CMU ➡️ KIT

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In less than a month, I’ll be getting on a plane to fly off to Karlsruhe, Germany, where I will study at the Karlsruhe Institut für Technologie until next July.  So yeah, I’m sorta freaking out a bit.  Of course, I feel a surge of excitement and anticipation as each day ticks away. A year ago, I was only just beginning my application for the VDAC, the German/American Exchange that is making my trip possible. This program partners with a handful of universities in both the US and Germany and exchanges three students each per partner University each year.  I was accepted in September as a candidate for the program.  From there, I was asked to apply to my top preferred partner universities in Germany.   I landed at my number 2 choice at Karlsruhe Institut für Technologie.

Prepping for this kind of a transition is hard to explain because it’s hard to do.  Each day I catch my mind running wild with thoughts, mostly typical study-abroad concerns, such as “do I have the right charging ports for my electronics,” to “where the heck is my school in relation to my apartment?” Being someone who has never lived completely on my own before, let alone in a foreign country, I’m certain I’m only scratching the surface of concerns.

While there, I will be finishing my undergraduate studies in both Mathematics and German Language.  KIT has a history that spans just under two centuries.  It’s known to graduate physicists, engineers, computer scientists, architects, logicians, mathematicians, statisticians, and more of the like.  I feel incredibly honored to be given the opportunity to finish my undergraduate work at this university.

I am nervous, I am anxious, but truly and more than anything, I am ready to get there.  I look forward to keeping this page updated with my experience abroad. Please feel free to reach out for more personal updates. If you have questions about the German program at CMU and the possibilities it could afford you, hit me up!

 

Until next time,

David.

 

Immigration

Over Winter break, I went with CMU Alternative Breaks Program to Atlanta, Georgia. While there, I volunteered with a group called New American Pathways. This is an organization that directly serves newly settled refugees in the greater Atlanta area. Over the three days that we spent with them, we got to learn about the global refugee crisis, the resettlement process, and the future of immigration and global relations.

The office they operated out of was a part of a complex of other businesses and firms. At the beginning of our service, we helped them organize their storage closets. One collected clothing donations organized by all different kinds and types; shoes, pants, suits, dresses, pajamas- seemingly everything. The other closet housed donations, like books, school supplies, soaps, shampoos, and toothpaste. We organized these closets in separate groups for maybe an hour before finishing in time for an informational session on what New American Pathways does exactly for refugees. We learned that when refugees from other countries are finally accepted into the United States, they have to start from the ground up. One of the NAP coordinators, Alla, told us that immigrants virtually lose all of their accolades and established identities upon entering a new country. For instance, a family she helped resettle through NAP had a member that was a doctor in their home country. Upon coming here, however, it was a struggle to get them an assembly line job in a chicken processing factory. It was Alla’s job to help find this family finds positions that could help them cover their new living as well as accept them into the roles. Hearing these stories made me grateful for people like Alla; people on a mission to support others.

Over the course of the rest of the week, we helped move furniture into apartments for refugee families, mentored elementary students at their after school program, and even got to work directly with the families to help them understand how to pay their taxes and learn useful phrases and terms in English.
We had a bit of time to explore Atlanta, as well. My favorite memory of non-service was when our group ended up in “Little Five-Points” a district in the Atlanta area that is completely covered in art and design. Everything about it was grungy and progressive. We spent a decent amount of time in a feminist bookstore, which we left each carrying a book or sticker.

All in all, I regret not going on more alternative breaks with CMU. The group I went with gave me so much energy and life. The service we did was valuable for the organizations we volunteered with. I cannot think of a better way to end a semester or to begin my holiday.

RA Year 3

I can say with a high degree of certainty that in the future, I will never be able to dissociate my memories of college from my memories of being an RA in Kulhavi Hall.  I have lived and served as the third floor’s RA for the past six semesters. In RA measurements, that’s roughly ninety staff meetings, thirty-six bulletin boards, or 120 residents.

 

Being an RA is something I wanted to do even before getting to college.  I applied during my freshmen year and went through the process before I was picked up as an RA for the following school year. Flash forward, I am packing my room up for the last time in three years, never to return as a resident of the floor.

 

The job calls for a lot of maturity and balance.  I could barely stand the stress that comes with it during my first year.  I’m glad I learned how to manage, because ever since those darker days, I have felt the rewards of this job through and through. Whether it be a successful program with Hall Council, late night chats with Dyese and Candy (other RA’s and MA’s from my last year on staff) or simply hanging out with the residents of the floor, turns out being placed in this role has given me some of the most rewarding opportunities and meaningful relationships.

The Leaders of Tomorrow

In the Winter of 2013, I had submitted my application for the Leadership Advancement Scholarship at CMU.  Two weeks later I was one of 80 other students invited to compete for a spot in the 2013 cohort.  I came to campus on a gray winter day, took a tour of campus for the first time, and then was sent through a series of simulations and interviews with the other competitors.  Fortunately for me, I was selected to come to campus on this scholarship.

I remember competition day so vividly. I remember walking into Powers Hall for the first time, noticing the distinct smell that the old building fostered, and being overwhelmed by the number of people crammed into the lobby.  I remember bidding my parents good bye for the day, them wishing me luck, and then heading up the stairs towards the ballroom.  I remember hearing Dan’s speech for the first time.

“Raise your hands if you’ve been told that you’re the leaders of tomorrow; that’s bull shit. You’re the leaders of today.”

I remember the simulations: helium stick, gutter ball, and a survival activity, all of which required us all to show how we work and communicate in groups.

I remember the group interview. I remember thinking I was talking too much, and that the other two competitors probably thought my voice was annoying. I remember thinking Megan was intimidatingly beautiful, which is a funny thought now that we both got the scholarship.

I remember it all.

So when I was asked my freshmen year to help serve as a member of the committee to organize this day, I felt incredibly honored.  My first year on this Lead Team, I had the opportunity to facilitate the small-group activities to the competitors. I was also trusted with the duty of serving on the application review board, which meant analyzing over 200 applications and giving them a final grade with nine other staff and students.

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Dan Gaken, LI Director, delivering the introductory keynote and program overview.

After my freshmen year, I was brought onto the chair role of Competition Day, meaning I still serve on the application review board, but now work with two other chair people to organize the entire day. This means placing and training volunteer facilitators, working with departments on campus to ensure we have rooms and catering, and involving the freshmen class in a way that allows them to appropriately network with the potential new scholars.

Competition Day is truly like Christmas in the LI.  This past January was my second year in the chair position. I got to work with two of the most brilliant minds, Evie and Bellal, to host an incredible day.

Reviewing applications is empowering enough; seeing what these students do and how they impact their communities is so impressive.  But once the 80 are picked for competition, the energy they bring into the LI can be felt.  All 80 students are deserving of the award, really.  And they prove that by demonstrating exceptional communication skills. They are aware and just, and try their best to bring their best selves to the plate. Each time, it makes me relive my competition experience all over again.

It’s an honor to serve the LI in this way; I hope that the work I do helps bring in the best next handful of students the nation has to offer.  I hope that with each application review and each facilitator placed that our selections only make the program better and better.

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Myself, Evie, and Bellal, the 2016 Competition Day Chairs

#SAEHatesMe

This past year has been a big one for me and SAE.  After being initiated into Michigan Delta Omega’s chapter of ΣΑΕ last fall, I have been elected to the role of Member Educator. Within this role, I am responsible for understanding curriculum set by our National Educators and organizing different workshops and meetings that ensure every active brother of the chapter is meeting these national expectations.  It’s called the True Gentleman Initiative. This Initiative replaces a pledge process, a model used by many other greek organizations, and instead incorporates lifelong learning throughout each members time in the fraternity.  The curriculum varies depending on age of the brother, but for the most part it can be completed as an entire chapter.

In this position I work closely with our President, Vice President, Diversity Chair, Newly initiated class of brothers, and CMU’s Interfraternity Council Educator.

A big part of this position is ensuring that newly initiated brother classes acclimate to the fraternity and learn the basics so they can build a firm understanding of our values and operations. I do this through facilitating meetings where we talk about different aspects of the fraternity, including national and local history, leadership opportunities, and campus involvements.

Greek life at CMU is incredibly valuable. The way this University encourages each chapter to collaborate and do good for the community is outstanding. Greek Week, a competition between chapters that happens each spring, is one of CMU’s most impressive and constant philanthropic events ever.  Between each organization, our greek communities raised 50,000+ Dollars for “Angel Wings,” a nonprofit that raises awareness for and supports families that are battling breast cancer.  Being a part of a community that wants to make positive impact is incredibly empowering, and I hope to continue being an integral part of that here at CMU.  Our chapter came in second overall for Greek Week in 2015, was voted best chapter on campus in 2013 by our campus newspaper, “cmlife”, and has had one member spotlighted as “Greek of the Week” since that recognition piece began last fall (it was me!! I’m truly just a lucky guy).

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Me, Tess of Phi Sigma Sigma, and Austin, my Big Brother before a football game.

But it truly isn’t all fun and games.

#SAEHatesMe

The biggest challenge of being a part of Sigma Alpha Epsilon has been the negative attention brought on us by chapters across the nation. In less than a year of being an active brother, incidents like the Oklahoma Racist Chant and other stories became prevalent parts of my daily conversations. I had serious doubts about remaining a part of this organization, because I struggled to justify labeling myself amongst these men I never met. I struggled to justify being a part of something that, in some places, held racist beliefs. While I knew that the climate of ΣΑΕ at CMU was very different than that in Oklahoma, it pained me anyhow.  How do we appropriately react as a chapter? How do I explain this to my friends and coworkers who are a part of the black community? How do I live with myself knowing that the letters SAE will only ever be a synonym for racism to hundreds of thousands of people?

After lengthy conversations with our diversity chair, who is one of my best friends, brothers, and most reliable confidants, we concluded that we have to stay and fight for change.  We agreed to remain in the fraternity knowing that the best we could do is continue to encourage our brothers at CMU about how to enter an inclusive mindset. It’s been about a year since the incident, but I’m proud of what we’re accomplished so far.  We’ve incorporated diversity lessons into chapter meeting, encouraged involvement and support to the NPHC Inc., and most importantly, opened the conversation of race and privilege in a way that all of our brothers can participate in.  We didn’t want to just say that racism isn’t happening on our campus, we wanted to make sure it was obsolete.

So shout out to Bellal for being so encouraging and wise; your help has been so valued.  And thank you to our chapter, who has responded so well to our plans. This is an ongoing effort; one that can feel tiring and hopeless at times. It starts with acknowledging the problem for what it is. It tarts by having the conversations people typically avoid. And hopefully, with continued effort, it will end.

 

Agua Es Vida

It’s hot: 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Yesterday I was walking to class in a winter coat, mind you. I’ve been swinging this pick-axe into the ground for the past 3 hours.  It had been about an hour since it was pointed out to me that I was standing over a scorpion, but I was still on the lookout for more. I looked up the hill at the rest of our group as they continued to carve a narrow and deep path through the earth. There are thirteen of us plus the staff and community members; we’re all drenched in our own sweat, but no one is too tired yet. This is just before lunch on the first day of work on the Los Hautales water project in Honduras.

Pause; Rewind:

I heard about  Global Brigades when two of the students who participated in the previous year’s trip came to one of my classes recruiting for the upcoming trip. I remember them mentioning that it was a combination of service and application of knowledge, which peaked my interest severely.

After some serious fundraising, a handful of planning meetings, and an entire semester’s span of time, I found myself gripping onto my first ever international plane ticket as three of us carpooled the night before to make it to the airport on time.  I was in disbelief, and a fog, because it was 5am when we got to the airport.  I was kind of singing in my head out of excitement; In a few hours, I will be Central America to help install a new pump-style water system for a community that needs it.  For the most part, I slept at Bristol, the airport in Flint, Michigan.

We stepped off our second plane in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras.  We were immediately escorted into a white van with the Global Brigades logo on the side.  We drove  on highway road for about two more hours; the views were incredible.  Honduras is incredibly mountainous.  There were times we drove near the edges of cliffs. Off in the distance were little houses, often without doors in the doorway, clumped close together.  Wild dogs trot along the sides of dirt roads, so close to traffic it was concerning.

We unloaded our things and at lunch at our stay, the Horizon, and met our group’s GB staff. We then drove to Los Hautales, which was about an hour away, to meet the Water Committee f the town and introduce ourselves.  The Water Committee is a group of the community leaders that come together to communicate and work directly with GB.  Each community that applies for Global Brigade aid must form one of these bodies in order to work along with the organization and to learn about the system.  The Water Committee must remain assembled for some time even after completion of a project, and continue to communicate with GB to report that their system is being maintained properly.  It was an honor meeting with the Committee in Los Hautales, and I found learning more about how GB supports its communities to be a valuable piece of knowledge.

The following days were physically challenging. We spent two days in the Honduran heat digging out a trench and a third-day installing piping for the water system. Once complete, this system will provide safe drinking water directly to the homes of about 200 families.  This will replace their past model for attaining water, which meant carrying heavy buckets through mountain roads for miles and miles, each day.

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Me and the trench. PVC pipe was installed and buried in this, allowing water to travel from the tank to the individual homes of Los Hautales.
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Grace spent a good half-a-day trying to pry this rock from the earth. She finally did it, and she’s an absolute boss because of it.  That thing was DEEP in the ground.

When we weren’t digging trenches, we got to network and collaborate with other students on our compound. Groups came from Georgetown, Penn State, Carnegie Melon, and Virginia University. Meeting these wildly passionate students and sharing our experiences was such a unique opportunity which introduced me to some of the most talented students I’ve ever met in my lifetime.  I was mostly grateful to connect with the students from Central, none of whom I had known before this trip.

To help the community of Los Hautales better understand and sustain their water system, each water brigade put together a presentation for the children of the community.  Ours explained the water system from start to finish, showing where the water comes from, how it gets to a sanitation tank, and then how it travels through the pipes into the homes of the communities.

Before this water system, these people literally have had to walk miles and miles of rocky mountain path to a bacteria-ridden water source to fill buckets which they would carry home with them. It blows my mind that this is how they lived.  And it fills me with complete satisfaction to know that soon they will never have to do that again. The adults in the community are dedicated to bringing this vision alive, as they truly never want to hand their child a bucket and ask them to go on a journey to fill it with water.  This will a be reality soon, and water will come pouring out of a faucet on in their individual homes.

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For the remaining three days, we operated as an engineering brigade. We set the axes down and worked for two days with two different communities. We first assessed their existing water systems. What they had was built by another organization ten years ago, but it wasn’t done so properly and now the community is suffering again.  They reached out to Global Brigades and we met with their leadership to build a “community profile” (including information on their education system, their businesses, population, and more).  From there, we went to the location of the water source, assessed the flow rate of water from the source, performed a water safety test at the tank, and gathered basic observations of the system as a whole.  We compiled all of the data into a report that will be presented to Global Brigades and will determine whether or not this community will receive further aid. My fingers are crossed for them, because currently, their pump flows water at about 1.5 Horse Power, and the water only comes through every 11 days.  They store their water in “Pilas” which are large cement water basins.

On the last day, we visited a community that had a water system completed by GB almost a year ago prior. We walked around the community from home-to-home, speaking with the residence. They shared with us their relief, now that water came through pipes and into their homes.  We were guided up a mountain and through some woods, where they showed us their water source and how it operates.

I remember one of the women greeting us into her home excitedly.  She told us we were a gift from God.  She explained to us the struggles of being a mom in a community where her children’s lives were always at risk because of the water available.  She risked everything to keep her kids alive, which meant sending them to the city where she knew they would survive. Now that there is water in the community, her son has moved back home and her family is now reunited.

Yeah, I’m never going to forget that.

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This is Calvin.  We met him on the very first day, during an instructional meeting on how to use the tools and each part of the pump system.  

Of course, packing up the night before leaving The Horizon was emotional for me.  I didn’t want to leave. I was overwhelmed by what I had experienced. I was inspired. Driving through the mountains back to Tegucigalpa was long and quiet.  All of us had expected to be affected by our service; none of us, however, could have ever anticipated it would affect us this deeply.

Water is a right.

In the fifteen minutes it takes for you to take a shower, fill a glass of water, and flush your toilet, it would take these communities an entire day. It would require walking up and down rocky mountain roads in brutal sun. It would mean needing the right weather conditions and waking up extra early to go fill a bucket. It would need a secure place to store it.

Even now, the access to clean water is limited.  Each of these homes is given one faucet; how many faucets are in your home?  I do not mean to guilt you, but I urge you to realize that even one faucet completely changed these people’s day-to-day lives. I imagine many of you reading this might be very much like me before I left for this trip.  I knew that there were communities out there that lived without roofs over their heads, nor operating water systems, but I never admitted to myself how hard a life like that could be.  Once I was talking to the water committee, I had to own this reality.  Once I met these people and worked alongside them, I could not ignore how evident it was that they knew this system would change their lives.  I could see it on their faces and hear it in the translations; water is life.

Thank you, Honduras, for showing me all of this.  Thank you GB for giving me the opportunity to help bring clean, usable water into the homes of those in Los Hautales.  Thank you to everyone who helped me fundraise for the cost of this service; because of you all, my life is changed.

To live your life without acknowledging that every single thing you do has a global impact is incredibly dangerous: This world has become too small for us to ignore the needs of those who don’t look like us, act like us, or speak our languages. Your every action transcends these barriers; so strive to do some good in everything that you do.

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After the Water Fair, there is a solid three hours of “Intercultural Exchange” during which every group presents a piece of their culture.  Alexa sat on my lap the entire time. I can’t shake this girl from my mind, and I’m so excited for the water system to be complete so that I can rest knowing her small bones will never have to bear the pain of a hike through the mountains with a five-gallon water jug simply to stay clean and alive.

 

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Spark Expanded

 

For the past three semesters, I have been blessed to coordinate the Spark Leadership Series at CMU.

Over the summer, Natalie, another one of the coordinators, and I collaborated with the LI Staff to revisit the the Alpha Leadership program’s curriculum and projected learning outcomes in hopes to create a more challenging and intensive but still baseline leadership experience.

We stripped Alpha of it’s fat, replaced a lot of old material with new, and called it Spark.  After one semester, it was evident how tremendously the program had evolved.

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But it wasn’t done yet.  After it’s first semester, Spark doubled in size, promising two session offerings instead of one for the Spring semester.  This meant double the facilitation staff, double the coordinator staff, a new location and a new night.

I shared the Wednesday night session with Jordyn, one of the new coordinators.  Our facilitation staff was 16 volunteers strong; all of which were trained by the coordination team and the Graduate Assistant, Vince.

I tried my best to capture what Spark is like for participants each Wednesday night in the videos below.

This semester was such an awesome learning experience for me and Spark.

My belief was vigorously tested when registration suggested we might have to cancel one of the sessions.  With Four days until the start date, we only saw 12 participant applications for our Wednesday night offering; for this program to work, we needed at least 60.

Right when I was ready to throw in the towel, registration soared, and we had a number of people show up on the spot to our Wednesday night offering; more than enough for the program!

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The audience we worked with in the Towers session was unlike any Spark or Alpha experience I have ever witnessed.  For a lot of these students, it was their first time ever participating in a Leadership Institute program. The material was new to them, which made it visibly more enjoyable and exciting for them; the energy in the towers session was so real and so positive it was impossible to ignore.

Our facilitation staff was mighty adaptable.  With the new location and the number of participants, a lot of the curricula changed as we went.  For many facilitators, this would be a daunting task; but not ours.  They handled each session with absolute poise and enthusiasm; our participants don’t even know how lucky they are.

It was a huge, wildly successful semester for Spark.  I cannot wait for the Fall so we can do it all over again!