A Spirit of Activism at Rochester

Guest Contributor–Natalie Ziegler

One of the major factors in my decision to come to Rochester was my admissions interview. I remember hearing that “a spirit of activism permeates this campus.” Even though the phrase was broad and relatively vague, it was enough to entice me.

I’d been active in social justice campaigns during high school and wanted to attend a school where I could pursue similar efforts. Plus, since so much of your time in college is spent in the company of others, I knew I wanted to attend a school where I’d find like-minded people with similar passions. I was happy to learn that Rochester is home to many students who are genuinely concerned about the welfare of others and are ready and motivated to act upon these concerns.

But it wasn’t until I arrived at Rochester and got involved that I became aware of the concrete examples of “a spirit of activism.” Luckily for me, the Rochester campus and community have countless manifestations of this ideal.

circle protest


The best example I’ve experienced thus far of a “spirit of activism,” and the one that essentially encompasses all other examples, is Rochester’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). According to the organization’s Facebook biography, SDS “is a nonpartisan student organization and activist network that seeks to create an educated community dedicated to engaging issues of social and economic justice … [it] also provides an open democratic forum to engage in discourse about topics they may not feel comfortable discussing in other spheres. SDS is not affiliated with any political party and welcomes people with political views across the spectrum.” Through this club, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk with individuals of diverse backgrounds and beliefs about important issues. This semester alone, we’ve discussed and taken action on issues such as income inequality and fair wages for service workers at Rochester.

Through direct action and events such as panel discussions and lectures (often sponsored by SDS), students at Rochester have access to valuable conversations and have the chance to create change. These opportunities have been the highlights of many Rochester students’ college careers, including student activist and one of the leaders of SDS, Alsyha Alani, Class of 2015.

Alani participated very recently in peaceful protests planned by concerned students on campus regarding the grand jury’s decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO. Alani described the event, stating, “Students and members of the community mobilized to express our solidarity with Mike Brown. Coming together with my peers and allies, we chose to speak back…. It is incredibly empowering to be surrounded by people that, like you, are transforming their sadness and anger into meaningful and peaceful direct action.”

Alani’s words confirm the benefits of activism at Rochester: Students are able to express their views, form meaningful bonds, and unite and mobilize about issues that matter to them. President Seligman also supports such activism, stating, “We protect the rights of all in our University community to express their views. Peaceful assembly and expression of views are consistent with the school’s core value of academic freedom.”

And in a city such as Rochester, there’s good reason to unite and mobilize. As sophomore SDS member Christian Wooddell says, “2012 census numbers show nearly 28% of the population in the City of Rochester lives in poverty, and it’s easy to forget that in the luxury bubble of campus life. It is our duty as privileged students to engage in local issues and be activists for our communities.” Many students at Rochester are cognizant of the conditions in parts of the city, and their willingness to serve the community contributes to the spirit of activism on campus. In my short time here, I’ve come to be aware of and to appreciate this spirit, and I look forward to the next four years of continuing to embrace activism at Rochester through SDS and other venues.

Natalie Ziegler ’18, is a lover of literature and plans to major in English. She is also passionate about social justice, which has led her to pursue a double major in anthropology.

Via Natalie Ziegler/UROC Admissions Blog

Life as a Campus Times Editor

Guest Contributor–Jamie Rudd

When I wandered into the Campus Times office the Wednesday of my first official week of college, I had no idea how much the place would come to mean to me. A freshman straight out of Orientation, I had no way of knowing that the office would eventually feel like more of a home than my dorm room, that the staff would become some of my closest friends, or that CT would ultimately define my life at Rochester. All I knew was that I was interested in journalism, and what better way to see if I was cut out for the job than by joining the newspaper?

Campus times

A part of the University of Rochester since 1873, the Campus Times is a weekly, student-run publication. Typically 16 pages long, the paper is divided into news, opinions, features, humor, arts and entertainment, and sports. In addition to the section editors, our current 18-person staff includes photo, copy, and managing editors along with our illustrator, publisher, and editor in chief. While we editors do our fair share of writing, we are also supported by a substantial number of other student writers that volunteer their services to keep the paper going every week.

During my first semester, I wrote for several different sections and spent as many Wednesdays as I could in the office for production night—the 12-hour period when the staff comes together to lay out pages, fill them with content, and circulate them through several levels of editing before sending them to the publisher Thursday morning. Along with a number of other new freshmen, I did preliminary copy editing for the editors and headed home around 11 pm, leaving the staff to finish up the higher-level stuff.

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I enjoyed the work that I did for the CT those first few months, but I knew that what I really wanted to do was become an editor. So when the end of the semester rolled around, I ran for the position of 2014 features editor, and got it. While I knew that the position would be quite the time commitment, I admit I wasn’t quite prepared for how much it would consume my life—the constant emailing, worrying about my writers meeting their deadlines, worrying about having enough writers, struggling to get all my Thursday homework done by Tuesday, and of course, the constant sleep deprivation that comes from only getting approximately two to four hours of sleep every single Wednesday for a semester. The spring semester last year was rough to say the least.

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Thankfully, all the stressful (and at times, nearly insufferable) aspects of being a CT editor (did I mention the heartbreak of opening a newly published issue and spotting mistakes—often ones you know you fixed—all over your pages?), all the stuff that makes you question why in the world you’re putting yourself through this torture, are matched by just as many wonderful, exhilarating, and blissful moments that remind you why it’s all very much worth it.

Yes, coming up with article ideas each week and making sure they all get written can be tough. But it has made me to be so much more aware of and involved in the campus community, not to mention an expert networker and problem solver. Yes, production nights can go pretty late and sleep deprivation can make doing anything  on Thursdays pretty much impossible. But Wednesday nights are also one of the most fun parts of my week: hour upon hour spent with my friends listening to music, talking and laughing together, goofing off occasionally, and making more wonderful memories than we can count. Yes, there have been times when I’m not sure how I’ll be able to handle all the pressure. But I always have my features coeditor (and one of my closest friends) Dani right there with me to get our section through. What’s more, we got our jobs down to a science this semester and have been finishing our pages around midnight (rather than the typical 3:30 am completions last year).

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While working on the Campus Times might be the epitome of a love-hate relationship, at the end of the day, there’s a whole lot more love than anything else. It’s challenged me and made me grow in so many ways, and while it hasn’t always been the easiest thing to admit, I’m truly grateful that I walked into the office last September and decided to keep coming back.

Jamie Rudd ’17, is a sophomore studying English and Anthropology. Originally from a small town in Oregon, she is happiest when traveling, reading, writing, and listening (or making) music.  She currently a member of the Students Helping Honduras service group, secretary of the Undergraduate Anthropology Council, and features editor of the Campus Times newspaper.  

Via Jamie Rudd/URoc Admissions Blog

Medieval Merriment at the Boar’s Head Dinner

A royal procession of deans, professors, and student leaders marked the beginning of the Boar’s Head Dinner, the University of Rochester’s longest-running tradition, on Thursday, December 4th. The 80th annual River Campus feast offered students and faculty a medieval meal by transforming Douglass Dining Center into a royal court set for a feast — jesters included!

Regarded as one of the University’s biggest events for student life, this year’s upperclassman scrambled to secure a spot at the feast, with tickets selling out in just under an hour.

More than 600 attendees enjoyed the holiday dinner of turkey, roast pork, and apple stuffing as served by members of the campus a cappella groups. After Hours, the Midnight Ramblers, Roc Hakol, Vocal Point, and the YellowJackets also provided some musical entertainment, leading the captive, hungry audience in singing “The Boar’s Head Carol,” “The Gloucestershire Wassail,” “Figgy Pudding,” and “Let it Snow,” among other festive tunes. The caroling servers, dressed as lords and ladies, acted as the dinner’s medieval waitstaff.

The Strong Jugglers also offered entertainment as court jesters to the High Table, composed of deans, administrators, student leaders from the SA Government and Campus Activities Board, and a faculty member chosen as the Boar’s Head Reader.

This year, Professor of Chemistry Benjamin Hafensteiner provided his account of the Story of the Boar. Building off of the story of an Oxford student’s encounter with a wild boar, Hafensteiner’s remarks featured his own spin on the historic tale, adding in his own UR-centric references along the way.

Each year, a student organization that has positively impacted campus life receives the Boar’s Head Award. Past winners include the D’lions, ADITI, and MERT. GlobeMed, last year’s Boar’s Head recipient, had the honor of “passing on the boar” to Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), an organization rooted in creating an educated community dedicated to engaging issues of social and economic justice

Through teach-ins, forums, and public panel discussions, SDS works to educate the campus on current issues, in both the global and campus communities. In the past year, the group has helped to advocate for fair wages for University workers through demonstrations, speak outs, and petitions. In May, they held a Community Field Day to bridge the gap between students of different backgrounds.

The evening wrapped up with another quintessentially Rochesterian tradition: the singing of the Genesee.  Asking all of the seniors to stand, Dean Burns honored those who will soon be wrapping up their last fall semester as undergraduate students.  A unique tradition providing merry hearts and full stomachs, the Boar’s Head Dinner is an experience that is not to be missed in your time at Rochester!

What’s Abuzz in A Cappella?

While most undergrads can get an earful of a cappella at semester shows in Strong Auditorium and the May Room, news about the plans of each group outside of their seasonal concerts sometimes goes unnoticed. Even with the fall a cappella season coming to a close, all four campus ensembles are still hard at work on fine tuning their harmonies for albums, competitions, and beyond!


After Hours, the University’s co-ed a cappella group, is starting off next semester with some “pitch perfect” plans.  On January 31st, the group will compete in the International Championship for Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), a judged event that showcases talent from campuses across the nation.  This will be the group’s fourth appearance at the show in the last five years.

Still reeling from the release of their most recent album, Duality, last spring, musical director John Queenan ’17 is excited to see what the future has in store for the group.

Duality features tracks from their award winning 2013 ICCA set. The recording project, which totaled over $15,000, was the culmination of two years of recording, mixing, and audio mastering.  Featuring modern hits from artists such as Justin Timberlake, David Guetta, Kelly Clarkson, and Imagine Dragons, the album also features an original composition from group member Alex Murray ’13.


The Midnight Ramblers recently wrapped up their latest semester show in Strong Auditorium, “The Rambling Dead.” While the zombified Ramblers took the stage for a concert experience they deemed “ever deader,” musical director Tom Downey ’14 hopes to keep the group fully awake and alive for their next project—a professionally recorded album.

This upcoming album will be the 11th in the Ramblers’ discography, which spans back to 1999.  The Ramblers are currently in the process of recording on campus, using the facilities of the Computer Studies Building, and hope to release the album at their upcoming spring concert on April 11th.  The album will feature some of the Rambler’s greatest hits from the past few years, bringing back old favorites that you won’t want to miss out on!

The Ramblers are also gearing up for their annual spring break tour.  With past years taking them to NYC, Nashville, and beyond.  They are excited to find out where their next musical adventure will take them.


The lovely ladies of Vocal Point hope to close out the semester with some holiday cheer through their annual winter show. With cookies, cocoa, and carols, the all-female ensemble will highlight the joy of the holidays despite the stress of the reading period.

Last year, the group sponsored Project EMPOWER, collaborating with a local middle school to provide musical and esteem-building workshops for the Young Women’s College Prep.  Looking to the future, Vocal Point plans to begin work on their next studio album in the spring semester.  Their last album, Daylight Again, was released in 2012.


This semester, the YellowJackets launched Project Forte, a philanthropic initiative aimed at bringing music and medicine together.  As a recipient of the Kauffman Entrepreneurial Year (KEY) Scholarship, Abhishek Sharma ’14 wanted to create opportunities for musicians on campus and in the local community to perform in hospitals and hospice facilities in the Greater Rochester area.

Sharma hopes to create a culture that promotes the use of music therapy in local health institutions. Music has been shown to increase quality of life for patients in medical settings by improving social and emotional well-being.  With Project Forte, the YellowJackets hope that the community is able to “note the difference” that music can make.

Last November, the YellowJackets released their 17th studio album, 50 Shades of Yellow.  Since then, they have also released a digital single, “Say Something,” a heartfelt rendition of A Great New World’s original.  Next year, the Jackets hope to release even more singles, leading up to their next album.

Debate Union: Travel & Quilted Trophies?

I sat down with sophomore Miriam Kohn, linguistics major and vice president of the U of R Debate Union. She shared with me her experience in the club so far.

 

Debate team is my primary time commitment. Some weeks, it’s probably even more than my classes!

I wandered into the debate office by accident. My high school didn’t have a debate team, so it was something that was completely unfamiliar to me. I kind of thought, “maybe I should do this in college,” but then I thought, “maybe I’m going to get way too into it,” and, surprise… that’s what happened!

Overall, it’s a very positive experience, so I stick around. I work hard at debate. I’m a hard-working person in general. I enjoy reading things like Foucault. It’s probably hyperbolic to say I spend more time on it than my classes, but I certainly do spend a lot of time on it.

None of my trophies are shiny

Miriam Debate clubI was in the novice bracket last year. I was a real novice, unlike a lot of people on the circuit who walk in [with high school experience].

There are three formats of debate; Rochester does two. With one of them, Policy, you don’t have novice eligibility if you do it in high school. The format I do primarily is British Parliamentary, or Worlds. You get a lot of people who take the novice eligibility [for Worlds], who are really not novices. They could have done four years of high school British Parliamentary.

I’ve had a fair amount of success on the circuit with my partner; we won the novice bracket of regionals, novice finals at North American championships, and we were semi-finalists at Northwest regionals. They didn’t have trophies for the novices. I wanted hardware! There was one trophy which I took home from my first tournament freshman year, at SUNY Binghamton. That was a quilted trophy; not so shiny.

Traveling debate

We travel a lot of places, primarily up and down the Northeast. That’s where a lot of the most competitive tournaments are. Nationals for USU, that’s United States Universities, are in Alaska this year. We were just up in Toronto, on Mel weekend, because the University of Toronto debating society at Hart House always hosts a big, really well respected tournament there. They actually hosted North Americans last year.  We also we went to Europe last year!

The rule is the team won’t send you anywhere it can’t afford. If you get chosen to go, then the team pays your way, The team pays your transportation, your hotel fees, and your tournament entry fees. It includes a few meals a day. That way debate’s not just an activity for those who can afford it.

It’s free to join

We have a really, really big alumni base. There are lots of lawyers and doctors; a lot of them tend to do pretty well and they help support us. We also get very generous support from the school. It used to be the students’ association, now we’re part of the athletic department. We get more money, more support, and more infrastructures. It’s free travel; you just have to make it clear that you actually care.

To be chosen to travel to the most competitive tournaments you have to put in the time. There are some that everyone gets traveled to, like the one on Halloween weekend. And there are some of them that everyone wants to go to, like Europe, and Florida. We sent some folks to Miami for the Pan-American championships, for those, you have to work harder.

Pinky and The Brain

We joke around all the time, all the time: I think “irreverent” would have to be the first adjective I’d go with to describe us.

We give each other stupid nicknames, and there are lots of running jokes. For example, two of the assistant coaches have been trying to convince my partner and myself that we should go for Halloween to this tournament we’re having as Pinky and The Brain. Apparently I’m Pinky. I mean, I would like to take over the world, but that’s a separate issue!

It’s really a very relaxed atmosphere; debate draws in a nice crowd of people. The coaches are wonderful. They work very hard to make the program accessible to everyone. They’re willing to help anyone out that cares to get help from them. That sets the tone as very welcoming.

Whether it’s trying to take over the world, or discussing the latest hot-button issues, the Debate Union is among the U of R’s strongest student organizations, with meetings on Monday and Thursday nights at 7:00.

How One Student Group is Changing the Conversation

Stigma and taboo. These are just two things that keep individuals suffering from mental illness from getting help.  “Active Minds” helps promotes mental health awareness, education, and advocacy on college campuses.

The U of R’s chapter of Active Minds hosts a variety of different events ranging from guest speakers to a variety of awareness drives throughout the year in order to encourage a dialogue about mental health between members of the campus community.  Chapter members help to facilitate these conversations as self-proclaimed “stigma fighters,” combating misconceptions and advocating for greater awareness of common mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Stephanie Mejia ’15, a psychology major minoring in International Relations, and one of the club’s co-presidents, said one of her favorite events is an annual art exposition, named “HeART of Disorder.”  “We don’t just advocate for stomping out stigma; we show the community what stigma looks and feels like through various art forms,” she said.

“Prevent a Meltdown” was another program held last year that focused particularly on the student population.  Hosting an ice cream social right before finals week, one of the most stressful weeks of the semester, the student organization partnered with University Health Services in order to pair sweet treats with information about stress-reducing mechanisms.

The “Tell It to the Wall” campaign, which began at the end of October, offers the campus population an anonymous outlet to share their secrets and issues to the public.  The wall, displayed on the third floor of Wilson Commons, is composed of anonymously submitted posts, a la Post Secret.  That same week, Active Minds partnered again with UHS at the Sex and Chocolate Health Fair in order to discuss mental and sexual health.

Co-president Hayley Harnicher ’15, a psychology major with minors in mathematics and business, is thankful for the opportunities that Active Minds has provided her, from serving on the national Student Advisory Committee to the organization’s national office in Washington D.C.  Beyond this, however, she is most grateful for the clarity that the group’s mission provides.  “The best thing I have learned is that taking care of your mental health, or seeking help if needed, is not a weakness and should be commended,” she said.

The Rochester community is no stranger to the costs of overlooking mental health.  Last year, Samuel Freeling, an undergraduate student from Georgetown D.C., ended his own life.  Sam’s mother created Project S.A.M., which hosts an annual 5K Fun Run, the Spike Classic, to provide support and advocacy for those suffering from mental illnesses like depression.

Last year, the money raised by the Spike Classic was used to fund a new track at Sam’s high school, Georgetown Day High School.  This year, funds raised by the run and through their website will go to Active Minds.  The group plans to use the donation to bring the “Send Silence Packing” display to campus.

“It is important for our student group to support a cause that has directly impacted our peers and the U of R community,” said Mejia.  “It is up to us to continue the conversation and make the student body, faculty, staff, and administration aware of the cause and how we can make a difference in the future of our campus.”

If you, or someone you know, is struggling, the CARE Network exists to identify students who may be in distress. Simply fill out a CARE report or set up an appointment with University Counseling Services. Students can call 585-275-3113 to make an appointment.

Photo credit: Helga Weber/Flickr

Tragos Quest: Sound Mind and Sound Body

By Rei Ramos ‘15
University Communications

A summer expedition in Greece recently gave an undergraduate the opportunity to better understand his fraternity’s mission of “building balanced men.”  Russell Rosenkranz ’15 was selected among hundreds of national applicants for this year’s Tragos Quest, a 10-day trip through Greece sponsored by Sigma Phi Epsilon.  Reading selections from Homer and Socrates and subsequently venturing through the country’s archeological sites, he was given the opportunity to challenge himself mentally and physically in hopes of obtaining the Greek goal of having a “sound mind in a sound body.”

The trip allowed Rosenkranz, president of the U of R’s NY Xi Chapter of SigEp, to simultaneously experience Greek culture and consider the origins of his fraternity.  Along with 18 undergraduates from chapters around the nation, he traveled through Greece from June 12-22.

“Each day of the trip was both mentally and physically rewarding,” he said.  Typically, the morning routine would consist of an early, 6:30 a.m. breakfast and an hour-long discussion with a professor based around writings from the poets and philosophers of Greek antiquity.  Throughout each day, the group would go on to visit archeological sites that corresponded with the stories and history discussed. The first day of the trip brought the team to Poseidon’s Temple in Cape Sounion, a visit that helped to explain the capital’s namesake – Athena, the goddess who defeated Poseidon in battle.  The evening discussions were then led by a smaller group of two to three undergraduate Tragos Scholars, focusing on the values of virtue, diligence, and brotherly love upon which the fraternity was founded.

Rosenkranz found the search for a “sound mind” to be perhaps the most challenging part of the expedition.  The nightly group discussions often forced the group to think both outside of the box, as well as their comfort zones.  “We constantly pushed the envelope to have some of the best and deepest conversations I have ever had in my life.”  Delving into topics such as fear and the pursuits of happiness and success, the nightly discourse pushed the undergraduates to think critically and introspectively.

That’s not to say that the rest of the trip was without other obstacles.  The trip’s physical challenges included hiking up mountains for better views of temples and dig sites and climbing a 1000 step fortress overlooking Nafplio to get a panoramic view of the seaport city.  The group of Tragos Scholars also held a friendly race on the original Olympic track, which Rosenkranz went on to win. “We were also constantly challenging one another to try new experiences or tasks each day,” said Rosenkranz.  The group’s mentors asked them to prepare a lunch for the team on a set budget, which forced the Tragos Scholars to coordinate and barter with locals without a common language.

The quest’s focus on physical fitness and mental equilibrium did not detract from the trip’s showcase of Greece’s beautiful scenery.  Rosenkranz recalls gorgeous, breathtaking views from the Hosios Loukas Monastery in the town of Nafpaktos.  “I cannot do it justice describing it in words,” he admitted.  The sixth day of the trip offered views of Delphi and the natural landscape of the Corycian Cave.  The final day of the trip ended on the tallest hill of Athens, overlooking the entire city and the Acropolis.  With a dinner at sunset, the group was able to watch the sunset and see the entire city light up at night, a sight which Rosenkranz would go on to note as one of the most memorable of the entire trip.

Through all of the harrowing physical activities and journeys through memorable sights, Rosenkranz found a conversation with a stranger to be the most meaningful experience of his journey.   Asking three locals in Nafpaktos for words of wisdom, one older gentleman went on to share a story of the loss of his child.  “It was shocking how this stranger was able to open up to us – four young Americans – and tell us his emotional story in such a vulnerable state.”  This brief, but meaningful, exchange quickly moved Russell to empathy and led him to consider himself somewhat of a surrogate son to the Greek man.

Having lost his father exactly a month prior to the flight to Greece, Rosenkranz entirely understood the man’s sadness.  A discussion on fear on the following day gave him the chance to share his grief with his mentors and fellow scholars.  “That night, everyone opened up and showed that level of emotional vulnerability which led to the deepest and most meaningful conversation of the entire trip,” he said. “It was an experience I will never forget; though short, it made the biggest impact on the rest of my trip and my life.”

Rosenkranz’s time spent in Greece, beyond being an enriching cultural experience, has taught him a few lessons that he plans to carry with him into senior year and beyond.  The first lesson involves being more vulnerable and emotionally open to his peers.  He believes that this alone will allow him to develop deeper relationships with those that he trusts.  The second is to make time to grab a cup of coffee with friends – or even strangers – to “soak it all in” day-by-day.  “I am one to always be on the go, so being able to sit and hangout with people helps clear my head and open my mind,” he said.

Looking ahead, the rising senior, pursuing majors in applied mathematics and financial economics, hopes to one day seek out a career in consulting or within the banking industry.  “When it comes down to it, I will choose a career that challenges me to grow and constantly learn.”  In the meantime, he will juggle involvement with SigEp, the varsity swim team, and the Students’ Association.  With a sound mind and sound body in tow, Rosenkranz is more than ready to take on these many commitments as a balanced man.

GlobeMed: Partners for Positive Change

By Rei Ramos ‘15
University Communications

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime. Rhett Partida ’15 believes that these words of wisdom work well to encapsulate GlobeMed’s intentions and goals of inspiring sustainable positive change for the residents of Iquitos, Peru.

Earlier this summer, Partida, along with a team of five other students, traveled to the Peruvian rainforest as part of GROW, an internship opportunity that focuses on involvement in Grassroots On-Site Work.  Through GROW, the university’s GlobeMed chapter is given the opportunity to create a relationship between a student team and a grassroots health partner.  The UR chapter works closely with Kallpa, a youth development organization that hopes to educate, engage, and empower youth in the urban community of Pampachica in Iquitos.  Together, they create goals to provide better health opportunities and foster long term sustainable solutions for underprivileged youth.

“The idea of partnership is rooted in our mission,” said Humma Sheikh ’15.  The rising senior, a neuroscience major, stressed the importance of GlobeMed’s interactive approach to creating better opportunities not only for but with Iquitos.  Through the GROW internship, students were able to travel to Iquitos to work collaboratively with Kallpa and local community members to instill positive change through education, research, and programming.

Over the academic year, GlobeMed stages fundraising events to procure monetary support for their partner organization.  Working under a Partnership Action Framework, the Rochester chapter teams with Kallpa in order to evaluate programs in place in the community, assess the potential for change, and set goals in accordance with their budgetary possibilities.  This year, the group was able to raise more than $11,000 to go towards a solutions budget.  From there, they have created initiatives with community leaders, integrating the community’s voice to serve local needs.

Partida, this year’s GROW coordinator, believes that listening is a key step in working towards finding routes towards change.  “GROW is about creating sustainable solutions. What we were there to do, first and foremost, was to listen and understand,” he said.  This communicative emphasis helped the chapter to identify some of the community’s greatest issues, including but not limited to education, sanitation, and a lack of accessible health care.

In line with the mission of Kallpa, the GROW team focused on creating better opportunities for local youth; this led to a strong emphasis on assessing the state of the education system.  This summer, the team was able to provide after school programs at an elementary school in the community of Pampachica.  For Partida, offering educational opportunities for youth is integral for instilling positive change and providing the tools for success.  “I grew up with the concept that the greatest gift you can give to someone is education. Knowledge is one thing that no one can take away from you,” explained Partida.  Kallpa and GlobeMed hope that these programs will curb delinquency and promote the pursuit of higher education among local youth.

Even with these new opportunities in place, education in Iquitos remains a messy picture.  Many factors deter youth from being able to pursue higher education.  Kallpa has tried to create preparatory programs for mentorship and tutoring but has seen them fail due to budgetary shortcomings.  Because of these difficulties, GROW has been conducting research to study the factors behind these barriers to education.  This has included diagnostic interviews of students and observation of classes and lesson plans.  They found that difficulties in travel, commitments to jobs and family, and a general lack of access to educational and monetary resources leave many Peruvian students bereft of the opportunity to pursue collegiate education.  Even with scholarship opportunities provided by the Peruvian government, such as Beca-18, many community youth had to turn down grants and preparatory programs in order to focus on supporting their families.

“These kids want to do more; they have dreams. They just don’t have the means,” admitted Partida, woefully.  With over half of the community’s adolescents unable to complete secondary education, GlobeMed hopes to use findings of their research to create more fruitful programs and solutions.

In order to foster and mobilize efforts for self-sustaining local action, GROW also held leadership training workshops and community events.  These workshops, focused on creating effective local leaders, were aimed at providing youth with the skills to manage neighborhoods, lead communities, and facilitate lasting change.  These workshops, provided in nine different neighborhoods, are geared towards embedding local leaders who can cater to the individualized needs of their communities.  With this, the workshops help to provide a lasting difference, equipping the community with agents of change even after the GROW team has left.

With GlobeMed’s large focus on the promotion and provision of global health, GROW also observed the community’s health issues.  Situated on the Rio Nanay, a tributary of the Amazon, much of Pampachica is prone to flooding, especially in the summer season, which brings pollution and trash into the streets.  This leaves the community with a very serious trash problem that threatens the health of its inhabitants.  Cleanup programs and efforts to raise awareness of the issue have since been implemented. The GROW team also found a lack of access to proper health care within the community.  In hopes of changing that, they helped to install a clinic that allowed a reproductive health specialist to meet with local youth in order to provide education and fulfill basic health care needs.

“This internship has been the most enriching, most difficult, most thought provoking, and heartbreaking experience,” said Sheikh.  “It’s crazy how much these kids can inspire you with their ability to keep hope and find solutions for themselves.”

Seeing that the community has increasingly become more comfortable looking to GlobeMed for support, she believes that genuine connection is what differentiates their efforts from the low-skill labor of other “voluntourism” efforts.  “Looking for solutions should be an interactive process. We operate completely and entirely on the strength of our partnership,” she said.

In his three years of experience with GlobeMed and GROW, Partida has seen the tangible differences that his efforts have made in Iquitos and admits that the experience, in turn, has changed him as well.  “Part of the GlobeMed model is to create this greater sense of consciousness. It makes you aware of things outside your university, community, and personal bubble.”

Hoping to one day enter the medical field, he believes that these experiences have equipped him with expanded perspective and greater empathy.  He strongly believes that GlobeMed’s emphasis on interactive partnership with Kallpa in Iquitos, as well as with the community of Pampachica, fosters true connection that can lead to lasting change. “They can call me a family member and a friend.”

STEM Initiative Grows to Promote Science Education

By Rei Ramos ‘15
University Communications

A new student organization is hoping to sow the seeds of science throughout the Rochester community.  Dubbed the STEM Initiative, the group focuses on motivating and inspiring young students to pursue education in the “STEM” fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

“Our focus is giving students STEM education at an early age,” said Jenny Yoon ‘16, a microbiology major and one of the organization’s co-founders and current co-president. The group promotes and provides opportunities for science education by offering after-school workshops at area schools that are hands-on, interactive, and free. Making use of undergraduate volunteers, the STEM Initiative’s programming is based on student-created lesson plans. In this sense, co-president George Iwaoka ‘16, who is pursuing degrees in cell and developmental biology and financial economics, views the student group they have created as a grassroots organization that hopes to instill positive change at a local community level.

The duo, both graduates of Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, New Jersey, consider themselves fortunate for their heavy exposure to STEM fields before coming to college. Continuing on at the U of R, a leading school in both STEM education and research, Iwaoka and Yoon found the lack of educational outreach for the sciences problematic. The current substandard state of Rochester area public schools, coupled with the national decline in literacy in scientific fields, motivated the pair to create the group.

Since its initial inception in the fall of 2013, the group has evolved from a small volunteer effort to an organization recognized and funded by the Students’ Association.  Originally funded out of the pockets of its early members, the group has since grown to be able to offer regular biweekly workshops at a local school, complete with funded lesson plans and engaging activities covering subjects ranging from basic physics to computer programming. These structured workshops are planned by students and made possible through the weekly contributions of undergraduate volunteers.  The STEM Initiative currently has 36 student volunteers that have contributed to planning and teaching.

This past spring, STEM exclusively offered workshops at Adlai E. Stevenson School No. 29. “It’s not the best school in terms of math and science,” said Iwaoka.  Located in the 19th ward, School 29 ranks among the lowest in test scores in the state.  They were also cut from the list of schools visited by the university’s Partners in Reading program. The diminishing educational opportunities at this school prompted the STEM Initiative to focus its efforts there.”The kids are really bright,” said Yoon. “It’s great to see that they don’t see themselves as ‘too cool’ for science.”

One of the organization’s first efforts in event programming also turned out to be one of its largest successes.  On April 14th, the group sponsored its first Family Science Day, a free and public science fair.  STEM brought together science-affiliated student groups, area youth, and their families in the Munnerlyn Atrium of Goergen Hall for an interactive and educational experience.  Garnering support from science and engineering associated student groups, Iwaoka and Yoon were able to offer the local community a chance to explore and experience science firsthand.  The event included demonstrations and experiments from campus organizations such as Engineers Without Borders, MERT, and the Baja SAE Team among others.  Drawing in more than 300 attendees and partnering with 23 different organizations, the event was successful in its community outreach and showcase of the sciences.

Looking at the coming year, Iwaoka and Yoon aim to increase the STEM Initiative’s presence in the Greater Rochester Community.  “We really want the Rochester business community to be involved,” said Iwaoka who views the group as a potential liaison for science education.  With Rochester as a leading hub for optics, the group believes that involvement from area companies would open doors for event programming on a larger scale.

That’s not to say that STEM isn’t doing enough on its own to expand.  With more anticipated funding from the SA Government in the fall, as well as through an upcoming Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, the two co-presidents hope to see the group grow to offer more workshops at other area schools and bigger community programming with plans for a “STEM Olympics” that will function as an interactive field day for science.  They also hope to branch out to inspire additional chapters at other universities.  Iwaoka aspires to see the group broaden its influence at a national level in the coming years and similarly hopes to see its message spread abroad.

Through all the responsibilities of starting and developing a student organization, the pair views their work in the past year as worth all of the stress.  “It’s really fun, and the kids are eager to learn,” said Yoon in regards to their workshops.  To her, one of the best parts of this experience has been making personal connections with students.  Similarly, Iwaoka finds value in seeing the impact that the organization’s efforts have made and is excited that he may be helping to produce the next great leaders in the STEM fields. “Somewhere down the line, our work can inspire a young student to pursue a career in science, and that in itself is rewarding.”

The Sky’s the Limit with OdysseyLife

By Blake Silberberg ‘13
University Communications

Did you have trouble adjusting to life on campus as a freshman? Well now there’s an app for that! University of Rochester undergraduates Keyu (Sky) Song ‘15 and Xiayan (Eric) Huan ’15 are the founders of OdysseyLife Inc., a self-funded startup with the goal of helping International students adjust to life on American college campuses.

Song, a political science major, entered the University as a Chinese international student. He chose Rochester because of the diverse student population and was excited to meet lots of new people from different cultural backgrounds. What he found was a gap among international students when it came to making friends with American students. “When I first arrived here, I talked to people in dining hall lines,” says Song, “I met a lot of people that way, but it was definitely awkward at times. As an international student, it can be hard to get a sense of what’s right or wrong to say to someone you’ve just met.”

Song’s experiences inspired him to find a way to help other students in his position adjust well to American college life. “The crucial period of adjustment is the first two months.  After that, it becomes much harder for international students to make friends, since a lot of students have already formed groups or circles,” says Song.

With the goal of helping international students bridge this gap, Song worked with fellow student Eric Huan to create OdysseyLife, a startup corporation that works with international students at the University of Rochester, and has expanded to New York University and SUNY Buffalo. Song describes OdysseyLife as a corporation with a focus on providing a mix of both nonprofit and for profit services. OdysseyLife offers numerous free resources, including an iPhone app, guides for social and professional situations, and weekly lectures on cultural differences open to both international and American students. OdysseyLife goes beyond these services by employing “captains” to serve as student mentors for international students who sign up for OdysseyLife. Captains are university students who teach weekly classes, bring students to networking events, and are available to meet with one on one to help with any situations that might arise during a semester. “The captains help demonstrate behavior and offer a theoretical framework for adjusting to American college life,” says Song, “and they act as both a model for the international students and a wingman in social situations.”

Huan (left) and Song (right) with Yuan Yue, the CEO at Horizon Consulting Group (Lingdian). Cornell China Forum 2014.
Huan (left) and Song (right) with Yuan Yue, the CEO at Horizon Consulting Group (Lingdian). Cornell China Forum 2014.

Creating the corporation proved to be an excellent learning experience for Song and Huan, as they had to navigate a large number of legal and technical aspects to form an official corporation. Song had to first obtain work-study sponsorship in order to legally work in the U.S., and without any law experience, this proved a difficult task. Song and Huan contacted law students at both Cornell and Harvard for help with their company, and also received support from David Primo, associate professor of political science and business administration, and Michael Rizzo, professor of economics. Huan and Song also worked with an accounting student at the Simon School, who helped them file insurance and tax forms, and other necessary corporate materials. The pair also received support from the staff at Wilson Commons, Office of Admissions, College Center for Advising Services, Center for Entrepreneurship, and International Services Office. “I think our experience forming OdysseyLife is a great example of how strong the interdisciplinary network is here,” says Song. “We were very fortunate to have access to so many resources, and this wouldn’t have been possible without the tremendous support of the University’s staff.”

In the future, Song and Huan hope to expand the services to American students as well, to help them connect in a greater capacity with International students. “We want to build a bridge that will help both American and International students use college campuses as a place where they can freely exchange ideas,” he explains.

If you are interested in learning more about OdysseyLife, you can visit the website or contact Sky Song directly via email.