Bridging Two Worlds

Amanda Wittebort ’13 finds the place where her love for children and community intersect

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Amanda Wittebort at the Every Child Counts (ECC) School

In the fall of 2009, Amanda Wittebort ’13 had one of those eye-opening experiences that can have the power to shape a person and the trajectory of his or her life. As part of her Rollins College Conference Course (RCC), the psychology major was participating in a 10-day Abaco Islands field study during which five days were spent at Every Child Counts (ECC) School. “We were creating lessons plans with the technology we had brought with us to the school,” says Wittebort of her first ever service trip. “I fell in love with the children. Seeing how much the founder and the teachers cared and how well it worked for these students, well, it was outstanding to me. I promised I would be back.”

It took her nearly 4 years to keep that promise, but this spring she returned to ECC once again, this time as part of an Alternative Spring Break immersion trip. “The students and the relationship that we were able to build were life-changing to me,” says Wittebort, who worked with an older class of additional needs students.

In between her two trips to Abaco, Wittebort, a psychology major, has satisfied her passion for service and working with children by time spent in the Rollins Child Development Center, where she has completed research projects, internships, and lab work. “I have always known that I have wanted to work with children,” says Wittebort, who also participated in a senior seminar centered around creating a Living Lab at the Orlando Science Center. “I’m so interested in the mind and the way that children develop. But I also feel this desire to serve the community.”

It was that desire that promoted Wittebort to pursue a year-long service position with City Year, which she’ll start in July. Based in Baton Rouge, Wittebort will be working as a teaching assistant and mentor. “City Year’s mission is to reduce the drop out rate in this country,” she says. “I will be working with targeted children who show indicators of being potential drop outs.” Having served as a peer mentor at Rollins, she’s excited about the prospect of supporting her students in getting back on track.

“I fell in love with service at Rollins,” says Wittebort, who served as JUMP’s youth and education impact chair followed by student coordinator for two years as well as headed up Halloween Howl, Holiday Fun Fest, and Spring Extravaganza.

“I’m so excited to have been able to bridge the two sides of my passions and have been able to focus on working with children who require more attention or have been dealt a tough hand in life. All the work I have done has pushed me out of my comfort zone but also given me the chance to get to know myself. It feels good to know that I have direction in what I am passionate in.”

A Word from the Wise

CE courses give students the chance to learn from the residents of The Mayflower Retirement Community    

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Student Janae Gardner with a resident of the Mayflower Retirement Community.

When Anne Stone, assistant professor of communication, first starting planning a community engagement project for her Communication and Aging course, she figured her 25 students would interview several of the residents at The Mayflower Retirement Community and use those life stories to form a qualitative research paper about such issues as intergenerational communication. Imagine her surprise when the tables were turned.

“A lot of the residents tried to interview the students,” Stone chuckles. “The students had all these questions ready for them, but a lot of residents preferred to learn about the students rather than talk about their own lives. I don’t think my students realized how interested the older adults would be in college students’ lives.” In the end, the students were still able to conduct their research, eventually producing papers, but judging by the way most students visited more than was required by the class, they took away a lot more than just data. “Next week we’ll be having an event at the Mayflower to present the research, which really shows the positive side of aging,” Stone says.

Stone is collaborating on this event with Nick Marx, visiting assistant professor of media & cultural studies, who also worked with Mayflower for his CE course titled, American Media History and Generational Identity. Throughout the semester, Marx’s 12 students have delved into the beginnings of radio, television, and film. On at least four occasions, students met with Mayflower residents to get a first-hand perspective of what it was like to grow up and experience media when they did.

“The students got to hear people share personal experiences and speak about events that were important to their life experiences,” Marx says. “Talking to the seniors gave them perspective about having only three television channels, or what it was like to dress up for the movies, or listen to the radio at night. It brought it all home to them in a real way.”

The students met with their Mayflower partner four to five times over the semester, asking questions about the first movie they ever saw and who controlled the television when they were growing up. “The residents also joined our class sessions three different times, one in which we were talking about 1950s representations of family life,” Marx says. “I think that the residents were very excited to see that their personal memories and media experiences matter.”

Joseph Siry’s American Environmental History class also partnered with Mayflower to explore cross-generational conversations about how the landscape we have experienced in our lives changes. “The idea was to write their stories but it ended up being more of a group dialogue with everyone sharing stories of how and where they grew up and where residents worked around the world,” says Siry, an associate professor of environmental studies. Students visited bi-weekly for discussions with Mayflower residents that also entailed a sharing of course reading material and round table discussions about topics such as conservation and suburban development costs and benefits. “What started as high hopes of writing personal histories, the course turned into a book club in the end, which I think was just as good,” Siry says.

“Intergenerational partnerships provide some of the most powerful learning opportunities,” says Lord Family Director of Community Engagement Micki Meyer. “Through these collaborations all members are equally transformed by their ability to teach and learn through the process. This is why community engagement classes are so important to the Rollins experience because they allow students to better understand course content while engaging with communities they might not normally encounter.”

Spring Break with a Purpose

Service-focused trips give Rollins students more than just a respite from classes  

Not everyone needs to sleep in or sunbathe on spring break. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 85,000 American college students annually seek refuge from the pressures of college life through service-oriented trips known as “alternative spring breaks.”

A Rollins student participating in an Alternative Spring Break works with students at a school for children with special needs in Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas.

A Rollins student participating in an Alternative Spring Break works with students at a school for children with special needs in Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas.

Five years ago, Rollins College offered its first alternative spring break. Six students signed up. This year, there were five alternative spring breaks, and more than 70 students participating.

Alex Daubert ’15 is one of them. In the fall, he got a taste of service-oriented travel, taking a weekend trip through the Rollins Immersion: Citizen’s Take Action Program to work alongside 14 other students on a Habitat for Humanity home in St. Petersburg.

“That got my interest piqued in the immersion program,” he says. “I’d always wanted to do one. After I’d done one and lived it and had a great experience, I signed up to be a facilitator.”

What that meant, essentially, was that he and two other students would select and plan a weeklong alternative spring break trip as long as it was within a 10-hour driving radius of campus. Daubert’s group chose Tennessee—specifically, the Cumberland Trail in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, a trail that, when completed, will span the 300 miles between the Cumberland Gap National Park and the Tennessee River Gorge.

“We kept coming back to [the fact that] we wanted to do something involving the environment,” Daubert says. “Something outdoors, and tailor it to what we expect the service to be.”

Using fire rakes, hand clippers, pocket saws, and mattocks to level and clear the trail. They also installed water bars to control erosion and marked the trail by painting blazes on trees.  Daubert says the manual labor appealed to him—“You could see what you were doing.”

Besides the Cumberland Trail trip, 13 Rollins students went to the Florida Keys, where, working alongside experts, they learned about the environmental issues facing this archipelago, and how human interactions affect nature. Another 14 students went to West Virginia, where they repaired and weather-fitted homes in rural areas of one of the country’s poorest states.

15 students went to Chicago, where they witnessed firsthand the effects of inner-city poverty on the relationship between high school dropout rates and juvenile crime. Another 15 students traveled to Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas, where they worked with teachers and students at a school for children with special needs.

“Over the past five years, Rollins Immersion: Citizens Take Action has seen tremendous growth with a great desire from students to participate in and facilitate trips,” says Meredith Hein, associate director for the Office of Community Engagement. “Great effort has gone into the program to make it a sustainable aspect of the Rollins College community for years to come. The energy on our campus to be involved with immersion and alternative breaks continues to thrive.”

Beyond the Ballot

Moving forward with the Democracy Project’s message of civic engagement  

It’s been six months since we satisfied our civic duty at polling stations across the nation during the 2012 presidential election. While voting is, for many, the only expression of political engagement, that’s something Sarah Elbadri ’13 and Brock Monroe ’14 hope to change on the Rollins campus as they steer the Democracy Project towards ways to stay engaged after the election.

“Civic engagement starts with, but shouldn’t end with, voting,” Monroe says. “Voting is important but if you’re only involved on Election Day, then you’re not actually impacting the decisions being made.”

John Mica visits the Olin Library at Rollins College on March 11, 2013 Photo by Scott Cooke.

John Mica visits the Olin Library at Rollins College on March 11, 2013 Photo by Scott Cooke.

After a busy fall term in which the Democracy Project hosted debate watch parties, voter registration drives, and voter education forum, Monroe and Elbadri never lost steam as they steered the focus beyond voting towards ways to stay civically engaged outside of the election season.

In March, the duo brought in Congressman John Mica to speak to students about getting started in a political career. Mica also had dinner with President Duncan and a handful of select undergraduates. “This was an empowering dialogue for students,” says Monroe, who also extended an invitation to Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson. “We plan to bring in more speakers; we are working on a line-up for fall 2013.”

The Democracy Project also hosted The Citizenship Clinic, an opportunity designed to connect immigrants with the resources necessary to gain U.S. citizenship. Presented in collaboration with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, the event featured lawyers able to advise and prescreen applicants, with volunteers that walked applicants through the process of filling out the N-400 US Application for Naturalization and applying for a $690 fee waiver. The event also connected Citizenship Clinic participants to English classes designed to assist them with studying for and passing the citizenship test.

“Our goal was to serve the community but we also wanted students to reevaluate their own opinions and find a fresh perspective on immigration,” says Monroe, who recruited more than 20 student volunteers to assist with the event. “We were able to get past the rhetoric and be put face to face with people trying to become U.S. citizens. There was a consensus that everyone was really impacted by what they learned through this process.”

Also during this semester, Monroe and Elbadri hosted a student lunch attended by Winter Park Institute and Winter with the Writers guest Azar Nafisi, democratic activist and author of Reading Lolita in Tehran. “She brought together people from across campus interested in the intersection of culture and democracy, and how it’s engrained in our literary work,” Elbadri says. “She’s so passionate about democracy, not through a political lens, but through an academic, literary, and, most importantly, a real world perspective.”

Even though Elbadri will be graduating in a few weeks, Monroe and the Democracy Project will forge forward into the fall 2013 term, this time with an assistant director and more collaboration with faculty. “It will be more than just a side project for a student coordinator and has become a part of a staff member’s professional role,” Elbadri says.

“The Democracy Project has grown from something the Office of Community Engagement was doing to becoming a campus-wide initiative with collaboration from many different people and departments,” Monroe says. “Students are starting to see that Election Day is a way to feel empowered but I think we’re getting them to ask the question ‘what’s next?’ I am hoping that this trend of greater civic engagement continues.”

Bonner Leaders Program Debuts

Community service program links select undergraduates with local non-profit organizations.

It’s been a few months since the Office of Community Engagement first announced that the Bonner Leaders Program, a four-year community engagement program, was coming to Rollins. Designed as a scholarship program for full-time undergraduate students, Bonner gives students with a passion for working directly with non-profit organizations the opportunity to engage with the community to address some of the greatest challenges of our time.

“Over the course of the spring semester, we reached out to hundreds of potential incoming Rollins students to invite them apply for this four-year program,” says Meredith Hein, associate director for the Office of Community Engagement. “The response has been incredible so far. Incoming students are passionate about the issues facing the world today and motivated to engage with the local community as Rollins students.”

Developed by the Bonner Foundation, a national philanthropic organization based in Princeton, NJ, the Bonner Program provides students with a scholarship to help defray the cost of tuition and to empower them to continue to positively impact their communities.

“The program is for students who are already making significant contributions to the local community and are ready to further that passion,” Hein says. “There will be 10 Leaders chosen in total, and each will contribute 300 hours of service each year, in addition to a summer internship.”

The program will be accepting applications through June 7th and those who are selected will become Rollins’ very first Bonner Leaders. The Bonner team is also connecting with community non-profit partners who will act as co-educators by providing service opportunities for students.

“Our non-profit partners will definitely benefit from having a Bonner Leader work with them, but that student will also benefit from the educational experience provided by the community non-profit partner they work with,” Hein says. “Their personal development will be reflected in their responsibilities at their service site.” To that end, Hein will recommend that someone on staff at each site be assigned to the student as a manager and mentor to their service.

In the coming months, OCE will be announcing the names of the first Bonner Leaders, the inaugural group that will bring the program’s motto, Put Your Passion into Action, to life.