These stories sketch the experiences of students who have been involved in Butler University’s Indianapolis Community Requirement. Based on their experiences, many of these students deepened their learning and developed leadership skills by working as student Advocates for Community Engagement (ACEs) with the Center for Citizenship and Community. ACEs serve as liaisons to community sites, coordinating butler students and building the capacity of sites to provide service to their respective clients.
“I didn’t realize the value of the education that I was receiving through the Indianapolis Community Requirement until I began to connect with the people that I was working with. I began to realize that education isn’t only for the mind, but also for the heart.”
As a sophomore enrolled in a pharmacy practice class that satisfied the Indianapolis Community Requirement (ICR), Emily Ellsworth was assigned to work at A Caring Place (ACP), an adult day care facility. Emily did not understand why working with the elderly was important to her major in pharmacy. She confessed, “I had never worked with the elderly before, and I do not have any grandparents. Knowing that I would be working with people who were different from me was slightly intimidating.” Once she arrived at ACP, however, her attitude changed. “After I started providing service and started loving certain individuals there, I enjoyed going back. Every week, I showed up, and they told me their stories and treated me like one of their own grandchildren. I feel like I have grandparents now that I didn’t have before.” Emily says she also learned essential skills for her work in pharmacy. “This experience made me more open-minded to people with different ethnicities and different backgrounds, ages, and disabilities. I think being able to listen is such an important part of my pharmacy career. I didn’t realize how much I was lacking until I listened and really took in what these people had to say.” In a recent reflection on her work at ACP, Emily concluded, “At first, I didn’t realize the value of the education that I was receiving through the Indianapolis Community Requirement until I began to connect with the people that I was working with. I began to realize that education isn’t only for the mind but also for the heart.”
Because her experiences with the elders at ACP moved her so deeply, Emily continued to serve at ACP the semester after her course obligation ended. The next fall, she agreed to serve as an Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE) with the Center for Citizenship and Community (CCC) and to help her fellow students engage with the elders at ACP. Of her work as an ACE, Emily said, “The majority of students that I work with are stressed, sleep-deprived, and over-worked, thinking that this will be another college requirement that they need to complete, but they don’t leave with this attitude. A Caring Place is filled with warm hearts and open arms. There is always a new experience at every visit and a new challenge to bring you out of your comfort zone and into the world of others.”
Now in the professional phase of the pharmacy program, Emily still finds time both to serve at ACP and to help her fellow students discover the wealth of wisdom, experience, and caring to be experienced in work with elders. Summing up her experience, she says, “I feel like they appreciate me there and I certainly appreciate them. I feel like I now have the humility to go out and change the world and do things that I never thought I could have done.”
“I am a better person and a changed person because of that course. I’ll remember that course for the rest of my life.”
Brittany’s First-Year-Seminar, “The Enduring Quest for Community,” required at least twenty hours of academically-related service at a community organization as part of the Indianapolis Community Requirement (ICR). Since she wanted to be an optometrist, Brittany chose to work with the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI). Brittany admitted going to ISBVI for the first time was “very intimidating,” but she said, “I came back with a big smile on my face.” More than anything else, Brittany discovered her time at ISBVI provided important experiences for learning not only about individuals with visual impairment but also about herself and her interactions with others in the community. For example, she quickly learned that preconceptions about individuals with disabilities are often wrong: “Everything that I expected was shattered,” Brittany recollected. “I was going in thinking that these people [were] very shy, they couldn’t do anything, and I was going to help them. They didn’t need help.” Brittany also gleaned insights into the kind of learning that she craved. “I think the most growth comes from those experiences where you aren’t comfortable. That’s when you learn, and that’s when your perceptions are changed,” she explained. “This experience will change me in the future. I’m going to reach out to those experiences that aren’t going to be comfortable.” Paradoxically, one of the lessons Brittany learned from the visually impaired was how to be more comfortable with herself: “In normal, everyday situations, you think about what you look like and [how] people judge you based on what you look like. When I went to ISBVI, I didn’t need to worry about that. Those students, most of them, couldn’t see me. They were judging me based on my character, my personality. When someone likes you and is your friend, they’re only judging on what you are saying, what you are doing, how you treat that person. And when they like who you are in that way, that feels great.”
During her sophomore year, Brittany was offered a job as an Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE) with the Center for Citizenship and Community (CCC) to help build the partnership between Butler and ISBVI. Brittany readily accepted the job because she saw the value of the ICR experience for the academic learning of her fellow students. “I want other Butler students to be changed in the ways that I was changed,” she said. “Maybe they will realize things that I have not.” Importantly, Brittany sees the experience at ISBVI to be relevant to all students, no matter their discipline or career path: “I think Butler students are learning to get past the stereotypes, [to] get past their previous perceptions, their previous thoughts, and engage in conversation with someone who is different from themselves. When your thoughts are changed about a certain type of person, you know that your thoughts can be changed about other types of people.”
As Brittany reflected on her four years at Butler, her recent acceptance into graduate school in the Indiana University School of Optometry, and how her experiences at ISBVI would help her be successful in her career, she came back to the ICR course she took as a first-year student. She said, “I am a better person and a changed person because of that course. I’ll remember that course for the rest of my life.”
“It’s not just a class credit…it broadens your knowledge…and it’s something that you can’t really get any other way. You can’t read about it. You can’t watch it. You have to actually experience it to understand why it benefits you.”
Lauren Graham came to Butler to study what she loved, mathematics and actuarial sciences, and she did well in her classes. Then, midway through her junior year, she discovered something new about herself. At this time Lauren became an Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE) with Butler University’s Center for Citizenship and Community (CCC). As an ACE, she worked at the Martin Luther King Community Center (MLKCC), tutoring and mentoring at-risk youth. She also helped other Butler students serve at the MLKCC as part of their academic learning as part of the Indianapolis Community Requirement (ICR). In doing this work, Lauren realized that she loved working with children, “especially these inner-city, at-risk, kids that actually needed me and needed my help,” she said. She was good at it. She also found working with kids to be deeply meaningful and fulfilling. She explained, “Solving a really hard math problem gave me a great feeling, but it is nothing like the feeling I get when I help a child understand how to solve a math problem.” Lauren found a way to combine her love for mathematics with her love of working with children. After graduating with a degree in actuarial sciences in 2011, she became an Indianapolis Teaching Fellow and accepted a position teaching mathematics in H. L. Harshman Middle School within the Indianapolis Public School (IPS) system.
During an interview in 2012, Lauren reflected back on the unique and valuable role of the ICR in the education of Butler students. “Whatever your major or career path,” she said, “this type of service, it changes you and the way that you view things. Your mind expands. You see so much you’re probably not used to seeing. You hear things you’re not used to hearing. You do things you’re not used to doing.” Lauren also had advice for reluctant students who questioned why they were asked to take the ICR: “It’s not just a class credit, and it should never be treated that way…. It broadens your knowledge. It really does, and it’s something that you can’t really get any other way. You can’t read about it. You can’t watch it. You have to actually experience it to understand why it benefits you.”
Lauren continues to teach mathematics in the public schools. When asked, she said her service at Butler was “one of the number one reasons as to why I am now teaching at IPS.”
“Talking with refugees has taught me more about myself than I think any citizen that I’ve come in contact with. They’ve pushed what I know to the limits. They’ve made me think about myself just as much as I’ve made them think about themselves.”
Alex Tallentire originally came to Butler University because he thought it would be a good place to get an education: “Coming from high school in a smaller town, it was very easy to get to Butler and be comfortable.” Unfortunately, he said, the Butler community was so comfortable that he “became complacent with learning.” During his sophomore year, though, Alex enrolled in two Indianapolis Community Requirement (ICR) classes. For his ICR experience, he chose to work with refugees “on a whim, just because it fit my schedule.” Although he began the course with some doubts, his initial skepticism about the value of this experience quickly evaporated: “I showed up that first day to fulfill the requirement for my class, but instantly after that it turned into something better and different.”
When asked to identify why his work with refugees was so important for his education, Alex spoke about the individuals he came to know: “I think interaction is what is important,” he said. “We are working with people. We are building trust with these individuals. And in the end, it’s pretty tough to see who’s learning more-if I am learning more from them or if they are learning more from me.” Through these interactions with others, Alex said, “[I learned] not how different people were from me, but how similar we were. I remember talking to a young girl from the Congo and listening to her story. Where she had been as compared to where I had been was so different, but when we reached the level of everyday problems and what we are doing, we were so similar. And I think that’s really where my learning came from.” These interactions also helped Alex learn about himself: “Talking with refugees has taught me more about myself than, I think, any citizen that I’ve come in contact with. They’ve pushed what I know to the limits. They’ve made me think about myself just as much as I’ve made them think about themselves.”
During his junior year, Alex accepted an invitation to work as an Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE), helping the Center for Citizenship and Community (CCC) involve Butler students in a range of classes with immigrant and refugee populations. On the one hand, Alex feels that he is helping his fellow students have experiences similar to his by extending their classrooms into the community. “I think that it’s important for Butler students to get out into the Indianapolis community because there’s only so much that can be taught in the classroom,” he explained. “Right now, I could probably tell you some of the things that I learned in my political science classes, but I could tell you ten times as many things that I learned as a tutor and mentor working with refugees. Imagine what students will learn, reflecting as I did with professors and individuals from around the world.” On the other hand, Alex sees his work as helping students better understand the communities in which they live and discern their own ability to make a difference. In reflecting about the essence of his work with the CCC and the ICR, Alex wrote, “We do this because we believe in self-transformation and the ability of students to find out, for themselves, who they truly are and what they are capable of accomplishing.”
Alex graduated in Spring 2013 with a degree in political science. His experience with the ICR and as an ACE at Butler has been foundational to understanding how to work with others in a global world: “This gives me a great orientation not only in terms of how I go about expressing myself but also, more importantly, how I go about listening to what others have to say, which I think is really important in any field.” As a recipient of the prestigious Orr Fellowship, Alex looks forward to continuing his education in partnership with leaders in the Indianapolis business community.