Explore People-Centered Education & Engagement at SIT
Today’s blog is an interview sponsored by SIT Graduate Institute which offers a $5,500 tuition match of the Segal Ed award to enrolled AmeriCorps alums. During the 2014-2015 academic year, SIT awarded $65,000 in Ed Award matching scholarships to enrolled alums. Below, Caitlyn Clark, an AmeriCorps alum and current SIT student in her second year of the MA in Sustainable Development program, shares her experiences with SIT and City Year.
SIT Graduate Institute: Tell us about your City Year service.
Caitlyn Clark: I served for two years in Philadelphia public high schools as a Corps member and then as a “service leader” – which is now called a team leader. I also led a team of middle school students through the Young Heroes Program and oversaw the after-school program at an elementary school. During my second year, I created a conflict resolution program that ran in 10 of our schools and helped to organize a West Philadelphia community clean-up event. I appreciated the opportunity to mentor, teach, tutor, and engage with youth of all ages. This experience informed my post-City Year jobs: youth soccer coach, nature educator at an arboretum, after-school instructor, garden coordinator, and Freedom School teacher.
City Year taught me how to be an engaged citizen, to embed myself in the community in which I live and work. Through this I learned to seek out my neighbors, be informed about local politics, and network with local organizations and community groups.
I continued to do this for the following three years that I lived in West Philadelphia, then while backpacking and working throughout Latin America, and now in Brattleboro.
As an SIT student, I’ve continued getting involved in my community by attending meetings and events by Post-Oil Solutions and the Vermont Workers’ Center. Through these opportunities, I’ve gotten to know the people who grow the food that I buy; I’ve researched policies that are connected to my areas of study; I’ve also had many interesting conversations with locals at coffee shops, farmers’ markets, dive bars, and even the hot tub at the Colonial Motel — learning can happen anywhere!
SIT: How did you come to choose SIT for your graduate education?
Caitlyn: My search for graduate schools started by looking at the list of institutions that honor Americorps service, either by waiving the application fee, providing scholarships, or matching the Segal Education Award. SIT does all three. I knew that I wanted to find a school that appreciated the two years that I had dedicated to education equality, economic justice, and youth development. When I heard more about SIT, it was clear to me that I had found the perfect match. I was attracted to the experiential learning model and the underlying focus on social justice — both of which were fostered during my time in City Year.
After spending years teaching youth about environmental issues, food justice, and permaculture, I wanted to ground these subjects in theoretical frameworks and more deliberate action. I came to SIT to explore sustainable development on a macro level, social change on the community level, and how all of this begins with self-reflection. These learnings have shaped my on-campus phase and continue to inform my current practicum phase.
SIT: How do your studies at SIT relate to your City Year service?
Caitlyn: City Year utilizes the experiential learning model to make the most of your time working in diverse teams, appreciating both the individual’s life experiences and the collective knowledge of the group. At SIT, this starts from Day 1 in your Foundations course. It felt natural for me to be placed in a group with students from varying educational and professional backgrounds, international experiences, and with alternative approaches to learning.
There were many similarities to my City Year experience: teambuilding activities; discussions around race, class, gender, and privilege; space provided for both community building and self-reflection. As with all experiential learning, there were moments of humor, frustration, confusion, intimacy, vulnerability, and ultimately growth.
The work that I did in City Year also prepared me for my SIT coursework. When planning a flash mob for my Training for Social Action class, I thought back to the logistics, coordination, and communication that I learned when organizing events in City Year. As a service leader, I became comfortable running weekly team meetings, taking the lead on initiatives, active listening, and effective communication — all skills I’ve drawn on in my classes at SIT.
SIT: Tell us about your practicum working with the Green Up SIT campaign.
Caitlyn: As a student, I became active in a campaign on campus that is encouraging our educational institution to divest a portion of the endowment that is currently invested in fossil fuel companies. We coordinated meetings with students, faculty, the provost, the president, and members of the Board of Trustees. We organized flash mobs, workshops, and a panel discussion with three experts on various aspects of divestment and climate change. This campaign grew into an official student organization tasked with looking beyond divestment into reinvesting money effectively and sustainably. We are also looking into making the SIT campus in Vermont more energy efficient.
To help this organization transition to the new group of students on campus, we created an internship position that was approved by the president and the provost. I have been serving in that position as part of my practicum. Last week I helped organize a SIT presence at the People’s Climate March, the largest gathering for climate justice in the history of the United States. We had about 40 students from both the Vermont campus and the DC Center, along with alumni and faculty, at the march.
Next week, Green Up SIT students will meet with World Learning’s Investment Committee and the Board of Trustees to urge divestment from fossil fuel companies. We see this as an ethical decision for an educational institution that is committed to promoting social justice through its study abroad, graduate, and youth development programs.
SIT: Would you recommend SIT to other City Year alumni?
Caitlyn: If you joined City Year for the same reason that I did — to make a positive impact in the world through people-centered education, outreach, and development — then SIT is a logical next step for earning your master’s degree. Many of the skills, lessons, and relationships from my time in City Year have greatly informed the work I’ve been doing at SIT Graduate Institute. I’m grateful to have both experiences now to draw on as I look forward to continuing this work.