Jason’s Story: Contributing During College

by | Apr 11, 2016 | Community Building, Student Engagement, Teamwork

Above Photo: Jason Salseg (left) and Robert Franco Kapiolani Community College Director Office of Institutional Effectiveness.

Too often, we consider higher education as a place to prepare students to contribute to their communities.  But, what about students who are making significant contributions while they are in college?  Of course, there are many students that enter higher education already experienced as advocates for community change and others that will use their college/university experiences to learn how to make positive change, please allow me to share a story of a student blending his experiences and aspirations.

Jason’s story highlights how students are making positive differences in their communities while acquiring/enhancing (1) academic knowledge and skills, (2) dispositions and habits necessary to be active principled citizens, (3) attributes to be effective workers and perhaps entrepreneurs and (4) insights to follow their passion.

Jason Salseg is a student at Kapiolani Community College (Hawaii) and upon graduation will continue his education at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  He is making a difference on the KCC campus leading the Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) student club focused on sustainability throughout the campus and community.

Background

Prior to enrolling at KCC, Jason worked in commercial industrial design and repair with an organization concerned with the cost of energy and use of electricity.  According to Jason “I was able to work on projects focused on saving electricity and working towards star awards and for the first time I saw a larger manufacturing business focus on saving energy.  This formed a critical value and practice for me to see how focusing on energy reduction both solves problems and meets energy goals.  Later I was taking care of a facility that bottled water among other services and would occasionally see flawed plastic products that over time created a large mound of unusable plastic.  I assumed these plastic bottles could be recycled but actually they could not.  This heightened my awareness and need for ensuring all products are recyclable and thus moved me as an engineer to focus on energy conservation and sustainability.”

Jason shared that during his K-12 experiences there were no courses or classes focused on sustainability, so his focus on sustainability came later as he was employed in the manufacturing sector and saw what an impact he could have as an engineer on sustainability.  Thus one of his priorities as he entered KCC was to focus on sustainability while increasing his engineering knowledge and skills.

Engineers for a Sustainable World

As Jason began his studies at KCC, he sought out faculty members to assist him in directing his passion for energy conversation and sustainability into courses and classes.  He found two faculty members eager to co-design the engineering club on campus and serve as mentors to Jason, his peers and to create the Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) student club.  “The faculty members were on board immediately and supported the development of the club,” according to Jason.

As Jason created the ESW club it was framed as project-based work connected to courses, problems and solutions.  The students began with an initial project focused on demonstrating to students their opportunity to engage in conservation and sustainability by creating a portable solar station.  It started as a small team of 6 – 8 students meeting, working and creating partnerships with community-based organizations (that supplied the raw materials).  In 14 days ESW students created the portable solar station and it was ready for Earth Day 2014, and has been used throughout the campus.

From this project other students learned about ESW and joined the club so that there are now 66 student members of ESW.  According to Jason about a dozen students take on leadership roles demonstrating that students are capable of accomplishing incredible results on a shoestring budget.  Jason also noted that ESW student participation varies by semester given students’ interests, schedules and courses.

ESW build on their initial success and have now developed the Greenhouse Automation Project engaging students in extra-curricular activities to improve the campus greenhouse.  In addition ESW is now designated as a Service-Learning Pathway so that students, meeting criteria, can get academic credit for their service connected to specific courses.  Given the growth of ESW from 8-10 to 66 students and alignment with academic programs and services ESW is now an essential part of the KCC campus and community.

In terms of measuring progress and success the first project (the solar cart) was an experiment engaging students and completing a project, from those lessons learned the Greenhouse Automation Project ESW follows a more formal engineering timeline, set of responsibilities, expected outcomes and a budget.

The project begins with a meeting of the key constituents to co-develop a vision for the greenhouse ensuring the vision meets the expected outcomes of KCC – from the vision students develop a set of deliverables, quantifiable outcomes (measured in terms of enhanced environmental impacts) and focus on measurable results.  The students learn how to co-design, implement, assess, continuously improve and sustain a project in service to KCC and the community.  In addition they learn to align their service to academic courses enhancing their content knowledge and skills and career preparation.

According to Jason, some students struggle with the engineering course workload and change their major from engineering to other majors; but within ESW he has seen students more committed to engineering and focus on gaining the attributes necessary to be a successful engineer.  ESW projects bring life to engineering as students apply course content/classroom knowledge in real life while addressing and solving real problems.  As a result students gain both an appreciation for the field of engineering and prepare for associated careers.

Partners

One of Jason’s roles within ESW is to develop community partnerships not just for funding and resources but also for connections to potential employers by demonstrating to companies that future engineers (current KCC students) are interested and capable of contributing to sustainability.  Once organizations and companies understand the interests and attributes KCC students have gained through ESW they are eager to engage them during the collegiate years as well as potentially hire them upon graduation.  These partners encourage current engineering professionals to contribute to the next generation of engineers through ESW.

Jason emphasized that while there are great community partners “We receive support, guidance and services from many KCC faculty and department leaders to advance student contributions through ESW.”

Transitions

As Jason completes his degree at KCC and transfers to the University of Hawaii (Manoa) he is committed to establish a pathway for other students to progress through their academic career.  While these transitions can be uncomfortable, through ESW clubs at KCC and the University of Hawaii students will have opportunities to continue their engineering-focused projects with upper class students while increasing their knowledge and skills.

At the same time Jason committed to the sustainability of KCC’s ESW club and acknowledged that there is support, infrastructure and leadership in place to further integrate ESW throughout the campus.

Lessons Learned

Upon reflection Jason identified several strategies other campuses can use to successfully design, implement and sustain student-based clubs focusing on sustainability.  These include

  1. Shared leadership: there is sufficient work to be done that it becomes practical to share the work load; there is a need for support at both the student and faculty levels requiring shared responsibilities; and sustainability is a function of shared commitments.
  2. Build on Passion: building on students’, faculty and community partners’ passions ensures the activities are relevant, meaningful and contribute to individual skill-building and community improvement.
  3. Persistence: starting something new on a campus requires diligence and the ability not to get frustrated with initial slow development.
  4. Project-Based Learning: a natural teaching and learning process that many students find appropriate and preferred to more formal lecture structures; engages students in meaningful work; and expands students’ networks while contributing to community improvement.
  5. Engagement: many students interested in engineering, given the traditional isolated work environments, are introverted thus need to understand the benefits of teamwork, collaboration and partnerships; engagement moves students to more social orientations; and better prepares them for new engineering opportunities.
  6. Career Oriented: ensuring students see the connection of the activities to their engineering career by using corresponding consulting processes (e.g., sit down with client, understand their needs and then create an engineering plan) that lead to anticipated outcomes and impacts.

Summary

Society does not need to wait for college and university students to graduate to make positive contributions to their communities.  Many students arrive on campus ready to make positive changes in their communities while other students need to be motivated and engaged to contribute.  Establishing academically based student clubs is one strategy that engages both types of students in meaningful, relevant and rewarding activities aligned with their courses and career aspirations.

Jason Salseg’s story guides us through a series of campus and community supported organization, academic and service activities requiring internal collaboration, student leadership, process monitoring and career development.  The Engineers for a Sustainable World at Kapiolani Community College serves as an example of one campus through the leadership of one student and the support of faculty can engage many students in activities leading to campus-wide sustainability and community development.

Jason also shares how his upcoming transition will sustain the KCC ESW club as well as connect two and four-year higher education institutions.  Finally he offers his insights and suggestions for other colleges and universities to consider, adopt and/or adapt to design and integrate student-based clubs.

For more information, please Kapiolani Community College Engineers for a Sustainable World at  https://eswkcc.wordpress.com/

Terry Pickeral
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Terry Pickeral

Terry Pickeral, has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations, evaluation and civic development. His commitment is to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens.
Terry Pickeral
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