- Class of 2013
- Communication Studies and Global and International Studies
Four years ago, I was a student in a course by the Center of Experiential Learning researching the impacts of food insecurity, and today, I work at Feeding America, the country’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. So to say the CEL contributed to future opportunities is an understatement. My CEL course, for the first time got me outside of the classroom and into the community. It was one thing to speak about the principals of social justice, but a whole different experience to act on those values. During this project, food insecurity transformed from being a concept to a reality that millions of Americans struggle with. I got to know people who faced days where they went without meals—and that didn’t sit right with me. This experience formally introduced me to the issue, but more importantly taught me that it is problem that can absolutely be solved and inspired me to be a part of that solution. Beyond the ways this course elevated my awareness and understanding of community issues, it also taught me three major lessons that make me, in my opinion, a stronger member of my community and my professional network.
1. It’s OK to be wrong… I stopped and restarted the research project for this class…. I don’t even remember how many times. I would start down one path only to realize my original research question was incorrect and I needed to completely start over. However, that did not equate to failure. All those “wrong” avenues I went down actually gave me deeper understandings and insights. They weren’t truly mistakes, because I learned from them. I make mistakes at work—they’re bound to happen, whether it’s because it is my first time attempting something or because it is my 100th time doing it and I slipped up. Regardless of why the mistake was made, I accept it, I learn from it and I move on.
2. I’m not always right… I know this seems like a restatement of the above, but it’s really not. The research project in my CEL course, was community-based, meaning that we worked directly within the community to design and conduct our research project. I walk in the first day, with a whole lot of ideas and none were right. I thought I knew exactly what to do to solve the problems our community was facing, but I actually did know what the problems even were—I only knew my perception of them. I’m now more conscious and keep my hubris in check when entering new, and even old, situations, and listen to and learn from those around me. Taking a moment to take in and understand the environment and how it supports or conflicts with my ideas goes a look way in making sure my insights are thoughtful.
3. Be flexible... The success of something isn’t measured by how flawlessly you get from Point A to Point B, it’s how you don’t let needing to take a detour to Points C, D, E and F stop you from getting to Point B. Once you step out of the classroom and into community, whether that be a neighborhood, organization or workplace, you’re going to be hit with a lot of situations and circumstances that are out of your control, and just need to roll with it.
My experience with CEL was the first time I truly encountered that and it was stressful. However, the end result, a combination of the finished research project and the relationship I built with my classmates and community members was one of my most proud accomplishment at Loyola. Participating in a course offered by CEL was the highlight of my undergraduate experience—it introduced me to a topic that I am now heavily involved with in my career and empowered me valuable skills to make a difference in my community.