Last October, Kalamazoo seniors Arianna Schindle and Rachel Udow took the stage at an education conference in Denver. In the audience were several hundred college faculty and administrators.
Each described her journey at "K," beginning with "Commitments," a first-year service-learning seminar that focused on commitment to place and to projects related to supporting local food systems.
Arianna then talked about her experience in "Building Blocks," the College's award-winning program for students developed to regenerate social capital in Kalamazoo's low income neighborhoods.
Rachel told about working in the College's AMIGOS bilingual mentoring program that pairs middle school students with "K" students to work on the younger students' homework, practice their English, and go on field trips.
Arianna explained how, as a sophomore, she helped create and lead a new co-curricular service-learning program for "K" students who mentor teens at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home.
Rachel discussed her experience as a sophomore in the Qualitative Methods course in which she conducted and analyzed student interviews intended to complement the comprehensive Collegiate Learning Assessment, a test that evaluates how well Kalamazoo students learn to think, reason, solve problems, and write, and to what extent improvements or added value in these critical skills result from their particular undergraduate learning experience.
Both related tales from challenging internships and externships. In addition to working at Seafarers' House in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where mariners receive emergency help and connect with family members across the globe, Rachel worked on a campaign to help migrant workers in Southwest Michigan understand and report their pesticide exposure.
Arianna facilitated camp programs for youth from international conflict regions, worked in a congressional office in Washington, D.C., and served at a community-based organization that provides health care, housing, vocational training, and education to women and children fleeing from Burma to Thailand.
Both spoke passionately about their deeply immersive study abroad experiences-Rachel in Ecuador, Arianna in Thailand.
And both described the capstones of their undergraduate careers: their Senior Independent Projects or SIPs. Arianna's is based on her work on the Thai-Burma border examining transnational activism. Rachel produced a film about Latina single moms living on the Texas-Mexico border. Each talked about how she partnered with another student to complete her SIP.
"Kalamazoo provided me with pathways to learning, but not a map," explained Rachel.
"The College gave me scaffolding that allowed me to 'succeed at failing,'" said Arianna.
"Kalamazoo demands that we acquire critical thinking skills and then gives us the tools to do so," she added.
"We've always been encouraged to be the co-creators of our curriculum," explained Rachel.
Finally, the two elaborated on the need to find "home" within oneself as a precondition for being "at home in the world;" how important the wider world is in finding one's self; and how important it then becomes to change the world and oneself.
Now I really see what you do at "K."
By all accounts, Rachel and Arianna were relaxed, articulate, incisive, and collaborated artfully during their 30-minute presentation.
When they finished, the packed room erupted with applause and cheers.
During the Q&A session that followed, the first questioner, a silver-haired luminary, asked whether there is an upper age limit for enrolling at Kalamazoo College. Another asked them to join a consortium that's studying pathways to cognitive development.
And another simply stated "Now I really see what you do at 'K.'"
Rachel Udow is an anthropology and sociology major from Dexter, Mich., who also sings in two campus a cappella groups. She had an internship with the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Institute for Service-Learning. After graduation, she intends to seek work with a mentor in the area of peacemaking and social justice.
Arianna Schindle is a psychology major from Macomb, Ill. She received a LaPlante Scholarship through the Underwood Stryker Institute, and with classmates Julianna Weaver and Stephanie Willette received a 2008 Davis Projects for Peace Award. The $10,000 Davis award will allow the three to return to Thailand this summer where they will provide mosquito nets and malaria-prevention education to displaced people living along the Thai-Burma border.
Both Rachel and Arianna acknowledge their "socially active and feisty group of fellow seniors-Marlene, Stephanie, and Caitlin-as well as the professors and administrators who have pushed and believed in us. They are the essential components to our success and the real meaning of 'home.'"