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Community Inspired

September 20, 2018
two university students with a group of small children
College of Education students Garrett Westlake and Heather Oxford teach a lesson to first graders at the UW Lab School as part of their practicum course. (Photo by Joan James)

UW’s shared spirit of engagement and outreach offers students hands-on experience.

By Micaela Myers

At the University of Wyoming, there’s a shared spirit for giving back. Across all colleges, faculty, staff and students provide outreach, education and service to communities throughout Wyoming. Many of these interactions also offer hands-on learning opportunities for students.

Instructors often work with the community to bring their students out of the classroom and into real-world scenarios. For example, recently retired Assistant Professor Joan James’ students teach science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) lessons at area schools as part of their junior-level Teacher as Practitioner Practicum course

“For me as a student, I found it beneficial to get out there and take this lesson plan you have on paper and put it into action,” says elementary education major Brindy Roadifer of Cheyenne, Wyo., who taught her lesson to UW Lab School middle school students. “I think the kids had a good time because it was hands on. They learned about engineering, architecture and structural integrity.”

The STEAM lessons included bridge, tower, puff mobile, dome and boat building from simple materials. “This event is effective in getting the pre-service teachers into the classroom to teach real kids,” James says. “The teachers in the schools also benefit by either having time to meet together for planning or to learn new teaching strategies from these pre-service teachers.” Afterward, the UW students get feedback and reflect on how it went.

“The earlier we can get students into classrooms, the better,” says elementary education student Evan Tucker of San Diego, Calif., who is focusing on English as a second language and hopes to teach overseas upon graduation. “Being able to work with kids, design the lesson plan, construct the activity and work in our partner groups was all really useful.”

Over the years that James taught the class, she rotated through most of the elementary schools in Laramie. Rather than just studying lesson plans, teaching area children gets future teachers into the classrooms earlier, and the schools appreciate the interactive lessons.

“Our teachers were impressed by their lesson preparation, classroom management and overall instruction,” says Linford Elementary School Principal Dave Hardesty.

“It’s what they’ve been waiting for their entire lives,” James says of her students. “They’re excited to get out there and work with these kids.”

two women
Social work master’s student Jamyn Gavello worked with the Equality State Policy Center during Professor Kirsten Havig’s class. They are pictured here in front of Adrienne Vetter’s mural in downtown Laramie.

On another front, Division of Social Work Assistant Professor Kirsten Havig’s class Advanced Policy: Advocacy and Social Action for master’s students began working with nonprofits last fall. “This is an ongoing element of our curriculum that provides students with real-world advocacy experience and benefits the state of Wyoming and its citizens through direct service,” she says. “Countless hours were devoted to planning, implementing and evaluating projects aimed at policy and policy promotion for social welfare.”

The first round of nonpartisan partner agencies included Prevent Child Abuse Wyoming, Wyoming Children’s Law Center Inc., Wyoming Women Rise, UW McNair Scholars Program, Equality State Policy Center and Powder River Basin Resource Council.

Master’s student Jamyn Gavello of Walnut Creek, Calif., worked with the Equality State Policy Center developing an interview framework for key stakeholders. She says that students helped the organizations with projects they didn’t have the staff to complete. In turn, students were able to put the theory they learned in class into practice. “It helped us learn to communicate, work a timeline with these agencies, work in a rural state where everyone is spread out and work toward a common goal,” Gavello says.

“I have found that the best learning happens through doing,” Havig says.

The students who worked with Wyoming Women Rise, a nonprofit that promotes women’s involvement with politics, hosted a community event with Laramie Mayor Andi Summerville that included voter registration and education. It was also broadcast on Facebook Live for viewers around the state.

“Finding creative ways to reach all corners of the state is one of our goals,” Havig says. Technology is also used to educate social work students across the state. Havig’s advanced policy class is taught via video call with five intensive weekends in Laramie. 

“Wyoming is a mental health shortage state,” Havig says. “So to have social workers all around the state with master’s level training is one of our major goals in the division. A big part of that is not just direct practice but the advocacy piece—understanding how policy works in Wyoming.”

Overall, UW social work students provided 52,000 hours of support at field practicum sites throughout the state. “Field education is a key element of social work education, in addition to what we do in class,” Havig says. “The students really benefit from it.”

Of course, these are just two examples out of hundreds of UW community outreach across Wyoming. Other examples include science and engineering students teaching kids lessons in their hometowns, the many summer programs for students and teachers at UW, professor research and outreach, community service days and much more. Each semester, students and professors pick up the torch and venture off to make a difference in Wyoming.

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