Education

GVSU students’ summer in the city

Semester in Grand Rapids offered educational experience regarding history of city, community programs.

August 16, 2019
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GVSU student Sarah Stromski works in the Garden of Eatin’ at The Other Way Ministries, where she performed her summer internship. Courtesy The Other Way Ministries

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Grand Valley State University recently wrapped the pilot year of a summer program that gives students immersive experiences in Grand Rapids. 

In the inaugural year of the Semester in Grand Rapids program, a cohort of seven students lived in the Grand Rapids area, studied the city's history, learned from city and business leaders, and completed nonprofit internships.

“The entire program is community engaged with a social justice lens,” said Kristin Moretto, director of the office for community partnerships.

The students had a tour of Grand Rapids, learned about the WestSide Collaborative and Senior Neighbors, visited the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives and learned about the services offered through nonprofits like Dwelling Place, Guiding Light and Dégagé. 

The students had lunch sessions with several community leaders, including George Heartwell, Kurt Reppart, Jim Davis, Ryan VerWys, Stephen Wooden, Jon O’Connor, Jermale Eddie and Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.

Moretto said students learned about the city and then actively applied the classroom theories to internships at such organizations as The Other Way Ministries, YMCA, Home Repair Services and the Cook Arts Center.

SIGR is coordinated by GVSU’s office for community partnerships and student professional development, housed in the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies, and is based on the similar Semester in Detroit model at the University of Michigan.

Moretto said she spent a lot of time speaking with faculty from University of Michigan to help establish the program.

“The program allows students to understand how community history is shaped and how it impacts the lives of residents,” Moretto said. “They can see how classroom learning applies in the community and through their experiences at internship sites.”

One student in the program was from West Michigan. The others were from other parts of the state or from outside the state.

Delaney McDonald, who interned at the Cook Arts Center, said the experience helped her understand a gap in equity and services that she was not as aware of previously. In her small suburban hometown, she said she wasn’t exposed to some of the issues many people experience throughout the country.

“I think the deep dive we took here kind of forced me to reflect back on where I came from and the parts that I was missing. I think that I have a new respect for Grand Rapids but also for my hometown,” McDonald said. 

McDonald said what she learned opened a door to even more questions about these issues, and she’d like to continue volunteering and learning at the center.

“I feel like I'm leaving with a lot more questions than answers because a lot of these issues were brought to my attention, and I had a little bit of time to explore. I feel like I need to keep going back because I need to keep exploring that,” she said. 

Anthony Hanline completed his internship at Dwelling Place, where he said he learned about how offering services often requires meeting clients where they are. That means it’s important for the nonprofit to be emotionally intelligent and consider circumstances their clients have had to face, he said. 

Many of the students agreed the program gave them an opportunity to gain a more complete understanding of Grand Rapids, rather than just spending time on campus and at a couple of local hangouts.

Moretto plans to run the program again next summer, hopefully for 10-12 students, she said. Applications are available online at gvsu.edu/sigr.

Nonprofits can participate in the program for free. Moretto said there were more community partners interested in the program than there were students for the first year, but she is open to hearing from organizations that would like to work with an intern in the program.

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