“Could we fill out Bartels hall just like they do at clubfest but with presentations?” pondered Rochelle Jackson-Smarr, the assistant director for student leadership in the Office of Engagement Initiatives.
Jackson-Smarr hopes that soon the Community Engagement Showcase, an event where students and faculty give presentations on their engagement work through Cornell, becomes “the annual celebration of engagement across campus.”
“Every year it’s grown to be something else,” she said. “It’s getting much bigger, much more well organized, we are figuring out what people like. They want the presentations of the awards, they want to have the highlights of what students are doing locally, domestically and globally.”
This year’s event, held on April 16 in Klarman Hall, was the largest one yet and featured 40 projects and had over 100 presenters.
According to Jackson-Smarr, students typically become involved with Engagement at Cornell through the “over 200 engaged courses” offered at Cornell and “opportunities like the public service center and through the Office of Engagement Initiatives,” which can additionally provide travel funds.
“My favorite part [about the showcase] is hearing from the groups that won last year and hearing how they were able to use that small amount of money, $1,500, to sustain their project for one more year,” Jackson-Smarr said.
Student winner Osei Boateng ’18, Performing and Media Arts Department Doctoral student Jayme Kilburn and Prof. Robin Radcliffe of the College of Veterinary Medicine were recognized for their engagement in local and international communities.
Boateng travelled to a small community in Ghana not far from the one where he grew up. He brought with him a team of physicians and medical students to educate people about the dangers of diabetes and hypertension and to provide free health screenings.
“Growing up in that community, I realized that people do not usually visit the hospital,” Boateng said. “When I migrated here, taking some classes like anatomy and physiology, I realized that hypertension has silent symptoms and people could only find out if they visit a hospital.”
Through his project, Boateng and his team members provided 229 people health screening. Boateng also said that after analyzing some of the data he collected, he realized that there was a strong correlation between low income and risk of hypertension or diabetes.
“Education is key,” he said.
Boateng described the showcase as “wonderful” and remarked that he was “amazed” how both faculty and students are engaged in their communities.
Another Engaged Cornell student and former Sun news editor, Rachel Whalen ‘19, presented her project called Poetic Justice during the event. She invited the George Junior High School students from Freeville, N.Y. who had worked with her to accompany her.
“They had composed this really amazing group poem that they all came up with together. It was really spectacular,” Whalen said.
One student Whalen worked with eventually “wanted to start a poetry club because she wanted to build solidarity around the experiences she had had in her life, which were pretty intense.”
Students at George Junior “are considered youth in the system of care,” Whalen explained. “So a lot of them have had some pretty intense life experiences,” such as trauma and substance abuse.
Whalen has helped the students publish their poems in anthologies, worked to set up a website for the club and allowed the students to practice performing their poetry through events like the showcase.
“The idea and the name [for poetic justice] and really everything we do comes from the high school students. That’s super important. It’s their project. My role is to provide resources at Cornell,” Whalen said.
As part of the Global Citizenship and Sustainability program, Whalen and others traveled to Borneo, Malaysia, over winter break, where they worked with students from a local university in an indigenous village.
The people “want the children in the villages to go to universities, but also don’t want to lose some of their traditions,” Whalen said. She focused on helping the villagers with “facing the challenges of increasing globalization” and with figuring out how to move forward.
“The experience was so impactful on me that I’m going back to Malaysia this summer,” she said.
As for the Showcase itself, Whalen said that it was a good opportunity to practice “presenting research thats not hard and fast data but rather qualitative experiences.”
Boateng wants to work to combat “health inequality,” and for his next project, he plans to travel to Kumasi, Ghana, to educate communities about waterborne diseases and to build a borehole to provide clean water.
Boateng said that his biggest takeaway from his Engagement experiences through Cornell was that “people don’t have to look down on themselves” and say that “they cannot impact the community because they do not have this ability or that ability,” but “through your own small actions you can impact the bigger community.”