Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Abbie and Karen Adventures

So it all ended with two things:

1) A friend  (that’s me on the left and Karen on the right), and here’s a clue about thing number two.

2) A bike (here’s mine, taking a little break in front of Minnehaha Falls, the Twin Cities’ urban waterfall).

So, the backstory: Karen and I lived on the same first-year floor, Doty 5, but weren’t friends at all. Don’t worry! We both had many other friends; we just didn’t happen to cross paths until sophomore year, when we lived together in the Macalester Vegetarian Cooperative. That’s where the first Abbie and Karen adventures started.   

First, in August 2011, a trip to Northfield, Minn., to attend a food justice retreat with the Real Food Challenge. Then some bread baking and other cooking projects, and soon enough, we founded a student org with some other friends. FoodRoots was a student group with the goal of working together with Café Mac and Macalester to achieve more ethical food purchasing on campus. This work, in solidarity with other schools all over the country, took us to a national conference in Santa Cruz, Calif.  (that’s us above on a farm in California!), that February, where our suitcase famously got stuck in a turnstile in San Francisco. 

Over Spring Break 2012 we took a trip to visit friends at Beloit College, with a brief stop in Madison, and the next October, we took an overnight bus to Baltimore for another food conference. 

Being fancy

But anyway, what I’m trying to tell you is that our friend Lily (that’s Lily on the left and me on the right, being fancy) was interning over the summer at Common Harvest farm in Osceola, Wis. And we couldn’t just let her be out there, for a full three months, without a visit. But the thing about Osceola is that it’s 50 miles away by car, and neither of us has a car. THUSLY, the great bike trip to Wisconsin was born.

Karen and I both bike a lot, but I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re true bikers, by which I mean we don’t have spandex suits and there’s no use timing us ’cause we’re pretty slow. But if there’s one thing about me and Karen, we’re game for an adventure. We pumped up our tires and greased our chains, affixed our bikes with racks and crates, planned a route with the least amount of highway riding, and took off on our 61-mile trip to Osceola! This was the first image of the farm as we crested a hill.

So at this point in the blog you might be thinking WHO CARES? To which I say, it’s not just about the adventure. It’s about this: I didn’t know I could bike 61 miles until I tried it. I didn’t know I could move away from my family, start a student org, travel from coast to coast, or make have friends who would hold me along the entire journey, until I came to Macalester.

As we biked for seven hours, we talked a lot about what the past four years had meant for both of us. A lot of studying and tests. A lot of goofy dancing and spontaneous and much-needed coffee breaks. A few well planned jaunts across the country, and some regional travel too.

This is one way to tell the story of my four years of Mac, one grounded in relationship that bled into activism. This is a story about how Macalester fed my passion and gave me the opportunities to make real change in the world and in myself, and in what I thought I was capable of.
Abbie Shain ’14

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Chuck Green Fellowship: Education outside the classroom

For the past seven months, I've been fortunate to take part in the Chuck Green Fellowship. The fellowship, an offering of the Political Science Department, is probably one of the most interesting opportunities Macalester offers. It has certainly been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my Macalester career.

The Chuck Green Fellowship is named for a now-retired political science professor who has long believed in the importance of students working in communities and with nonprofit organizations to create social change. After he retired, a group of his former students endowed this fellowship to ensure that his teachings and philosophy would live on.

Only 12 students a year are selected for this fellowship, which ensures that a close-knit community is formed as we go about our work. The fellowship consists of two parts: a spring-term class in which we learn about organizational social change and a summer work component in which we apply the knowledge to a project at a Twin Cities nonprofit.

The class was nothing like none other I've taken at Macalester. It was small: just the 12 of us plus a faculty facilitator. Throughout the semester, we learned about different theories and methods of enacting social change, and how to apply them to nonprofit organizations. Plenty of guests came to offer their wisdom, including Macalester President Brian Rosenberg and even Chuck Green himself.

We students were given an incredible amount of control over the direction of the class. At the beginning of the semester half the syllabus was blank, allowing us to propose our own assignments and topics and work them into the syllabus. This freedom resulted in some incredibly engaging classes and thought-provoking conversations, many of which were led entirely by our fellow students.

Each of us had to connect with a nonprofit organization that worked in an area we were interested in, an organization we would then work for over the summer. We all received assistance from the the Internship Office and Career Development Center in finding these organizations, as well as help and advice from political science professor and Chuck Green fellowship facilitator Julie Dolan. Many of the skills we learned in the process, such as professional networking and developing contacts, will be useful later as we look for jobs.

After finding an organization to partner with, we began developing an action plan outlining the scope of our summer work. Then for ten weeks, we worked full time at our partner organizations. Each of us received a generous stipend to cover our living expenses, and we had the option of living in free campus housing.

I worked at a nonprofit called Transit for Livable Communities (TLC), an organization that advocates for improved public transit systems, bike trails, and other sustainable development in Minnesota. I worked mostly on the Move Minnesota campaign, which is pushing for increased transportation funding from the state legislature. I helped develop their summer field plan, coordinated volunteers, staffed events, and researched various topics for the campaign. TLC was the perfect fit for me, since I’m a geography major interested in urban studies and transportation. Through this experience I learned how nonprofits and organizers work to change public policy, and how many layers of politics and bureaucracy must be impacted to create meaningful change.

Once a week, all 12 fellows gathered for dinner with Professor Dolan to discuss our projects and give one another support and advice. Perhaps the most valuable component of the fellowship was learning from each other. Our group members had a wide variety of academic backgrounds, interests, and projects, which made for a rich experience when we shared our perspectives. Other projects this summer included human rights education in schools, Latina economic empowerment, food accessibility and security, and refugee resettlement. Hearing about everyone else's projects and why they were passionate about them was eye-opening.

At the end of our 10 weeks of work, we gathered for a banquet at the Alumni House with our organizational partners, giving us a chance to thank them for this wonderful opportunity, and to gather together as a cohort one last time.

I was drawn to Macalester largely because of its urban location. Over the past two years I've fallen in love with the Twin Cities and become aware of how the metro area is a kind of classroom. The courses that have forced me to leave campus and explore the Twin Cities have been my most rewarding ones, and have taught me the most about how to become an engaged community member. The Chuck Green Fellowship reinforced this.

Two of Macalester’s core values are academic excellence and civic engagement. The Chuck Green Fellowship perfectly meshed those two values, and that experience will definitely shape the rest of my time at Macalester.

- Joe Klein ’16

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer at Macalester: from classroom to real-world

Just as important as doing hands-on learning is reflecting on the experience. Because Hanson believes interpersonal reflection is important, the IGC recently began hosting events for students staying in the Twin Cities over the summer to do internships, volunteering, jobs, and research. She believes these gatherings “give a natural space for students to think about and reflect on various things: What do I want to do outside the academic setting? How is my summer experience relevant to academic purposes and real-life ones? What am I learning about myself through these experiences?” 

Meet Omar Mansour ‘15: He’s a junior from Salt, Jordan. This summer Omar decided to stay in the Twin Cities to assist with a research project led by Dr. Christy Hanson, Dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship. “It’s been a great experience working closely with Christy,” said Omar. (On a side note, faculty members at Macalester often urge students to call them by their first names to lead to more engaging relationships.) 

He reaffirmed his academic passion for global health by doing summer research with Professor Hanson, says Omar. Having planned to major in chemistry, he found “a new passion in Global Health that I had never considered before coming to Macalester,” he continues. He got interested in global health after taking courses such as Medical Geography, Spanish, and ultimately Hanson’s class in global health.

Hanson wants the Institute for Global Citizenship (IGC) to help more students like Omar. “The IGC is a place where students can find ways to engage in a new idea, passion, line of thinking, or vocational aspiration through hands-on experiences and leadership training,” said Hanson. Emphasizing the importance of experiential learning, the IGC offers various avenues of opportunities for students to engage in learning outside of classroom: the internship office, the study away programs, civic engagement center, and more. “The Institute complements what happens in the classroom. It’s a chance for students to explore how to connect their liberal arts foundation to how they engage in the world now, and to explore how they might use it in the future. They may discover lines of study or work that they wouldn’t have thought of before coming to Macalester by engaging with communities off  campus.” Plus, international students like Omar can find opportunities to explore new ideas and ways of thinking different from those back home.

The summer research project that Dr. Hanson has been leading offers this kind of experiential learning by allowing students to apply classroom knowledge to real-life matters. She is working closely with the government of Kenya and the World Health Organization (WHO) to critically analyze Kenya’s Tuberculosis and HIV programs, and to help shape the country’s next three-year plan for dealing with these leading killers. Says Hanson,  “We have a team at Macalester and a team in Nairobi working together to identify and solve problems.”
Her summer team at Macalester includes four students, who have diverse cultural and academic backgrounds.  “The students are working with me in lots of different ways, each drawing upon the student’s interests and skills but all adding to one overall body of work,” says Hanson. “It’s the liberal arts in action. The Kenyan government has been excited by what we’ve been able to bring to the government in terms of our creative thinking, problem solving, and analytical work.”

Omar has been contributing his statistical skills by working on in-depth multivariate analysis, which has provided ways of understanding the barriers to care for people with stigmatized diseases in Kenya. He has been analyzing two years of patient data to gain insights not only into patients, but also into the entire health system of Kenya in order to determine what needs to be improved. “I’ve been getting a lot of help from Vittorio Addonna, an associate professor of Mathematics and Computer Science. I learned a lot from working with him through this project.”

Macalester offers students many ways to engage in global issues with open minds and critical perspectives. So don’t be afraid to try new things and venture out of your comfort zone. As Omar puts it: “Try new things until you find what you really like. You may fail a lot, but don’t stop trying.”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My Summer: Vet team to Guatemala

I went to the Career Development Center one day hoping to get some help finding something productive to do with my summer.  I was looking into doing something veterinary medicine related, something that would help build my résumé for vet school.  But I never expected to find what I did: A program that involved traveling to a foreign country to play with animals, learning a little Spanish and faking a lot more, cliff diving, horse riding, staying with a host family who spoke a Mayan dialect, and having one of the biggest experiences of my life.

Vida is a nonprofit program based in Minneapolis/St. Paul. They run pre-health programs (dental, medical, veterinary) out of Central America. I did a medical/veterinary program in Guatemala and had an unparalleled experience with 15 other people from the U.S. and Canada.

This is Guatemala from the sky. This country is filled with gorgeous landscapes.

We all travel together and set up clinics in the same areas (we were mostly in schools). It’s announced in the village that we are coming so people can bring their children and animals to our clinic.

This is that super awkward first group picture, taken before we really got to know each other. This is the vet team—nine from West Virginia University, one from the University of Minnesota, one from Allegheny College, and one—me—from Macalester College. 

The clinic offers owners the chance to spay/neuter their cat or dog. We would see on average about 30 animals a day. We worked in teams of two to three and followed the patient from the time it was brought in until it left recovery. Our first patient came and left in a creative way. This is her post-operation. It was more common for animals to come to us in baskets and feedbags than in a wheelbarrow—whatever works!

We had two large-animal clinic days. This was the chance to work with cows, chickens, horses, pigs, rabbits, and a goose named Billy. It’s different handling these animals because most of them don’t get handled a lot, let alone get poked with needles. We didn’t do surgery on farm animals, though. Large-animal days were also days when we did house calls. Four of us would travel to a home where we vaccinated 75 chickens. And yes, I did get to hold and vaccinate 13 day-old chicks! (See image above)

In addition to doing vet work, we got a few days off. On one day we toured Antigua and wandered the city a bit. I know English, a bit of French, but Spanish—not so much. While I did learn enough Spanish to survive in the end, it was mostly touristy Spanish.
There were street vendors everywhere selling colorful clothes, but as tourists with limited money, the phrase “No gracias” quickly became our staple phrase. This is at a bartering market in Antigua where everything’s colorful and a vendor called me crazy, but I did get coffee and chocolate for about $12

We did a home stay in the mountains of Guatemala. The families spoke a little Spanish, but mostly spoke a Mayan dialect called Quiché. Communication with my host family involved a lot of gestures and looking up words in a dictionary.  The kids in my host family attend a school taught in Spanish, which helped. And I got really lucky because one of the kids understood some English and French. They were fascinated with our technology—iPhones and cameras.  This is our selfie taken with our host family’s kids.

This is one of the many rewards of doing what we do.  In addition to providing care to animals, we get to play and cuddle with puppies and kittens.

After all of our clinic days were over, we had three days of relaxation and fun in Panajachel.  The first day, we went cliff jumping here with volcanoes in the background.  The group also did zip lining and had fun being in a tourist city. 

We did six clinic days. By the fourth day, we undergrads were taking an animal in, doing a
complete examination of it, calculating and administering anesthetics, doing catheter and endotracheal tube insertion, vaccinating, monitoring animals during and post-surgery, writing prescriptions, and even  doing some of the surgery. For an undergrad, this is definitely an unparalleled hands-on veterinary experience. And I never would have found it if the CDC hadn’t helped me find something productive to do with my summer.

-Tae ’16 (Rockport, Indiana) 

Monday, June 30, 2014

From Farm to City


I grew up on a farm nestled in central Iowa. When I was looking for colleges, I was ready for another kind of adventure—a city! Of course there were some adjustments. For example, during Orientation week, while we were visiting the Minnesota State Fair, all my new friends complained about the animal smells, which I thought were mild and rather clean and smelling. Nevertheless, I soon adjusted and fell in love with Macalester’s urban location.
Of course, getting out and about in the Twin Cities requires transportation, which for most of my time at Macalester has been buses, biking, and walking. The Twin Cities public transportation infrastructure has recently developed into something even easier and more accessible with the opening of the new intercity light rail—the Green Line.  
During the grand opening of the Green Line on June 14 there were celebrations across the Twin Cities. A few of my friends and I were planning to ride the Green Line to the downtown St. Paul farmer’s market for our weekly vegetable run. We took a combination of bikes and bus to downtown St. Paul (having left too early in the day to ride the Green Rail on opening day). While we waited for the light rail to start running we strolled through the farmer’s market, picking up broccoli, green onions, and cheese.
Soon we wandered over to the light rail station. Each of the light rail stations had some sort of celebration going on—artists, music, dance, games, and food! Unfortunately, the weather was quickly turning cold and rainy.
But we live in Minnesota! We can deal with wet and cold, no problem!

Here are the beautiful brand new light rail cars waiting at Union Depot in downtown St. Paul.

And of course, we had to have a selfie on the new light rail! It was so exciting to be a part of this special day, even though we got soaked!  According to Metro Transit, more than 45,000 people rode the light rail on opening day.
Since the light rail opened, getting around St. Paul and Minneapolis has become so much easier. I’ve been able to move between the cities so much faster to attend art festivals, baseball games, music festivals, and more. I plan on taking full advantage of light rail all summer, which will really enhance my enjoyment of these months in the Twin Cities. I’m confident that my summer will be full of all sorts of adventures—ones completely different from those I had on the farm. 

- Claire '14

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A semester in the Dominican Republic

When I decided to study abroad in the Dominican Republic, I honestly knew very little about it. The semi-Spanglish, Dominican-centric novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz is one of my favorite books, so that seemed like pretty good signpost. Beyond that, I wanted to speak Spanish, be in Latin America, and have a hands-on experience, not just an easy sprinkling of classes and an overload of partying. But when I arrived at my program, CIEE Service-Learning in Santiago, DR, I got a lot more than I bargained for: rapid-fire and sometimes incomprehensible Dominican dialect, primary school students who challenged me in more ways than I could have imagined, celebrations that consumed entire months, and travel that pushed me, broadened my mind, and healed me. My semester was incredibly intense and undoubtedly challenging, but it was also, overwhelmingly, amazing.

I lived in Santiago de los Caballeros, the second-largest city in the Dominican Republic.  Pictured is the Monument, which helped me orient myself in unfamiliar neighborhoods because from pretty much anywhere in Santiago, it pops out above the skyline.

Although I was enrolled in university classes, my program was focused on community development, so I spent two days each week with these kiddos at la Escuela Comunitaria Arturo Jimenes, a community school run by Oné Respe (honor, respect in Creole), a nonprofit focused on racial and gender justice. I facilitated art projects using accessible materials and of course became the americana fixture in the yard at recess.

My father, who studied abroad in London, was a little bummed that I forewent Europe and all of its majestic history for my own study abroad experience. Of course, Dominican history isn't really taught in the US, but it's fascinating and inspiring. I became particularly captivated by the 14 de junio movement for the resistance against Rafael Leónidas Trujillo's dictatorship, led in part by the Mirabal sisters (Minerva, Patria, and María Teresa). The above image, which shows the photos of fallen revolutionaries as well as busts of the Mirabal sisters in the background, was taken at the Mirabal house, which was turned into a museum I was lucky enough to visit. I was and am still ensnared by the passion and bravery of these great female leaders, whom I'd never encountered before because they're Caribbean heroines, not European ones.

I found during my semester that one of the best ways to get to know Dominican culture was to engage in its celebrations. Carnaval marks the time right before Catholic Lent, and through ornate masks and costumes it pays homage to all things carnal and indulgent. One Carnaval tradition in the city of La Vega, pictured above, is for the masked participants to slap festival-goers on the backside with leathery balloons that are actually inflated intestines. My friends and I definitely had bruises and definitely had a blast.

To provide contrast to my very urban day-to-day experience, my program included a week in Rio Limpio, a rural town near the Haitian border. We learned all about sustainable agriculture and began to understand how Dominican life looks similar and different in urban versus rural contexts. Motos, or motorcycles, for example, are ubiquitous. 

It was certainly valuable to learn about agricultural production in the DR, but mostly I just enjoyed the insanely delicious tropical fruit. This photo was taken at a stand on the side of the highway. My host mom gave me homemade passionfruit juice on the regular. (Passionfruit juice, or jugo de chinola natural, is pretty much as common in the DR as orange juice in the States.) Fruit just hasn't been the same since I've returned.

The other way the DR spoiled me: the beach. Although Santiago is landlocked, I was never more than two hours from the ocean, and I definitely took advantage of that, both through educational excursions with my program to regions like the Southwest, pictured above, and on weekend trips with my friends. We stumbled upon this white-stone beach on a road trip when we needed to find a bathroom. Quite literally, this was our pit stop.  During this semester beauty was just inescapable.

Probably the highlight of my semester took place outside the Dominican Republic, when I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Haiti during Semana Santa, or Holy Week. Having spent three months in the DR mulling over the fraught, and often troubling, relations between Dominicans and Haitians, this trip was especially meaningful. I experienced vibrancy and grace on walks through the city of Cap-Haïtien, sampled Creole food, climbed to breathtaking views, and most importantly, gained new perspective on the border tensions. Even though I feel a great affection for the DR, Haiti really stole my heart at the end of my semester, and I hope to return as soon as possible.

- Amy '15

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Letter from Mac’s Summer 2014 Global Ambassador

Greetings! My name is June, and I just graduated from Macalester in May. 

I am the coordinator for the Global Ambassador Program this summer. I’m grateful and honored to be part of this amazing program to get to know prospective students from around the world.

I know it isn’t always easy to build a strong sense of connection to Macalester when you are thousands of kilometers away. Cultural differences, geographic distance, and language barriers: these are some of the challenges you might face when you think about applying to Macalester from Beijing, Dakar, or Barcelona. 

But don’t worry about any of these matters if you’re considering Macalester College. We welcome students from across the world, enrolling 2,000 students on a campus located in a quiet residential neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota. This small yet cosmopolitan community has been actively engaging with prospective international students for many years and we’re used to helping them feel excited about coming to Macalester. 

This is especially true since the Global Ambassador Program was launched in 2012. Since then we’ve become more intentional about building a global network among Macalester students, faculty, and alumni. The primary goal of the network is to connect prospective international students to both current students from their home countries and current Mac students studying outside the U.S. I am the main facilitator charged with helping you find Mac students in your home country. 

You can also check out our interactive map, which will show you all the Mac students currently living outside the U.S. I will be sure to update the information whenever I learn about new students entering Macalester from different parts of the world or I hear exciting stories from Mac students studying or interning abroad. You will soon realize that Macalester connections aren’t that far away from you after all. 

You will gain a much better sense of Macalester College by talking and interacting with other students. Listen to what current students or alumni have to say about their time at Macalester. Ask about their favorite classes, professors, extracurricular activities, and weekend pastimes. Start by emailing me at with your questions, concerns, and excitement about Macalester. I am here to help you build your Macalester network and find the Mac students who share your background and interests. 

One last thing: Have fun learning about Macalester! Perhaps you’re stressed about choosing which colleges to apply to. Perhaps you’re worried about transitioning from home to an unfamiliar place. Trust me, as a recent graduate of Mac I know exactly how you feel: I’m struggling to picture my adult life after college. But I also realize that transitioning is an inevitable part of life, so you might as well enjoy it. Embrace the unfamiliarity and be excited for all the potential in your future. 

I am here for you and happy to provide a source of motivation, inspiration, and support. 

Good luck,

June Ban ’14