GSU Students Learn Outside University Walls
At Governors State University, learning is not limited to the traditional classroom. Faculty members encourage students to experience not just the immediate community but the world, and they provide guided opportunities through multiple programs at GSU.
One opportunity is the Public Health Brigade trip to Nicaragua, a service-learning trip supported by both faculty and the Office of International Services. Led this year by Dr. Phyllis West, senior lecturer in the department of Social Work, and Dr. Nicole Koonce, assistant professor in Communication Disorders, the two professors worked side by side with 19 students and one staff member as they helped bring necessary sanitation facilities to a small village.
Now in its third year, West said this is the first year that men have participated in the brigade, and she hopes to see that number grow.
"It was really nice to have the four [men] who joined us, and we're really looking to increase male involvement in the brigades in the future," she said.
She also said this is the first year that the university selected and sent a Global Brigade Scholar.
"The Global Brigade Scholar," West said, "is a person in their junior year who wants to excel and has a commitment to service. We know that people of color—African Americans in particular—are less likely to study abroad than any other group in the United States. We also know students who travel abroad are more likely to graduate and excel and succeed in their future careers."
This year's Global Brigade Scholar was Jamal McPherson, a junior in GSU's Criminal Justice program.
The work the students did in Nicaragua involved building hygiene units to provide latrines, septic tanks, and showers, as well as contributing to a water brigade which will eventually supply water for local citizens.
"This year, we worked on the water brigade with other universities. It should be completed in four months and will provide running to 450 people in 100 homes," West said.
Although the onsite work was service focused and labor-intensive, students prepared by learning about Nicaragua’s culture, history, public health, and politics before they embarked on the journey.
Before leaving Chicago, both the students and faculty learned as much as they could about Nicaragua. Once there, they immersed themselves in the culture, meeting with translators and community leaders to receive an overview of their public health assignment. From there, they established goals to get as much done as possible in the seven-day span of the trip.
"The students worked even faster and were able to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time than ever," West said.
She shared, too, that this was her colleague's first year in Nicaragua—although Koonce treks to Haiti every year for service work—and said she was an "outstanding to work with" on the brigade.
Upon returning home, students complete a research paper and will host a symposium on their experiences in Nicaragua. The GSU community, family, and friends can all come learn about this transformative service learning journey.