntarily going somewhere even warmer is anathema (I linked to the definition of that word, because everyone should know and use it if you don't already).

It really is an absurdly beautiful campus.

It really is an absurdly beautiful campus.

Therefore, I have to be honest and admit that I faced my trip to Coastal Carolina University with some trepidation. My fears were somewhat proven warranted when I walked out of the airport to a wall of hot, humid air; that was soon accompanied by an alert on my phone that there was a flash flood warning for the area, with thunderstorms approaching. Great. However, I made it safely to Conway, enjoyed some air conditioning, and prepared for the first day at Coastal. 

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My day started early with the first of several visits to classes. As the day moved along, I went from class to class, building to building, getting to know the campus well and admiring the new buildings and the old ones. For lunch, we passed through the "cultural celebration" in one of the expansive green spaces and crossed over the walkways through the picturesque marshy woods that slightly divides campus to the dining hall where I met with two faculty members. The next day, I started even earlier and spoke to alert and interested students, shepherded once again by the indefatigable career services staff. The day concluded with me talking with a history class for first-year students planning on studying everything from Intelligence and National Security Studies to Philosophy, all interested in coming to DC at some point to intern at Interpol or a think tank. I was very busy and talked with literally hundreds of students. It was great.

I'm not sure what the technical name is for this architectural feature, but it is the basis for the logo for the university.

I'm not sure what the technical name is for this architectural feature, but it is the basis for the logo for the university.

In addition to being able to talk to so many students from so many different disciplines and perspectives, I think what made it great was, despite indeed being almost constantly warm and seemingly downing Diet Pepsi at every turn, everyone was incredibly nice: not just pleasant or tolerant, but giving, accommodating, interested, interesting, and cheerful. Faculty happily gave of their precious class time for me to talk to students, students cheerfully asked questions and signed up, staff bent over backwards to make sure my visit went smoothly: that whole Southern Hospitality thing isn't just a legend; at least at Coastal, it's real. I can't say though that I might not enjoy it even more in January when the weather and I can perhaps reach a detente.

Road Trip: Amounting to Something at The Mount

Before going to Mount St. Mary's University on Monday, I had obviously heard of the school; I just didn't have a good sense of where it was. I think I have a good sense of direction and grasp of geography, but the vast expanse of Pennsylvania west of Philadelphia sometimes gets muddled in my head. I think part of it is my West Coast upbringing, where, to leave my house in Washington state and be in another state meant at least a three-hour drive--and that was just to get to Oregon. When I first arrived in Delaware for graduate school, I immediately called my mother and told her in astonishment that I could be in four different states in about thirty minutes. The idea seemed ludicrous.

So, it seemed ludicrous when I got directions to MSM from my soon-to-be-moved-from home in Pennsylvania that I would be driving in Pennsylvania for about two hours--and then about fifteen minutes in Maryland. Shouldn't I be driving most of the time in Maryland for a school that's in Maryland? My brain just still can't compute this geography, despite me having lived on the east coast now for 20 years. 

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Despite my brain's protestations, I did make it to MSM--or, as they like to call it, The Mount, which I think is awesome. And, it is on a mount: though not a place where one almost needs a sherpa like Duquesne, it does overlook the beautiful valley below, probably giving some much needed perspective to the students during those times of stress. 

I met with the committed and engaged Career Center staff before talking with students about the program, many of whom were first-year students who were already thinking ahead. That's amazing to me, because during my first semester, I think I considered it accomplishment to remember to call my mom, let alone think about my future. I even had one student say that one of the top reasons he went to MSM was to come to Washington and intern. I can't wait to meet him when he does!

There are some nice buildings on campus, you could say.

There are some nice buildings on campus, you could say.

I also got to meet with a faculty member from the Business department, and she looked forward to sharing with her colleagues and students the possibilities of students coming down to DC to intern. We talked a little about how, despite DC being only 90 minutes away, it certainly is a different place altogether. I'm looking forward though to being back in the office, if only for a couple hours, and seeing DC once again.

Road Trip: Flashes of Brilliance

After visiting Duquesne, I headed east to visit Saint Francis University. I am always interested in how colleges came to be and their history: as with family genealogy, I find that the history of a college can give you insights into who they are today and their connections to others. I don't know enough about church history though to truly understand the how's and why's the church decided to form an institution of higher education in what is, as staff and faculty admitted, an out-of-the-way place. However, it's certainly a beautiful place, and the college has a history to be proud of: according to that relevant source, Wikipedia, "The university was one of the first Catholic universities in the United States and the first Franciscan college in the nation. Although it originally only admitted males, it became one of the first Catholic Universities to become co-educational." That's all pretty impressive. 

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And, they have a fountain, which is always good. I also am sort of a nerd when it comes to school mascots, so I enjoyed the unique mascot of Saint Francis: the Red Flash. And, almost every student had some SFU or Red Flash garb on, indicating there was a high level of school spirit and pride--and that they liked their unique mascot. My own college had a unique mascot--the Sagehen, a small desert grouse that plays dead when it's approached. I was also a big fan of the menacing Duquesne Duke.

I met with some very interested and interesting students, as well as some faculty who had just heard of our program and were excited by the possibilities of integrating their program--like Environmental Studies--with our own. It was a lovely day--cool, in fact, which made my Seattle-bred body temperature very happy--and I look forward to returning and learning more about this place.

Road Trip: The Hills Are Alive

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Yesterday, I visited Duquesne University, and the first attribute of the college I noticed immediately was its topology: in other words, the university is on and around a pretty significant hill in Pittsburgh. If you've ever been to Pittsburgh, you know it's a hilly place--they even have a funicular (and, yes, I mainly mention that just so I can use that word), so it wasn't necessarily a surprise to me, but the campus is unique in that they accommodate the hilliness (if that's a word) in interesting ways. The campus is compact, so many of the buildings are high-rises. They also have skybridges connecting many buildings and spaces to alleviate some of the hiking. That being said, when meeting students, I asked if they all have killer calves; one students responded, "every day is leg day at Duquesne." The gardeners at Duquesne do great work and show school pride:

I met with a lot of students today, including the sister of a student who was in Washington this summer and a student who will be joining us in the spring. I also met with some great faculty members in Political Science and International Relations, but also from English and Public History. It was a good trip and I look forward to coming back in the spring to meet even more "Dukes."

The Idea for this Blog and Catching Up

I started as President of the Washington Internship Institute in July, and one of my goals when I first joined the organization was to get to know our partner schools. To accomplish this goal, I am visiting just about as many schools as I can over the next few months, meeting WII alumni, campus faculty and staff liaisons, and prospective students. In addition to tweeting photos and other observations, I decided that I should write down some thoughts to share here as well, so that's what I'm going to do.

First, though, I have to catch up because I have already visited two campuses: Farmingdale State on Long Island and Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. So, let's do that.

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I spent two days at Farmingdale State, visiting classrooms and with faculty, as well as attending their Study Abroad Fair. I really liked the campus, mainly because I like a diverse campus--both in terms of student body, but also architecture. Some old buildings remain from when the college started as an agricultural school (yes, Long Island once had many farms), but there are also brand new buildings and new buildings still under construction. The student body was also captivatingly diverse with interests in subjects that are beyond my realm of understanding, like engineering and nursing: much smarter students than I. I also stayed at a hotel that overlooked the college's hangar: yes, they have an aviation program. My college definitely didn't have its own planes. I talked with incredibly engaged faculty and staff and with students who were very interested in coming to DC to expand their horizons and their job prospects.

A view from Roger Williams campus.

A view from Roger Williams campus.

I am actually writing this on a flight from Providence, RI, having just left Roger Williams University. RWU has been a long-time partner of WII, and it was great to visit campus. I have to say that I was blown away by the views on campus. I stayed the previous night in downtown Bristol, and I managed to drag myself out of bed and go for a run early in the morning along the bay there. It's just a beautiful setting, and I don't know how students don't get incredibly distracted if their classroom overlooks the water. I attended the Study Abroad Fair here as well, and I was lucky to be joined by three alumni of the program--great students all who were really engaging and fun to talk to.

I don't really know how to end blog posts well (my first writing teacher often said that conclusions are the hardest part of writing, and he suggested several times just to not write them--"just end the darn thing"), but luckily I'm landing soon and won't have internet access anyway. More tomorrow from Pittsburgh.