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ISSUE 121 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/14/2008

Involvement goes global

By Ellen Weaver
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 14, 2008

As St. Olaf continues to examine the theme of global citizenship this semester, many programs and departments have to consider the semester's sub-theme: civic engagement.

One of those programs is the Center for Experiential Learning. The CEL organizes many events involving current students, staff members and alumni to discuss, examine and become involved with the ideas of global citizenship and civic engagement.

"At a basic level, civic engagement is about moving from ideals to actions that seek to improve the lives of others," said Nate Jacobi, assistant director of civic engagement at the CEL. "The Civic Engagement Program exists to support students in developing the skills, knowledge and experience necessary for engaged and responsible citizenship."

The CEL's mission statements describe this new program as a collaboration between the CEL's experiential learning professionals and faculty who build on the college's commitment to service and community involvement.

The goal of the program is to make these activities academic in nature while contributing to the needs of the community.

"Many St. Olaf students are motivated to work for a better world," Jacobi said, "and civic engagement is a way of actualizing this commitment." The CEL serves as the link to assist students who want to become civically engaged in discovering the many opportunities out there.

At the international internship poster session in the Buntrock Commons, students got a chance to display and explain their own experiences with service type internships, work, and volunteer programs abroad.

Over interim, Kelsey Lantz '09 helped to organize a trip to Guatemala. The student-run group lived and worked in an orphanage for the month of January. "It really helped to put classroom learning into perspective," Lantz said. "We got hands-on experience that we can apply to real life."

Kevin Friede '08, a CEL staff member, said that there are many opportunities to get involved and be engaged, both abroad and closer to home. The CEL has a lot of resources to help students find ways to work for international service organizations.

At the CEL's "Oles Gone Global" international career alumni panel, students heard St. Olaf alumni talk about the importance of a global education and share stories about their experiences working internationally. St. Olaf students listened to speakers and also asked their own questions.

Richard Rortvedt '69 works with sustainable agriculture in Latin and South America and emphasized the meaning and significance of cultural immersion in order to be culturally aware and engaged.

"It is important to be culturally sensitive and see your own culture through the lens of others," he said. "Constantly educate yourself, keep challenging your mind, and try to understand others."

Timothy Holtz '86 stressed the importance of a global education at St. Olaf. "Studying abroad is an invaluable experience," Holtz said. "It really opened my eyes."

Students were encouraged by the panel speakers that making civic engagement a part of their career goals is possible. "If you are passionate about it, you can find a way to do it," Erik Cleven '87 said.

Many of the alumni did not have direct career plans right after they graduated from St. Olaf and remarked on the importance of having an open mind. One speaker, for example, studied biology in Norway after graduating from St. Olaf, ultimately winding up working with conflict resolution.

"Be open to whatever life brings you," Erin Vos '00 said. "Sometimes you can make a bigger visible difference working abroad than you could by working in the U.S."

All the speakers mentioned the importance of studying languages, being involved and getting experience either locally or globally in order become civically engaged global citizens. During his travels, Holtz discovered numerous opportunities abroad.

At the panel, he encouraged students to get involved. "I found that there are bigger global forces out there," he said. "This is your chance."

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