Creating a nonprofit organization as an undergraduate – high level Ex Ed.
Stephanie Ortiz QC ’13 and Jim Stellar
Stephanie was a student a general education course I co-taught this past spring term and she is a reader of the blog. In the course, I asked her to gather student feedback about the operation of the course (e.g. did my use of Twitter in class when I am not lecturing help or distract?). Then, she approached me mid-term about whether I could help her create an organization on campus to fight against human trafficking. I introduced her to a few people, including students (and blog co-authors), who are starting clubs or who work for such organizations on campus. That led to an idea we both had that the very act of creating such an organization, or maybe even just trying to do so, is a form of experiential education and we decided to write about it and the impact on her as a student.
Stephanie, tell us briefly what you plan?
Before, I explain my plan I would like you to imagine for a second being ripped from your identity, repeatedly abused and beaten, only to be coerced into the servitude of physical labor and exploitation of prostitution. This is the life of human trafficking and it’s happening everyday within our own city of New York.
My plan is to start a campus club at Queens College to raise awareness and educate others on the issues of modern slavery; eventually forming my own nonprofit that will help trafficked survivors re-establish a new positive life. I believe everyone has the right to live life to its fullest potential and I want to provide these survivors with the correct guidance to live a life of endless possibilities. Though as the outsider looking in, it’s important to be educated so we aren’t ignorant and important to be selfless because ultimately we’re all humans that all experience pleasure and pain.
Very powerful stuff and an important plan! In my experience when students get passionately into a cause, something happens to them, often in terms of their professional development and their take on college. Can you say something about how you have changed as a result of your commitment to this idea?
My change has been so drastic, but definitely for the better. I am million times more confident, mature, empathetic but above all grateful – though it wouldn’t have been possible without my struggles from having an abusive father, a suicidal mother and an abusive partner. All these experiences pushed me physically, mentally and spiritually beyond my limits. But it was that strength that sparked my passion to empower women and children in this crucial cause.
However, like everything in life we all need some guidance and moving out at 17 to start college, provided me with that necessary direction.
My take on college has always been important, because it was the opening gate to knowledge and success, but most especially it meant freedom for a better life. I owe credit to my first professor of an English introductory writing class where for the first time I was encouraged to find my voice within and write true to my emotions. Moreover, I was challenged to explore beyond my own cultures and beliefs; which eventually inspired me to volunteer internationally at Costa Rica and further learn more on human trafficking.
Do you see a connection to your studies on campus from these very heavy experiences?
Absolutely, my experiences are what shaped my decision to study psychology. I have always been interested understanding why? My curiosity to learn about the science of human behavior is extremely fundamental for me to understand not only myself, but also those around me. Studying psychology and taking course such as Personality & Child Development I have been able to make many connections to my experiences and apply it to my career; hence my dream to start this nonprofit. However, in order to help other we must first be well centered and psychologically healthy and knowing some psychology definitely helps!
I like how you ended with the notion that one’s first obligation is to one’s self to be healthy so that you can lead and thus serve others. Your obvious personal passion makes you much more likely to succeed in starting this nonprofit for students at Queens College. But let’s end by talking about you as a student. Do you think this passion makes you more attentive in class, a better learner? Does it help you to sort and organize what is important in all the presented information? Are you more likely to talk to the professor after class (like you did with me) about something academic that interests you?
My passion definitely makes me more attentive in class and thus a better learner, for the sole purpose that I’m extremely driven for success and pay attention to close detail. Therefore, sorting and organizing information is something relatively easy when I’m preparing for an exam. In addition, I’m someone that seeks many answers and never been intimidated to ask questions especially when approaching my professors after class, which has always led to very enriching conversation. As the first in my family to graduate college, I value education greatly and always see my brain as huge sponge, ready to take on more.
What is evident to both of us in this brief exchange is the way passion and emotion, based on personal experience, can become productively joined to a field of study in college and a career pursuit after college. Of course, people who are more motivated, and therefore put more time into a task, tend to do better at it. But we think the idea is bigger than that. The recent fMRI brain scan studies over the last 10 years, some of which are cited in previous posts, clearly indicate that much of the computation we do about where to put our effort in choice is often based on processes that are hidden from our conscious experiences (e.g. neuroeconomics, hidden biases) or on what one picks as a source of powerful personal motivation (e.g. empathy for others). Add to that thought the observation the fact that all brain areas show neuroplasticity (e.g. learning from experience), and one has a perfect prescription for educating what we often call in this blog “the other lobe of the brain.” In college we can capitalize on life experiences and create more of them through programs of internships, abroad studies, etc. Then we can integrate the academic experiences in college with those often unconscious but important experiences outside the classroom. That is what we sometimes refer to in this blog as “educating the whole student.”