This summer I had a wonderful opportunity and experience – I was a faculty adviser to three interns in the Leadership for Social Change summer program at St. Olaf College. Nate Jacobi and Kris Estenson have set up an elegant structure in which to learn: students do significant work onsite at some non-profit organization as an intern, while they have an academic component about social issues and leadership skills, and live communally and intentionally in a house.
Natasha Hegmann, Chelsea Wagner, and Signe Knutson, my three interns, were doing projects with food. Natasha and Chelsea worked on the SEEDS farm, planting their own acre, supervising the community garden and the food-sharing garden, conceptualizing and promoting possibilities for turning the farm into something sustainable ecologically, reading books, thinking hard, writing well, making contacts in the community, cooking produce that they had grown and picked for their housemates. The list could go on, but the range of different, interwoven activities they were involved in models how a deep learning can take place. Signe worked at the Northfield Community Action Center, and while the project on food that she had hoped to get going never really did for reasons beyond her control, she learned tremendously by practicing social work and being given great responsibilities, and – here is the best thing about the experience in my opinion – got to do so while she had enough time to reflect on her experiences and understand them in the context of her housemates’ experiences promoting social change.
School, work, reflection, eating, socializing – all of these intertwined to create for these nine interns a powerful experience, and one that was enriched by their meeting people outside the academic community and people of all ages. I believe the LSC summer program could be turned into a semester-long or even year-long program. It’s a great model for meaningful education. And not just for students. This elegant structure came round to further my own learning. The program and the students taught me much more than I helped teach them.
-- Mark Allister, Professor of English and Environmental Studies