Last fall, several First Year students united in a learning community that focused on service and mentoring, "Be the Change: Learning and Serving in the Community and World." Core classes included introductions to women and gender studies and intercultural communications.
The students also tackled a service project, serving as mentors to elementary students at Rock Island Academy in Rock Island, Illinois, and teens at Glenview Middle School in East Moline, Illinois. Katy Strzepek, director of the Women and Gender Studies program, said students met with a mentee at each school once a month.
The SAU students also helped Rock Island Academy make a video based on Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
The Academy youth were asked what the quote meant to them, and their responses were filmed. "It really made an impact on our students to hear 10- and 11-year-old kids talking about poverty, racism and bullying, as well as expressing hope and ideas for change," Strzepek said.
Grant funds helped bus the Rock Island and East Moline students to the SAU campus for activities and tours. Many of these younger students could be the first in their families to pursue a college education. "Part of the mission of the program is to get students access to a college campus. Studies show just by setting foot on a campus you are more likely to attend college," Strzepek said.
Learning was a two-way process, First Year SAU student Jennifer Lorenz said. "When the girls told me about their history, or about where they lived, I realized it is hard for them sometimes. They have not had the opportunities I've had," she said.
Lorenz said she tried to help by encouraging each mentee. When they told her what they wanted to be when they grew up-a doctor and an attorney-"I told them to go for it, that nothing is impossible for them if they work hard," she said.
"The experience was very rewarding," she said. "I think I will continue mentoring them. I want to be a constant in their lives and be there if they need me."