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.

Eyes Wide Open

Immersion programs give students an opportunity to have a life-changing experience.    

When Gina Labato ‘14 arrived at Rollins in 2010, she considered herself mildly interested in service work but a first-year immersion trip to the Florida Everglades flung open her eyes and there was no turning back. Two years later, she’s co-leading that Everglades trip, an experience she sees as critical to embracing life at Rollins.

“The thing about immersion trips is that they aren’t just service experiences but they are personal growth experiences,” said Labato, who serves alongside Lucas Hernandez ‘13 as student coordinator of the Office of Community Engagement’s (OCE) Immersion Program: Citizens Take Action.

Each semester, more than 100 students participate in immersion programs coordinated through OCE. Anchored in important social and environmental issues, the trips are designed to submerge participants in experiences with the potential to completely transform one’s worldview. But they are as much about connecting students to an issue as they are about connecting students to each other.

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Students restore a neighborhood playground in Immokalee.

“When I joined the Everglades trip in my first year, I was still struggling to find my place at Rollins, and this trip turned that around for me,” Labato said. “Now as a co-leader, I can see how these experiences really help some students step out of their shell; you see a lot of deep friendships form. These trips have it all: learning, service, but also camaraderie.”

Don’t get Labato wrong; the trips are a lot of work too. Students on the Everglades trip participated in exotic plant removal in the everglades and got lots of hands-on experience in understanding how humans are impacting that ecosystem. “We had reflection every night connecting it all to our life at Rollins, our part in the world, why we felt a need to partner with places like the everglades,” Labato said.

Labato and Hernandez oversaw several other fall immersions, including a Habitat for Humanity trip to St. Petersburg, Florida in September, a Labor Day weekend trip co-led by Hernandez to Deerfield Beach focused on the accessibility of nutrition and healthy eating in underserved communities, and a fall break trip to Immokalee, Florida where students learned about the evolution of agriculture in the area and the life of Immokalee’s immigrant and migrant farm workers.

In November, one group of students will travel to Gainesville to learn about the rights of the area’s homeless population, and another will head to Blue Springs State Park.

To say that immersions are life changing would be an understatement for Hernandez, who has participated in nearly a dozen such trips. “All immersion trips complement both the academic and social aspects of a Rollins education,” Hernandez said. “What they do best, however, is give students a new energy and sense of purpose which forever changes for the better their time at Rollins and beyond.”

Hope has Rhythm

How the Dance for Parkinson’s program is restoring mobility for patients with Parkinson’s a disease.

Imagine if day by day, cell by cell, your brain stopped talking to your body. While that would be an oversimplified explanation of Parkinson’s disease, the crux of the disease is that the brain slowly but steadily disconnects.

But what if, using the power of the imagination, those communication paths could be reconnected? That’s the hypothesis that drove the Mark Morris Dance Group to develop Dance for Parkinson’s, a program that encourages dance professionals to share their knowledge of movement and rhythm in classes that address such Parkinson’s-specific concerns as balance, flexibility, coordination, isolation, and depression.

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Robert Sherry, professor of theatre arts and dance, facilitating an Orlando Dance for Parkinson’s class.

Naysayers need only visit Robert Sherry’s Orlando Dance for Parkinson’s class to see that restoring mobility is not only possible, it’s happening. Since January, the professor of theatre arts and dance, along with his Rollins colleague, Robin Wilson, has been co-teaching the program. “My outlook on the disease has completely changed. We are seeing results, people are getting better,” said Sherry, who now sits on the board of the Central Florida chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association. “Surgery, support groups, and medication are part of this too, but there is no doubt, this dance program is making a difference.”

Sherry first became involved in the program when he was contacted by Anissa Mitchell, Parkinson’s outreach coordinator at Florida Hospital, in 2011. “Florida Hospital had sent therapists to the Dance for Parkinson’s workshop but realized that they didn’t know enough about dance to facilitate the program effectively.”

Since kicking off the program in Orlando, Sherry was inspired to share the experience with faculty at this summer’s Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) teaching workshops. “We had the opportunity to teach seven minutes with a group of eight or so other professors for the purpose of having our teaching critiqued by other professors,” said Sherry, who taught a component of his Dance for Parkinson’s class. “People loved it so much; there was so much enthusiasm for this. In fact, I was later approached by Dr. Mamoon, physician and director of the pre-health program at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, who expressed interest in somehow bringing the program to his pre-med students.”

As a result, Sherry and his colleagues from Millsaps applied for an ACS grant, which they received this fall. Starting next year, Millsaps students and faculty, dance instructors in Jackson, and local Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients will work with Sherry and Wilson to engage in a cross-institutional, interdisciplinary, engaged-learning course that will connect students’ understanding of neurobiology to practical issues of health and well-being.

“It’s exciting to see this expand into other colleges,” Sherry said. “Robin and I get so much out of it. The people we are working with are an extremely bright and motivated group of people. It’s incredibly gratifying to make a difference in their lives.”

A Community Classroom

Connecting curriculum to community engagement.

When Kim Dennis, associate professor of art & art history, set out to plan her upcoming community engagement designated course, the decision to work with the Rollins College Educational Talent Search (ETS) program was a no-brainer. “This Intro to Women’s Studies course focused on us working with four different community partners,” Dennis said. “Working with one that the College already supports just made sense to me.”

After Dennis created her Talent Search team, the group of three students began reaching out to girls enrolled in ETS. Since its arrival on campus, the program has offered onsite college preparatory mentoring to selected students in grades 6-12 in target schools throughout the metro-Orlando area.

The first project was to invite the Talent Search girls to campus for a tour, lunch, and discussion of women’s issues. A few weeks later, they all participated in the St. Jude Give Thanks Walk. In November, they volunteered with the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida by planning a party for kids celebrating their birthday that month.

Dennis sees the connection between the theoretical work they’re doing in the classroom and the real-world experiences community engagement brings as a critical pairing. “It gives an opportunity for my students to partner with students in the community and bring some elements of the class to these high school students, such as body image, positive self image, and all kinds of issues related to race and class,” Dennis said. “It gives my students a chance to connect with real-world circumstances outside of their own and also to serve as mentors and role models.”

“Working with the community definitely enriches my classroom experience in that, every time we discuss something interesting in class, I think about how I can apply that to Talent Search, and I wonder what the girls will have to say,” Jamaica Reddick ’15 said. “The girls of Talent Search are not only enthusiastic, but they are opinionated and loud about those opinions. It’s a beautiful thing to see and it gives me hope for a new generation of women who can succeed in whatever field they choose.”

Reggie Drummond, Talent Search counselor, was floored by all the positive feedback he got from the Talent Search girls who worked with Dennis’s students. “The Women’s study session provided mentoring and allowed the Talent Search students to see college women as big sisters,” Drummond said. “The value of that is immeasurable.”

Assistant Professor of Psychology Alice Davidson saw similar value in incorporating college preparatory mentoring into her Adolescent Development class. Davidson’s students have been presenting workshops to students enrolled in Upward Bound, a year-round program for motivated students with academic potential who desire additional academic preparation, advisement, and encouragement to succeed in high school and later, in college.

“I really wanted to include a community engagement component to this course so that my students had the opportunity to apply the adolescent development concepts they are learning about in class and to observe teenagers in action,” Davidson said. “As a result, we are working with approximately 30 ninth and tenth grade girls and boys presenting three mini workshops, which take place one Saturday a month, on topics such as balancing work and school, and managing stress.”

Davidson became interested in partnering with Upward Bound when she learned about the program’s goal to increase the rate at which participants complete secondary education and enroll in and graduate from college. “I wanted my students to assist with that goal by sharing their college experiences with these high schoolers who are only a few years behind them in the process.”

Nicole Inclan ‬ ’14, one of Davidson’s students, has been working with the Upward Bound students and has been moved by their commitment to the program. “It’s not always easy, as the Upward Bounds students demonstrate by coming to Rollins early each Saturday for tutoring and more work in addition to their regular school commitments. But they believe in themselves and want to take control of their futures. I have a lot of respect for them,” ‪Inclan said. “I think they are gaining a solid support system in the Upward Bounds staff and Rollins community.”

“I’m so pleased with how engaging the workshops have been and I’ve enjoyed learning about the diverse experiences of my own students as they’ve opened up to the ninth graders. Likewise, it’s been fun to watch the high schoolers engage with the Rollins students by asking them various questions regarding choosing a major, playing sports, and working full time, for example,” Davidson said. “This definitely is a mutually beneficial partnership, as the Rollins students are learning from the Upward Bound participants, as well.”

Red, White, Blue and Civic Engagement, Too

Brock Monroe ’14 and Sarah Elbadri ’13

Sarah Elbadri ’13 and Brock Monroe ’14

Rollins’ Democracy Project cultivates political discourse while encouraging civic engagement.

The 2012 presidential election will likely be remembered as one of the hardest fought political races in history. It’s also been one of the most emotionally charged. People on both sides of the fence have strong opinions about where this country needs to go, and these opinions don’t often align.

But students Sarah Elbadri ’13and Brock Monroe ’14 don’t shy away from a hearty political debate; in fact, they embrace it as a critical part of the democratic process.

“We take for granted how lucky we are to be living in a democracy,” Elbadri said. “Not only can we vote, but we can freely discuss our beliefs.”

That’s the sentiment that drove the creation of The Democracy Project, a non-partisan endeavor tasked by the Office of Community Engagement with engaging students in the process of democracy.

For the past 6 months, Elbadri, a student in the Master of Planning Civic Urbanism program, leans democrat; Monroe, a communications major in the Holt school, have been engaging the campus in political discussion and encouraging civic engagement.

Monroe, who is also JUMP’s civic engagement chair, sees this as an important right of passage for college students. “We want to make sure students know their political identity based not on their parent’s beliefs, but on their own,” Monroe said.

Throughout the fall, the Democracy Project hosted a variety of pre-election events on campus, including debate watch parties and voter registration drives. Monroe kicked-off the President’s Council on Democracy and Civic Action, which besides discussing ways to better strategies for politically engaging the student body, hosted local politician speaking events, such as one attended by Former Congressman Lou Frey and Dick Batchelor, former Democratic state legislator.

Eldradi sees the mission of the Democracy Project as being inexplicably tied to that of the College. “We are trying to develop a culture on this campus of civic responsibility,” Elbadri said. “We want to present the students with hard issues and have them critically think about them.”

Now that the 2012 Presidential election is over, the Democracy Project continues to forge ahead. Monroe and Elbadri have started plans for a civic leaders institute and a trip to Tallahassee in the spring, which will give students the opportunity to meet with politicians face-to-face.

“We want students to leave Rollins with more than what they learned in politics class,” said Monroe.

A Foundation of Healthy Eating Habits

Rachel Newcomb’s anthropology course teams up with Nemours to Teach Healthy Eating Habits to Preschoolers.

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Photo by Scott Cook.

By the time American kids reach age five, 20 percent of them are overweight or obese. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that percentage will continue to increase with age, with 35.9 percent of adults considered to be obese. Those are alarming statistics Jessica Mills hopes to change—and she’s starting with three-year-olds.

“The theory is that if we can teach children to have better eating habits earlier in life, it will be easier to practice them later,” said Mills, the program and policy analyst for Nemours’ Florida prevention initiative. “We are essentially trying to get good eating habits started early.”

This year, the Nemours’ Healthy Habits program received a $90,000 grant from the Winter Park Health Foundation, a $40,000 increase from the 2011 grant they received. The money is used to create and disseminate food and fitness teaching tools to area preschools in Winter Park, Eatonville, and Maitland.

But Mills also relies on community partners and volunteers to help work directly with the preschools to deliver the healthy habits training program. That’s where Associate Professor of Anthropology Rachel Newcomb’s senior seminar class comes in.

When Newcomb received word that Nemours was looking for program volunteers, she immediately saw synchronicity with her course in applied anthropology.

“This fall, we’re studying the cultural reasons for obesity. A lot of it stems from the fact that we that we live in an environment where it’s become impossible not to gain weight,” Newcomb said. “Having my students meet with the preschoolers and school directors gives them the chance to conduct fieldwork and gain first-hand experience on the topic.”

Each of Newcomb’s seven students have each been assigned a school, which they will visit five or six times over the course of the semester. After completing the program training, they begin teaching healthy habits messages with students, and sharing resources with school administrators and parents. Along the way, students are reporting back to Mills about the effectiveness of the program and sharing their insights in Newcomb’s class.

“They are going to the sites and finding out how teacher and directors are using the materials, determining if they need additional support, also working at the director level to determine what wellness policies they have in place, how they are engaging families, and communicating those policies to families,” Mills said.

“From an anthropological standpoint, working on a community engagement project is the best way to gain insight to a cultural issue,” said TJ Fisher ’13, Newcomb’s student. “By engaging the public in education, while simultaneously gathering information about how to improve the project, I am taking everything I have learned in my college career and applying it in a tangible way.”

All in all, the program will touch more than 600 students in the area; Rollins students are working with approximately 140 of those.

Results from the 2011 study have already been positive. “75 percent of children are in a childcare setting at least some portion of the day—that’s 12 million nationally,” Mills said. “We know that if we can make policy and behavior changes at preschool level, we can start making a change. This is one of the places where prevention needs to start.”

“It’s a win-win for all involved,” Newcomb said. “Our students get a great learning experience and we help them get this important work done.”