Author Archives: Gabi Cuna

Graduating Senior Spotlight

Each year, Middlebury College students participate in countless hours of community engagement projects like mentorship programs, community connected learning courses, language acquisition programs, migrant justice organizations, alternative breaks, and more. These students devote their time and energy to building relationships with local and global communities while learning and growing together as partners. As these students continue their educational journey towards graduation, they truly come to embody the spirit of service and leadership through their connections made and the meaningful work they do. 

This year, we’re celebrating the following students who have graciously made the Center for Community Engagement part of their time at Middlebury College. Each of these individuals have dedicated time and effort towards diverse projects and programs, incorporating their scholarly pursuits into their community connections. Though they may leave Middlebury, the lasting legacy that they have created here through their service will not quickly fade and we hope that they will carry the lessons learned with them into their new ventures.

Congratulations Graduates! Thank you for making the Center for Community Engagement part of your journey!

Hawa Adam
Brittney Azubuike
Christina Badalamenti
Eloise Berdahl-Baldwin
Ellie Barney
Riley Board
Emma Borrow
Emily Bulczynski
Alexandra Burns
Amanda Coccia
Lily Colon
Ernesto Cuxil
Melanie De Jesus
Tyler DeShong
Diana Diaz
Isabella Eidelheit
Samantha Enriquez
Sarah Fry
Irith Fuks
Mingjiu Gao
Kathlyn Gehl
Julia Goydan
Meg Haberle
Isabelle Hartnett
Jaden Hill
Linnea Hubbard-Nelson
Rasika Iyer
Simon Jenkins
Madeleine Joinnides
Roodharvens Joseph
Cassie Kearney
Emma Knoke
Sophia Leathers
Roni Lezama
Huiming (Sam) Liang
Michelle (Yumeng) Liu
Masha Makutonina
Kevin Mata
Madeline McKean
Jenali Mehta
Darleny Mendoza
Grace Metzler
Wilmer Montilla Morantes
Kayla Moore
Yamit Netter-Sweet
Olivia O’Brien
Gardner Olson
Meg Pandiscio
Kendal Pittman
Jacqueline Qiu
Cynthia Ramos
Elizabeth Reyes
Patrick Rollins
Jonah Ryan
Pim Singhatiraj
Alexandra Sipos
Miles Stokowski
Lia Swiniarski
Kate Talano
Emmanuel Tamrat
Ellie Thompson
Sarrkos Thunyiswa
Linh Tran
Martin Troška
Katie van der Merwe
Joan Vera
Nicholas Wagg
Grace Weissman
Connor Wertz
Emma White
Noah Whiting
Ariadne Will
Dane Wilson
Anna Wood
Essi Wunderman
Indira Yuldasheva
Mariana Zamorano
Hira Zeeshan
Janice Zhang
Chloe Zinn

Conflict Transformation at the CCE

As you may have heard, Middlebury College recently received a $25 million grant to support Conflict Transformation initiatives. This grant, which will be deployed over a seven-year period, will create the Kathryn Wasserman Davis Collaborative in Conflict Transformation which seeks to encourage faculty, staff, and students to engage in conflict transformation work around the globe. This collaborative will bring together every branch of the Middlebury network, including the Center for Community Engagement, to lead a global consortium of colleges and universities striving towards better understanding and practicing conflict transformation.

So, first things first, what is conflict transformation? Conflict transformation is an approach to conflict that understands that conflict is a normal, continuous, and dynamic part of the human experience. Rather than trying to avoid or resolve conflict, this approach enables us to see conflict as an opportunity to strengthen relationships, organizations, communities, and societies. By addressing the root causes of conflict, like historical contexts and systemic issues that lead to hostilities, conflict transformation seeks to create attitudes, structures, and systems that can respond to conflict – when it inevitably occurs –  in a meaningful way, without violence or harm. Conflict transformation also takes a broad view of conflict, and therefore the transformative principles incorporate diverse disciplines.  Given that there are a myriad of contexts in which conflict occurs, the practice of conflict transformation can look very different depending on the circumstances. In some cases, conflict transformation might take the form of encouraging educational access through tutoring and mentorship programs. In other circumstances, transformation might look like holding restorative justice circles to bring together disagreeing communities to engage in productive dialogue. 

The Center for Community Engagement (CCE) is honored to support students, faculty, and staff who are interested in creating new conflict transformation initiatives, or incorporating the principles of conflict transformation into established programs. Ashley Laux ‘06, Director of the Center for Community Engagement shared: 

“The Collaborative in Conflict Transformation will deepen support for Middlebury College students who are already engaging in local and global communities through coursework, volunteering, activism, and internships. Skills and knowledge development around navigating conflict are a critical component of ethical, engaged citizenship. I’m particularly excited for the possibility of expanded networks and connections in this work. Intentionally bringing more community organizations and community members into our programs in Conflict Transformation will strengthen collaborative relationships here in Vermont and around the globe.” 

At the CCE, we’re embracing the idea that conflict is a natural part of human relationships and is an opportunity to make constructive changes in ourselves, our relationships, our campus, our organizations, and our communities. We strive to develop our own and our students’ awareness of conflict and the way it can manifest in communities, and to help develop the skills necessary for envisioning and implementing positive change. 

In the coming year, the Center for Community Engagement is excited to incorporate peace-building practices into already existing programs while piloting new initiatives. This summer, the Privilege & Poverty internship program will adopt a conflict transformation practice by adding a restorative practices training for the intern cohort. This program aims to support students in developing their interpersonal skills when responding to harm and recognize how to respond to the causes of harm rather than the symptoms. Additionally, summer language programs like the History in Translation program and Jiran (جيران) will continue their peace-building work by recognizing the importance of language as a means of building relationships and intercultural dialogue. Through the Collaborative in Conflict Transformation, the CCE will also be launching new initiatives in the coming year and supporting students, faculty, and staff as they explore the multitude of ways to create a more just and peaceful world. 

Finding Your Place

For many students, beginning college can be an exciting, albeit challenging time. In addition to the new academic expectations and experiences, new students are often discovering an entirely new community both on campus and in a new town or state. At Middlebury College, first-year students, 97% of whom come from another state or country, join a thriving campus community of more than 2,500 students in a town of more than 8,500 people. A vital part of integrating into the Middlebury community is finding your place, whether that be through a tight-knit group of friends formed during New Student Weekend, a program hosted by the Anderson Freeman Resource Center, or weekly club meetings organized by one of the student organizations on campus. 

At the Center for Community Engagement, our goal is to support each Middlebury College student in finding their place on campus, locally within Middlebury and as a global citizen. We offer a wide array of programs, courses, and clubs that can fit into any schedule, focused on a multitude of interest areas like civic leadership, youth & mentoring, global engagement and language programs, and more. Many of our student leaders are varsity athletes or work-study students, and we find ways to help them find community engagement opportunities that fit with their busy schedules. While each of our program areas may speak to a different skill set or passion project, each shares a similar goal: to encourage students to engage in self-exploration, self-expression, and consider their place and power in whatever community they belong to. 

For many students, CCE programs provide a space for students to make friends, build a support network, and find personal and professional growth opportunities. Madelyn Lander ‘23, who founded the CCE supported community engagement organization Yellow House Community Club shared the following quote about her experience at Yellow House Community, which inspired her to start the Middlebury club:

 “Every day was different, and every week I discovered a new part of our community here in Midd that I had never known existed before. With Yellow House I traveled to farms in the area, volunteering with Yellow House residents to give back to the community which supports us, went on more hikes than I could count, and spent hours in the kitchen making lunches and helping to prep dinners with everyone.” 

In addition to the experiences available through student-led organizations, community connected learning courses provide an experiential learning opportunity that encourages students to engage in hands-on community building activities. CCE staff teach a Community Connected Learning course (INTD 121), which is a great way for new students to start building community with project support. Emily Carfi ‘21, who served as a Community Connected Learning Course Project Assistant said:

“[Community Connected Learning] was a great way for me to pursue community work with great guidance during such a difficult time of year. I learned about fellow Midd students’ involvement in the community, and I also learned about different organizations that are located in Addition County, which I hadn’t heard of before. It was so inspiring to see how all these students contributed to different organizations meant to serve different groups of people in need.” 

For students who would like a more individualized connection with the CCE, we offer Find My Place meetings, which students can schedule by visiting go/FindMyPlace. Find My Place meetings provide an opportunity for students to meet with any CCE staff member to talk about options for volunteering that work best for their schedule and capacity. Through these meetings, students can see first-hand how customizable community engagement opportunities are at Middlebury College. We strive to ensure that students can choose their own adventure, with structure and support from the CCE every step of the way. 

The Center for Community Engagement is intentional about creating a diverse set of experiences available to students interested in getting involved, but the possibilities aren’t limited to what we’ve already created. Each year, the CCE provides flexible funding through the Community Engagement Organization leadership group so that students can work on individual or group projects which may or may not lead to the development of a new student organization. This year alone, we’ve supported students in creating five new student organizations focused on collaborating with community partners. We also support grant programs like the Cross Cultural Community Engagement Grant that encourages students to dedicate their time to intercultural dialogue and exchange. We fully believe that every student should be able to find their place here at Middlebury, and if it doesn’t already exist, we’re here to help you create it.

A yellow house with white trimming sits with a copse of trees on one side and a green grassy lawn on the other. Two yellow Adirondack chairs sit facing the camera in the grass.

Alumni/CCE Staff Highlight: Devin McGrath-Conwell

By Devin McGrath-Conwell

I talk about stories a lot. Possibly, depending on who in my life you ask, too much. This is nothing new. Growing up, I quite often had my face buried in the newest book I could get my hands on. I was an equal-opportunity reader. There was a lot of fantasy, but always matched by a dose of historical fiction, The occasional sci-fi, and of course, how could we forget reading all of James Patterson’s Alex Cross novels under the covers because I wasn’t supposed to. It wasn’t too long after that when I realized movies scratched the same itch. No, I didn’t quite realize what a screenplay was when I was young, but I did know that I could sit down in front of something on ABC Family or Turner Classic Movies and feel just as transported as one of my books.

You may be asking why I am rambling on about this. Well, the fact is, it was all that young love for storytelling that brought me to Middlebury College. Junior year of high school I took a class with Barbara Barklow that provided me with a life-changing realization: I could study movies in college. Once I got some to Midd, I didn’t waste much time before becoming a joint-major in English & American Literatures and Film & Media Culture. My courses allowed me to develop how I thought about stories as well as how I told my own. Poetry workshops, writing seminars, and all manner of critical essays supported my development as a procurer and analyzer of narrative. Stories are all around us, whether we’re writing them, listening to them, watching them, or even struggling to remember what happened last weekend when you’re at dinner with your friends. It is all of that which feeds into my work at Projects for Peace. 

I am not an international politics scholar by any means. Yes, The West Wing was a formative show in my teenage years, but it’s not quite like Aaron Sorkin delivered a whole lot of actionable policy to work from.  I came into this position as Digital Media Coordinator for Projects for Peace knowing that I had, and still have, a great deal to learn about the topics and issues wrapped into peacebuilding and changemaking. What has been so wonderful about this position, is that it has allowed me to apply my expertise in narrative pacing, story beats, and identifying themes to the remarkable true stories of what Projects for Peace grantees accomplish every summer. Every week, I get to dig into proposals and reports to try and boil down these incredible stories of peacebuilding into formats that get them in front of new people.

It is, admittedly, a challenge. The hard work here is done by the college students furthering the cause of global peace. My role is to make sure that their work is documented and broadcasted so that more folks are inspired to pick up the torch. This can mean creating Instagram posts, LinkedIn articles, profiles for our reading room on the website, or assets for Campus Liaisons at other institutions to better prepare them for any and all communications needs. Each task carries along unique challenges, but I see all of them as orbiting around the central idea of telling stories as profoundly and directly as possible. Because of this, I draw on my work as a Middlebury student every day. No, I’m not writing screenplays or doing literary analysis at Projects for Peace, but my work calls upon the same creative muscles that drew me to the college in the first place.

The point of all of this, if there is one, is that moving from college into the workforce does not mean dismissing those passions and curiosities that delivered you to that transitional point. Did I think that I would be working in communications and media for a grant program focused on global peace? Absolutely not. But, what I hoped for was a way to continually engage with storytelling and the creative aspects of the craft that I love. As a result, I have been able to learn an incredible amount about peace work in a multitude of communities and through a patchwork of approaches. I am constantly inspired by the stories I am able to encounter because of Projects for Peace, and I enter each day hoping that I can do justice to the work our grantees accomplish.

AmeriCorps Member Highlight: Michael Butcher

This year, the Center for Community Engagement is celebrating AmeriCorps Week, March 13th through 19th, by sharing stories from current AmeriCorps Members and highlighting service opportunities through this blog and social media. Check out our posts on the CCE Instagram page and our LinkedIn page

Each year, as many as 250,000 Americans participate in AmeriCorps programs to serve organizations making a difference in over 40,000 communities across the country. These programs and organizations focus on a variety of social issues including environmental stewardship, economic opportunity, education, disaster response, and more. AmeriCorps programs are open to individuals from all backgrounds and ages. Some programs even focus on supporting AmeriCorps from specific backgrounds, like the AmeriCorps Seniors program which highlights opportunities available to folks 55 years and older. Many AmeriCorps programs, like AmeriCorps NCCC, invite individuals to serve communities directly and complete hands-on projects whereas others like AmeriCorps VISTA, focus on capacity-building, outreach, and administrative support for community engagement organizations. Each program has a different service length depending on the project, ranging from a couple of months to a year. 

Michael Butcher, who serves as a Mentor Coordinator for the DREAM Program, has served as an AmeriCorps State and National member for the past two years. After completing a bachelors in Global Studies with minors in Political Science and Spanish at Lebanon Valley College in 2018, Michael joined PeaceCorps through Outreach360 and spent time in the Dominican Republic teaching English and Spanish in rural communities. In March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began and all PeaceCorps members were sent home, Michael chose to volunteer with the American Red Cross and supported disaster relief operations in Northern California and New Orleans, Louisiana. Through the American Red Cross, Michael learned about the variety of options available through the AmeriCorps program and began exploring the opportunities available at Michael was interested in the DREAM Program because of its work with local youth in Vermont, which in some ways reflected his PeaceCorps service. In his current role as the Mentor Coordinator for DREAM Village Mentoring, he supports the student-led DREAM organizations at Middlebury College and at Champlain College in Burlington, VT. 

Michael shared that his AmeriCorps service term has been instrumental in preparing him for today’s workforce. Through his service, he’s had the opportunity to learn how to effectively operate within virtual workspaces, compose and manage professional emails, and build relationships in a professional environment. These skills are often not taught in formal school environments, but can be crucial to success after graduation. He also shared that through his AmeriCorps service, he was able to build relationships with folks with diverse lived experiences, professional and academic backgrounds, and identities. Because AmeriCorps members are often serving in small, non-profit organizations they often work on a variety of projects and hold multiple responsibilities that may be unlike those experienced in entry level positions, which makes AmeriCorps members competitive job candidates after their service term. 

When asked what advice he would give to current college students or individuals considering a service term after graduation, Michael suggested that students should levy their existing support systems, including career centers, advisors, mentors, and professors. He shared “Most people are willing to support you in whatever way they can, don’t be afraid to reach out. If you don’t ask, you won’t know.” Michael found that career counselors were most helpful concerning the application process, which can be lengthy and involved for some service opportunities, but were made easier by knowing what to expect by doing research before starting. He also recommended casting a wide net by applying for a variety of positions to keep your options open because of course, just because you get an offer doesn’t mean you’re required to accept if you don’t feel like the opportunity is the best fit for you. 

Serving as an AmeriCorps Member might not be right for every person and every pathway, but there are a multitude of programs that could be a great next step in your professional and personal development. AmeriCorps can be a great way to build professional skills and networks in a variety of fields after graduation, in addition to contributing to the common good. If you’re interested in a summer or even a year of service after graduation, you can visit the AmeriCorps website to explore member benefits, different service opportunities, and create a profile so that organizations can reach out to you. To support AmeriCorps members throughout the duration of their service, members are given a modest living allowance, relocation assistance, skills-based professional development and training, forbearance on federal student loans, and often housing stipends. After completing their service, AmeriCorps members are eligible for an education award which can be used to further their education and special support for career exploration and advancement through the Employers of National Service partner network, as well as pay back federal student loans. The Center for Careers and Internships can also connect you with a multitude of post-graduation AmeriCorps opportunities. If you’d like to hear more from a current member, consider reaching out to Gabi Cuna ( at the Center for Community Engagement who is currently an AmeriCorps VISTA Member serving with Vermont Youth Tomorrow.

Program Reflection: CCE Winter Term Workshop

Last month, Middlebury faculty, staff, students, and community partners had the opportunity to connect through the Center for Community Engagement’s Winter Term Workshop series “Socially Just Community Engagement”. The workshops, planned by Shannon Lyford and Gabi Cuna from the CCE, focused on three foundational topics related to incorporating social justice and equity concepts into community engagement. By bringing together diverse perspectives, especially those outside of the Middlebury College community, the planners hoped that participants would gain valuable insights into the meaningful work being done throughout Addison County, while building their social justice competencies so that they could move forward in their work with a social justice mindset. Each week during January, the workshops were led by teams composed of a faculty/staff member, a student engaged in community engagement work, and a local community partner. Though the workshops were designed sequentially so that later sessions built on previous concepts, participants could drop into workshops as they desired throughout the month.

The first workshop, which focused on how power & privilege interplay with community engagement was led by Dr. Hector Vila, Jacqueline Qiu, and Anna Freund. With their academic and professional experiences surrounding community connected work, they showcased how some social identities and lived experiences can place individuals in privileged or marginalized positions within our society. The facilitators artfully connected these systems to educational access and quality, food access, and housing stability in our own communities locally, nationally, and globally. After the large group discussion, participants and facilitators broke into small groups to share how they have seen privilege and power play out in their own educational experiences, as well as the organizations where they volunteer or work. One of the discussion questions, which prompted participants to consider “How does where you are influence who you are?” spurred engaging conversations about the kindergarten through college pipeline and access to educational resources across the country. Participants also considered housing and food scarcity, as well as social determinants of health like pollution in low-income communities. 

The second workshop, led by Crystal Jones, Priya Nair, and Rostyk Yarovyk, invited participants to reflect on their own social identities and how they shape the ways in which they engage in community based work. The workshop began with an activity led by Crystal which asked participants to consider which identities, if any, they think about most often, which have the greatest impact on the way they perceive themselves, and which of their identities they’d like to learn more about. After, each facilitator led a small group discussion in breakout rooms about how these identities affect how they show up in professional and community settings. Some participants shared that in different contexts, they felt like their different identities became more salient, especially when they considered who they were interacting with. When reflecting on the workshop process, Crystal Jones, the Assistant Director of Education for Equity and Inclusion, shared:

I had such an enjoyable time preparing for and facilitating my WTW due to the incredible insights and leadership from Rostyk and Priya. Their willingness to share their experiences with the group encouraged others to do the same and lead to some enjoyable and thought-provoking conversation. There is a great benefit from having more than one facilitator and I saw that in real time during this workshop.

Crystal Jones, Assistant Director of Education for Equity and Inclusion

The last of the three workshops showcased a panel discussion featuring Pam Berenbaum, Gabriella Chalker, and Rae Donovan, moderated by Diane Munroe. Throughout the session, Diane invited the panelists to share insights based on their different community engagement perspectives. Rae Donovan, who serves as the Social and Emotional Learning Coordinator for the Mount Abraham Unified School District, shared vital insights about the anti-racism community building efforts in the local schools which prompted engaging discussion and questions about the realities of leading social justice and equity work in local communities. Each of the panelists and participants contributed wisdom about how to truly leverage the already existing strengths of communities in a collaborative and ethical way. Pam Berenbaum shared about her experience both planning and leading the workshop: 

I enjoyed planning for the workshop as much as the workshop itself.  The planning process allowed me to meet and work with people I’d never worked with before (alongside some I already knew) to decide what the most important aspects of strengths-based community engagement are, and how to convey them.  I always enjoy the chance to reflect and focus in this way (thanks, CCE).  From Rae Donovan, I learned a great new work principle:  ‘If your coalition isn’t awkward, then it’s not broad enough’ –brilliant!  And the workshop itself was fun and energizing.  It was great to see students dedicating part of Winter Term to becoming more engaged, and better engaged, members of the community.  That commitment and drive will serve them well for years after leaving the College.

Pam Berenbaum, Director of the Global Health Program & Professor of the Practice of Global Health

As one of the planners for the workshop series, it was such a fun experience and I feel grateful for all the community partners, students, faculty, and staff who contributed to the process as participants and as facilitators. I hope that in the future, the insights shared and the connections made will be valuable as folks participate in community building locally and globally.