It’s a good thing Trujillo ignored his high school guidance counselor. When the track star confided his dream of becoming a coach, the woman laughed. “She said I wasn’t college material,” Trujillo recalled. “She suggested I get a job at the Clover Club potato chip factory.”
Trujillo works with about 75 students a year and takes his job very personally. “I teach family values like honesty, trust, accountability and sacrifice,” he said. He encourages students to participate in community service. “It’s amazing to see these low-income kids giving up their food to help other people,” Trujillo said. Listing service on a college application also builds strong student resumes.
Trujillo’s secret weapons are his self-deprecating humor and ability to relate to kids whose odds of attending college are stacked against them. “I tell them I was just a fat little Mexican kid who was given a great opportunity and took advantage of it,” he said. He recounts numerous stories of students who conquered crippling obstacles.
He tells of one teen who had an alcoholic father, an abusive, drug-addicted mother and a severe speech impediment. With Trujillo’s guidance, the boy persevered and eventually received a $43,000 scholarship to Stanford University. “How do you inspire kids to go somewhere beyond average?” asked Trujillo. “Give them dreams, and then opportunities to make those dreams become realities.”
As a graduate student at the University of Maryland, Brenda Marsteller and some of her fellow sociology program cohorts met regularly for happy hour. They’d laugh, catch up and discuss new teaching techniques. One trend fascinated Brenda. The more she heard about service learning and experimented with it, the more dedicated she became to having her students participate in community-based learning projects. “It’s hands-on learning,” said the since-married Marsteller Kowalewski. “And it’s for real people, with real needs and real consequences if we don’t come through.” She said building this approach into her course curricula allows her to “do” sociology as well as teach sociology.
In 2006, Kowalewski became the director of Community-Based and Experiential Learning. Her first task was to create a Community Involvement Center that would match students with service opportunities and show faculty how to convert existing courses into community-engaged learning (CEL) classes. Her enthusiasm for experiential learning is apparently contagious, as the popularity of this teaching approach has spread phenomenally at WSU. “It started out as this grass roots kind of movement,” said Kowalewski. “In five years has grown to 66 faculty teaching 197 formalized CEL classes.”
“Students don’t often know that there’s something they can do about social issues,” she said. “It can be depressing to talk about homelessness, teen pregnancy and gang violence. But when you put students in a situation where they can see change, or the potential for change, that they, themselves, are creating, then I’ve done my job.”
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