Stephanie Cashin is one such student involved with the initiative.
Initially, Stephanie majored in secondary education, but changed to exercise science when she decided older children were too hard to teach.
“I was crying in the Student Career Services office, when I overheard Dr. Mark Wilson talking about a new minor in civic engagement,” Stephanie continued.
After a long conversation with Wilson, Stephanie decided to take this class and went to Montgomery working with Bridge Builders of Alabama as a facilitator for the junior and senior summer 2010 conference.
Facilitators are the conference counselors and to be fully prepared for the week, the group of college-aged students go to conference just like the high school students would.
“We were taught all sorts of abstract team building activities which brought a lot of frustration,” said Stephanie. “We were learning how to react to the way our students were going to during the activities, which we could tell would not be easy.”
Stephanie said they were taught to act as leaders, but not give normal step-by-step instructions to help their students during their activities.
“A lot of my students in my group thought I was mad at first,” Stephanie said when describing the student/facilitator relationship. “But then they realized they had to figure it out on their own, as part of the learning experience.”
During the conference, the students have the opportunity to discuss topics that are pressing within their schools and communities. Stephanie said she had a hard time emerging herself in the conversations as much as she would have liked because she could not relate well.
Stephanie attended Bob Jones High School, one of the largest high schools in the state. There are only a handful of private schools in Huntsville, making it normal to attend public school. In Montgomery however, there are many public, private and magnet high schools to choose from, making the separation between private and public schools very distinct.
“I wanted to see an obvious change in the students,” Stephanie said. “But I feel that the students will pick up on things they learned at conference after time.”
Stephanie said she learned more now as she is away from Bridge Builders. She stated that the principles about leadership and teamwork have come out in more situations now that she is aware of them.
“It was a learning experience in so many ways. It truly confronted the way I think.”
Now Stephanie is going to graduate with an interdisciplinary studies major in Human Development and Family Studies as well as Civic Engineering. Stephanie plans to go back to grad school after taking a year off and getting her masters in Early Childhood Education.
“I really enjoy learning about the way children’s minds work. Bridge Builders helped me see I want to get to the kids before their minds can be made up.”
Stephanie commented on how ironic it was that she came full circle with her major.
“Its amazing how tears in the Career Services office turned into me figuring out what I need to do.”