Tag Archives: A student’s voice

William Weightman on his 2015 Summer Internship

William Weightman presenting his research findings on VET to Stanford and Shaanxi Normal University faculty and researchers.

William Weightman presenting his research findings on VET to Stanford and Shaanxi Normal University faculty and researchers.

William received funding for his internship from the The Cross Cultural Community Service Fund (CCCS), which supports international community service, advocacy, and activism.

 

This summer I spent four weeks working with Stanford University’s Rural Education Action Program (REAP) as a research intern. REAP is an impact evaluation organization that aims to inform sound education, health and nutrition policy in China. Their goal is to help improve the lives of the millions of people by developing their human capital and overcoming obstacles to education so that they can escape poverty and better contribute to China’s developing economy.

As a part of the REAP research team I worked on their project evaluating China’s vocational education and training (VET) programs. There is a widespread belief at the upper echelons of China’s political decision-making bodies that VET is a way to give poor, rural students the skills they need for future employment. However, research has shown that VET has not been an effective tool for improving students’ economic outcomes. Not only are they learning less than their peers in academic high schools, but also many are regressing in basic skills like Chinese language and math. As a summer intern, I spent two weeks conducting field interviews with VET students and dropouts in China and another two weeks writing a paper incorporating quantitative and qualitative analysis to submit to academic journals and the Chinese Academy of Sciences—and ideally impact policy.

When someone mentions China, images of rapid development and growing prosperity frequently come to mind. Indeed, in the last 30 years China has made rapid improvements and its urban centers and infrastructure rival much of the developed world. However, in the rural parts of China far away from the developed coastal regions, millions of people continue to live in abject poverty with little hope of partaking in the advantages of China’s burgeoning growth.

It is often easy to think of economic development in abstract terms. Numbers such as GDP per capita and spending on infrastructure are important indicators. However, my experience working with REAP made me realize the important role that education and human capital play in economic development. Quality education is essential for any country to succeed. After meeting the kids that are enrolled in VET programs, it became clear to me that they are not receiving a quality education. Three main themes emerged in our interviews: first, students have low expectations for their ability to gain from VET and thus little motivation to learn; second, the schooling system is characterized by a complete lack of accountability for students to learn, engage in appropriate behavior, or stay in school; finally, the vocational education system leaves opportunities for schools to take advantage of their students for pecuniary gain through recruitment, illegal fees, and internships that benefit the school more than the student.

It became apparent to me that the educational opportunities needed to improve the lives of poor, rural students in China are not available in the current educational system. Integrating poor, rural students into an effective educational system is essential to China’s ability to make growth inclusive. If one hopes to create economic growth and development and fairness in a country, it is essential that the educational system help the least-advantaged members of that society.

-William Weightman ’17

Maeve on Juntos

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When people ask me what I do with our compañero, I tell them honestly that we just chat. As part of the Juntos Compañeros program, two other Middlebury students and I go to visit a farmworker named Gustavo every Friday for a couple of hours. I often get some confused looks and uncertainty about what the purpose behind “just chatting” is.
Sometimes we practice English words and phrases and work on specific things like communicating with staff at the bank or post office to send money back to his hometown in Tabasco, Mexico. Other times we will talk about the movie he was just watching on his “dia de descanso” (rest day) and get into a conversation about pop culture, television shows, and our favorite fútbol (soccer) teams. Most of the time though, the conversation slips into how he is doing day to day. If he’s warm enough when he goes out to milk in the early morning in the winter. If his employer has increased his payment above minimum wage at all. Gustavo puts a face to the issue. As an undocumented migrant farmworker in Vermont he works long untraditional hours, he is paid low wages, and he suffers hard conditions on a family dairy farm.

We are by no means solving the issues that Gustavo faces by just chatting. We are not confronting the crisis of immigration. We are not doing anything that would be published in the newspaper as revolutionary engagement in the community, but I think our little nuggets of conversation in broken English and Spanish provide some form of companionship and insight for both of us. It’s fun to talk about soccer and TV and our favorite foods. It’s two hours for Gustavo that don’t revolve around the farm’s milking schedule and two hours for us that don’t revolve around squeezing in lunch at Proctor between class and meetings. Just chatting lets us all take a break and just exist with one another for a while. It’s not the structural change that’s needed with immigration, but it feels like a little baby step to creating solidarity and a partnership across difference.

 

– Maeve Moynihan ’17

Fredy on MAlt in Ferguson

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Below is a reflection from Fredy Rosales ’17, a student who took part in the Ferguson Alternative Spring Break Trip. Fredy was awarded a Community Engagement Mini-Grant to attend the trip.

As I bend down to pick up a fugitive piece of trash from the road in North Florissant Rd in Ferguson, Missouri, I try to observe and absorb the reality of this environment and my situation. It’s not what I expected. I don’t mind the physical work even after an exhausting day of traveling, because after all, I knew my Ferguson Alternative Spring Break was a service trip, but I wonder if this is the best way to help the movement and specifically chaos-invaded Ferguson. I also wonder why this place is so similar to my home town. When will we see the riots, protests and chaos that the media so insistently portrays? Where are the burning buildings? The streets closed by police or by activists? I’m sure many of the other college students with me are wondering the same, but it is not until later in the day, after having indeed seen some destroyed buildings, that we really start to make sense of the reality of Ferguson: it’s just like any other suburban town in the country, at least on the surface.

Throughout the rest of the week we learn more about the reality of Ferguson. We learn more details about the Police Department’s racial profiling and over-policing. We learn about the problems with the local judiciary system, the political scene, and the constant struggle that people of color go through every day in this community. But more importantly, we learn from the community members and activists. During one of our community service activities we ride the metro and converse with people. We learn that it is unsafe for two black men to walk together on the street, because they might “fit the description.” We learn about families that have been broken up by accusations without realistic evidence from the police. We learn that people feel afraid of the police. But still this place feels too normal. By the end of the week we had all learned and confirmed that Ferguson is not an exception to the norm in the country –it is the norm. Things like this happen to people of color everyday all around the States. The Ferguson Police Department was just one that “got caught”, but the media insists in depicting this as an isolated issue–it only happens there. It’s sad to think that the media has found some success in influencing the general public.

But the positive, valuable lessons that I took from my experience in Ferguson outweigh the negative ones. One such lesson I learned was the power of effective organization to affect real change and I witnessed first hand through Operation Help or Hush.Operation Help Or Hush. In only a matter of months, the organizations’ co-founders, activists Tasha Burton and Charles Wades, along with many collaborators, have implemented a series of programs that are already changing Ferguson, and that are cementing the bases to further long term changes. These programs include a Transitional Housing Program (which evolved from their earlier work to provide safe-stays for activists) that provides safe housing for those struggling financially free of charge for 90 days; Ferguson Food Share which provides several low income families with healthy food; funding the Faces of the Movement initiative; and of course, the Ferguson Alternative Spring Break which for 5 weeks brought together college students from all over the country to learn more about and support the movement. When you consider that OHOH has only existed for less than 9 months, and that it started with a twitter campaign to raise funds, their accomplishments become all the more impressive, and their story quite inspiring.
And inspired we were. During my week in Ferguson I met many intelligent civic-minded college students that were eager to apply what they had learned in Ferguson in their own communities. I think that one of OHOH biggest successes during this program was that they transformed us in a way that sent us as waves throughout the country, as sparkles willing to ignite to change our communities. (Many were already planning to organize ways to address issues such as over-policing before they had even left Ferguson). More importantly, they created a network of individuals who no longer saw themselves as “saviors” but as allies willing to work effectively to affect change.

 

-Fredy Rosales ’17

Truman Fellowship winner, Kate

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Kate Hamilton ‘15.5 was one of two bright young women from Middlebury College to win the prestigious Truman Fellowship. The Truman Fellowship recognizes college juniors (or senior Febs) who have been outstanding leaders in public service and are interested public service as a career. The fellowship  grants up to $30,000 toward graduate study in the U.S. or abroad

Community engagement has been an important part of my life for almost as long as I can remember. Growing up in Washington, D.C. and volunteering for a youth service corps called City Year Young Heroes made me aware of difference and privilege at a very young age. But it was only when I was in high school and volunteering for the Obama campaign in Richmond, VA that I realized that the chasms of prejudice and poverty between us also affect our ability to participate in the democratic process. 

Ever since coming to that realization, my primary goal has been to fight disenfranchisement and other barriers to democratic participation. Community Engagement at Middlebury has really helped me pursue that goal on campus by providing invaluable funding and support to MiddVote, which was founded to increase civic participation among Middlebury students. With the help of Community Engagement, MiddVote was able to register nearly 500 Middlebury students to vote this past Fall.  Being a part of MiddVote was a very rewarding experience that made me even more excited to devote my career to fight for all citizens’ voting rights. 

– Kate Hamilton ‘15.5

Truman Fellowship winner, Maddie

IMG_4696Maddie Orcutt’ 16 was one of two bright young women from Middlebury College to win the prestigious Truman Fellowship. The Truman Fellowship recognizes college juniors who have been outstanding leaders in public service and are interested public service as a career. The fellowship  grants up to $30,000 toward graduate study in the U.S. or abroad.

“…Part of my evolution at Middlebury has been the realization that activism is also a form of community engagement; I’ve learned a lot about the ways in which our particular identities inform our service as Middlebury students. We all have formative life experiences, both positive and negative, which deeply inform our sense of community. Our identities are intersectional, and oftentimes, Middlebury students carry invisible identities with them every day. Community Engagement is one of the many spaces on this campus which has allowed me to contemplate my sense of community, both within as well as outside of Middlebury.

Currently, I spend a lot of my time thinking about community responses to sexual violence. Although there is currently national concern about sexual assault on college campuses, the reality is that women ages 18-24 are at the highest risk of victimization if they are not attending university. To me, the lack of awareness of the scope of this problem is nothing short of a tragedy. Community Engagement has enabled me to identify who I am and how I fit into this issue, and I’m excited to build upon this knowledge as a Truman Scholar.” -Maddie Orcutt ’16 

Will on the Charter House

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I was convinced to start volunteering at the Charter House by a friend who was enrolled in the J-Term internship with the community non-profit. When I showed up for my first shift I awkwardly stumbled around the kitchen trying to be of as much use as possible, but like the first couple days at a new job, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing or where anything was. I admit that as I was preparing the dinner and setting the table for the night’s dinner I was apprehensive about how the individuals staying at the warming shelter would receive me. I have never been homeless myself and my exposure to homelessness until then didn’t range beyond the few conversations I have had with a few homeless individuals I saw regularly in my hometown.
 
We all sat down for dinner and immediately began chatting about the weather, recent happenings around town and the jeopardy episode that was idling in the background. We were all arranged around the table family-style, which felt very foreign compared to the rushed solo meals in Ross I eat more often than I’d like to admit, or the loud, crowded tables of Atwater. The last time I can remember sitting down for a meal like this was Thanksgiving two years ago when I found myself skirting sensitive political (and personal) topics with my extended family. The dinners I’ve had this past semester at the Charter House have been a great break from the routine-driven life we all lead on campus. They offer a unique opportunity to leave behind all the busywork, nagging reminders, and problems we have at school and focus on spending time with some fantastic individuals who you would otherwise never interact with.
 
I am a bit embarrassed to think back on my apprehension the first day I volunteered at the Charter House. The individuals utilizing the warming shelter services are extremely grateful for a warm meal and some new company to talk with. Everyone involved with the coalition has been more than welcoming to me and it has been an unexpected reward to get the chance to make friends with more members in the Middlebury community outside of the college. It’s hard to see how little exposure there is to the community when you’re on campus, but getting out of our world every once and awhile has proved to be more refreshing than I would have ever expected.

-Will Melhado ’15

To learn more about the Charter House go here

Mandy on LiM

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Last year, I was studying abroad in Madrid, Spain and I received an email about a new program, Language in Motion, at Middlebury’s Community Engagement office. At that time, I was thinking about how I would readjust to my life at Middlebury, and all of the memories I had made. The email could not have come at a better time, as I started to think about classes and what I wanted to do for the upcoming year. One thing I wanted to do was to make more of an effort to promote travel and studying abroad even more than I had in the past. Community Engagement has allowed me to do just that.

 

Through Language in Motion, I found that I could reflect on my experiences to share and pique other students’ curiosities. One thing I missed was how I spent my mealtimes in Spain. I enjoyed the culture of eating because I felt like I had time to both catch up with my friends and eat. When I was planning what I wanted to present to students, I immediately thought about the culture of mealtimes, and I led a small activity in the school’s kitchen where I tried to recreate the ambience of eating tapas at a bar. It was great being able to talk about food and connecting that to life, values, and cultures because I saw how my connections to food made the students think about their lives.

 

This experience would not have been possible without the Community Engagement office where there are so many different opportunities that anyone can take advantage of. Whether it is sharing experiences like eating, mentoring youth, or applying for a grant to do something you find meaningful (just to name three things you can do), the Community Engagement office can help you find a way to leverage your interests and curiosities to connect with the community. There is more to Middlebury than what happens on the hill, and the Community Engagement office makes it that much easier to discovering ways you can get involved.

 

-Mandy Kwan ’15

To learn more about Language in Motion, click here!