Tag: service learning

Service-Learning Faculty Fellow Carrie Kortegast will visit Mexico to explore site for Summer 2019

Carrie Kortegast

Carrie Kortegast

Carrie Kortegast will travel to Mexico this July to explore the “classroom” for next summer’s study abroad and service learning course for Adult and Higher Education graduate students.

The assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education is nearing the halfway point of her term as a Service-Learning Faculty Fellow, a program of the NIU Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning.

Awarded last September, the fellowship is enabling Kortegast to create a new service-learning course in Adult and Higher Education that includes an international opportunity at Bucerias, Mexico-based Human Connections.

Kortegast chose to work with Human Connections because of its commitment to “socially conscious” international education experiences.

Students who enroll in her new course will learn how to create and facilitate their own service-learning and study abroad experiences for future generations of students, she adds.

“Higher education administrators can facilitate engaged learning opportunities such as Study Abroad and Alternative Spring Break that are more socially conscious,” Kortegast says.

“We take a philosophical approach to volunteerism and tourism, approaching them in a way that is sustainable, ethical and socially just, not just taking knowledge but honoring the communities in a way that’s not exploitative of the community’s knowledge.”

human-connectionsRenique Kersh, associate vice provost for Engaged Learning, told Kortegast about Human Connections and put her in touch with Executive Director Elly Rorher. NIU enjoys a long association with Human Connections through Trustee Dennis Barsema, who has taken students there.

Located near Puerto Vallarta, the nonprofit pairs its partners – artisans, tradespeople and organizations on Mexico’s Pacific coast – with travelers and students to ignite action toward lasting social change. Providing these platform to share their culture is meant to empower communities while fostering conversations to shift perspectives and grow understanding.

Kortegast has been preparing for this summer’s exploratory trip, and developing next summer’s course, through training and helpful conversations with OSEEL staff and other Service-Learning Faculty Fellows.

“I’ve been meeting with two other faculty members – Alicia Schatteman and Mylan Engel – because this has been a planning year for me,” Kortegast says. “Alicia and Mylan have already done their courses, so they’re asking some good questions and providing feedback to me as I plan my course.”

Michaela Holtz, associate director and coordinator for Community Engagement at OSEEL, also has worked with Kortegast to enhance the professor’s understanding of service-learning and how to enhance it.

OSEEL expects that the new course will become an ongoing, regular offering, something that CAHE Chair Suzanne Degges-White is charged with maintaining.

kortegast-carrie-2Kortegast is excited to offer a service-learning course to graduate students; most similar courses dwell in the undergraduate realm.

“There are more constraints on working professionals and their ability to engage in service-learning than there are with undergrad, so I’m learning how to make this a robust, meaningful experience that is also doable,” she says. “Also, many of our graduate students did not have the opportunity to go abroad as undergraduates.”

NIU Service-Learning Faculty Fellows receive $2,500: $1,500 in Year One; $1,000 in Year Two. Kortegast is using the $1,500 to fund her travel to Mexico this summer and plans to put the second-year dollars toward promoting her work at academic conferences.

She encourages other NIU professors to apply.

“People should do this,” she says. “It provides incentives to do engaged learning and service, and to incorporate it into our courses. It also provides not only social support in how to do it but also some financial resources to make it possible.”



Counseling students gain ‘life-changing’ perspectives during mission trips to Guatemala

NIU’s January 2016 contingent of volunteers in Guatemala.

NIU’s January 2016 contingent of volunteers in Guatemala.

Many service-minded NIU students will spend next week’s Spring Break on the road, volunteering their time and labor to improve the lives of people in faraway places.

But that sort of humanitarianism is not constricted to one week of the year.

Just ask Scott Wickman, as associate professor in the NIU Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education.

A few years ago, one of his long-ago high school Spanish pupils invited him to travel with her to Guatemala for a mission trip.

Wickman volunteered there under the auspices of Catalyst Resources International, an organization that coordinates teams from around the world to build houses, stoves, water filtration systems, plumbing and other amenities for rural families living in abject poverty among the mountains.

Coming home, he found himself transformed.

“Once you see and meet these children, you’ll never forget about it – and you’ll tell others,” Wickman says. “I was talking about it to a class, and I said, ‘I’m going back.’ And a student asked, ‘Can we go with you?’ That’s how it happens. It’s a ripple effect.”

Scott Wickman at work.

Scott Wickman at work.

He is scheduled to accompany a group of around 10 students to Guatemala during the week of May 20, once again paying forward the gift of sorts he received from his former student.

It’s the second such trip, managed through Huskie Alternative Breaks, during which travelers receive life lessons along with academic learning.

“Our primary purpose is to explore social justice through service learning,” Wickman says. “Last year, we made a hen house the size of a garage, and we purchased 20 chickens for them. That family is now selling the eggs as a way to sustain themselves. We’ve provided a means for a higher quality of living.”

Local Guatemalan carpenters supervise the sawing of boards and pounding of nails, he says. Wickman and the students live in a well-protected residence hall facility, which employs Guatemalans to clean the rooms and make the beds.

Evening hours allow for trips to a nearby orphanage, where the counselors-in-training engage children in adventured-based activities. They also chat with mental health professionals about what counseling looks like in Guatemala as well as what mental health services are available.

They meet children who are bright but not in school; free education stops around fifth- or sixth-grade, Wickman says, forcing many young people to drop out. That often results in adolescent pregnancies while ultimately continuing the cycle of poverty.

Such interactions are eye-opening for NIU students, Wickman says, but so are the heartwarming encounters that reveal “the amount of sharing that takes place” between the villagers.

One hen house, coming up ...

One hen house, coming up …

“There was one day when we had planned a picnic lunch, but on our way we decided to eat at a restaurant instead,” he says. “Our driver saw a local Mayan family walking along the road, so he pulled over and gave them our picnic lunches. He gave cookies to the kids.”

For one of Wickman’s students, that benevolent spirit proved contagious. After meeting a young teen girl who had quit school for financial reasons, the NIU Huskie telephoned her parents and convinced them to pay for the little girl’s secondary education.

His students also see the NIU program’s principles of advocacy, altruism, diversity and social justice reinforced while they gain deeper levels of empathy and new perspectives on counseling.

Most counseling in the United States is practiced behind closed doors during private one-on-one sessions where details are kept confidential, he says. However, given the familial customs in Guatemala, a counselor there might find extended families coming for the sessions.

“This trip helps my students understand how to work with different cultures,” he says. “When we have clients who are Latino, we need to reset ourselves in a way that meets our clients’ needs.”

T.J. Schoonover, a master’s degree student from Sterling, Ill., who participated in first trip in January of 2016, calls it “100 percent life-changing.”

T.J. Schoonover (top center) made some young friends in Guatemala.

T.J. Schoonover (top center) made some young friends in Guatemala.

He remains struck by the reaction by the family who received the hen house – “how happy and grateful they were; their tears of joy” – as well the appreciation he realized for his own way of life in contrast to the extreme poverty there.

“Going to Guatemala was a great opportunity to go and so some service work, to get out of our comfort zone and to challenge ourselves,” Schoonover says. “Seeing how it is outside of America, I know I need to get out and do things in the community, and not just in my community but in other communities.”

Volunteering also improved his multicultural competencies, he says. “It’s more than just reading a textbook,” he says. “It’s talking to people in the community. It’s doing things. It’s putting your skills to practical use.”

In the end, he says, the journey to Central America will make him a better counselor.

“It gave me a whole new worldview,” he says. “I’m reminded that whatever clients I will have, they have completely different stories and backgrounds than me.”

Now that word of the Guatemala trip has spread – registration for this spring is already closed – Wickman has found renewed empowerment in the response of his students.

“Students who go on these trips are interested in being altruistic. They’re willing to get dirty – it is hard labor under hot sun – and they’re willing to be uncomfortable. It’s partly why they went into the counseling program to being with,” he says. “I’m hoping that the ripple effect continues, and that these students who go down there will want to go back again with their own families.”

Scott Wickman visits with Guatemalan children.

Scott Wickman visits with Guatemalan children.