Why Educational Research can Change the World

I substitute a microscope for a tablet. My lab is a university office. Books and manuscripts replace scientific equipment. Ink is the only chemical I need. There is a certain type of satisfaction that comes with conducting, synthesizing and interpreting educational research. Never in my wildest dreams did I envision myself in this role, though little did I know it’s the foundation for everything.

I’m a young research analyst, and even when I move on from this role my title may change, but the skill will transition with me wherever I go. Educational research, like most other scientific research domains, focus on three areas: challenging the status quo, policy improvement, and allowing evidence to do the talking. These three areas are functions I acknowledge whenever I do relevant work.

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Challenging the Status Quo

Our world is a robust social construction, meaning all laws, policies and expectations are agreed upon by citizens and society stakeholders. Money, time, rules, educational curriculums, and even sex/gender norms are all examples of status quo standards we oblige and live by. What educational research does in an excellent way is analyze the status quo of many outlets and inquire does the status quo truly benefit all stakeholders? If it does, how so? If it doesn’t, why not? The Satir Change model excellently visualizes this process–with educational research being one facet to get the change/innovation conversation started, challenging the argumentum ad antiquitatem fallacy, which proposes something is good simply because it is the traditional way of doing things. However, the proposed change MUST be beneficial and relevant to stakeholders, or it could end up creating an opposite fallacy argumentum ad novitatem, which means appealing to a new perspective status quo simply because it is new and different.

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Policy Improvement

All corporations, educational entities, and similar business structures rely on an outlined string of policies to dictate, simplify and clarify organizational functions. Rather the research method is qualitative textual data, quantitative statistical data, benchmarking, or evaluation and assessment, reviewing policy frameworks to ensure relevancy to stakeholders is vital. The reason why is because our society uses laws, policies and regulations to justify actions and decisions. However, not all “laws” may be beneficial or applicable to all citizens or areas. This is were educational research is such a vital tool via identifying such policies and providing recommendations for improved laws. This takes a macro (large change) approach to policy development, because mezzo (mid change) and micro (small change) approaches often aren’t strong enough to implement large-scale change.

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Allowing Evidence to do the Talking

What attracts me to educational research most is if conducted ethically and correctly, the results can be indisputable. As a research analyst, I personally make no claims whatsoever. Any concluding results from a research poster, manuscript, or interview is simply synthesizing facts to create a conclusion. My goal is to remain objective while following the evidence wherever it takes me. Only during the evaluation process of an assessment might I provide recommendations based on my expertise–with this entire research process separate from objective educational research. Furthermore, any awards or accolades I receive really shouldn’t be attributed to me; it truly is a win for the researched subject instead.

MLA

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“El Final Del Principio” – El Salvador Day 15/15

My biggest takeaways from this trip are what I learned about myself and what I learned about this country. This last post will talk about these top five areas in great lengths and personal detail.

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I learned about an extraordinary country with a powerful, historic background. What’s read in some textbooks, portrayed in the media, and understood based on stereotypes and assumptions are NOT an accurate representations of a country, let alone it’s individual citizens. The opportunity to hear El Salvador’s earliest history from its natural Mayan/Aztec relations to the modern Spanish colonization, personal testimonies about the Civil War that lasted for 12 years and the part the United States played in it, detailing the geographic issues such as mudslides, earthquakes, and volcanos, and conversations about the two political parties (FMLN & ARENA) has given me so much knowledge, and I am confident that studying abroad in El Salvador was the greatest way to convey this as opposed to from a class, a textbook, or the internet. Central America is filled with many other countries, and learning about the small country of El Salvador and its undeniable influence and presence globally was phenomenal. I will now look at the world differently, question injustices, support community-grounded businesses like I did in El Salvador, aim to be resilient like the citizens of this country, and moreso frame my lifestyle around friendships, cooperation, honesty, and soildarity.

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I learned that Higher Education and Student Affairs is where I truly belong as a practitioner. It is often not easy to truly find what your internal drive is–the set of actions, activities, and external environment that gives you the upmost satisfaction and fulfillment. My years as an orientation leader, campus activities programmer, resident assistant, ΟΔΚ executive board member, teaching a studies skill class to freshman students and other work/volunteer experience in student affairs has given me a type and level of fulfillment I cannot quite put into words. Working with college students is such a privilege because these are the individuals readying themselves to enter society, the workforce, and possibly change the world, and if I can impact the learning, growth, career direction, and/or convey the value of education and knowledge, then that is my intentional contribution to the world I enjoy and can give. As a social worker and classmate of mine astutely said: “One person may not be able to change the world, but you can change the world of one person.” Regarding micro, macro, and mezzo changes (small, large, and medium changes respectively) my path of higher education has also granted me the knowledge, skills, and awareness of a researcher. My official title is Research Analyst in Teacher Education. And because many policies and laws dictate the operations in both higher education and social work realms, adequate evaluation and assessment of these policies and laws are needed to ensure the best interest to those affected by them are intended and implemented.

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I learned about my personality, habits, interest, motivations, and how these traits affect different environments and settings. I’m a straight, cis male. I’m an extrovert. I’m an artist. I’m a gamer. I’m a researcher. I’m a risk taker. I have aspects of a geek and hipster. I work in Higher Education. I’m a trend setter. I value innovation. I’m inquisitive. I’m impulsive. I’m a writer. I’m a student affairs practitioner. I’m easily bewildered. I’m compassionate. I’m appropriately sensual. I’m a mentor. I’m a logician. I can be somewhat smug. I’m witty and comical. I’m determined. All of these aspects make up Mario Lee Adkins, and even though I have a twin brother, there is no one like MLA. At this point in my professional life, I am going to be working with many different people, making ethical decisions that could affect many, and directly influencing others in various ways. At this point, I want to fully know and embrace my true self and calculate how this meshes with others, what traits I may have to heighten and what traits I may have to tone down depending on the circumstances. I think of myself (my before-mentioned traits) as puzzle pieces where all the pieces are present and they all fit together, yet aren’t all pieced together yet. As I grow older, the pieces come together piece by piece, I learn which pieces fit together, my favorite pieces, pieces I’m not too fond of, yet are apart of me anyway, and reevaluating the meaning or worth of a piece. As a professional, I want to be able to present this competed puzzle of me and use this self-actualized persona to positively impact and help others. Though for now, I will used the pieces I know how to use best and continue to be open to learning and having new experiences. As Sister Peggy O’Neall said on this trip: “The best professional is someone who has a genuine self. Find yourself, and you’ll find your place.”

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I learned about the story of an El Salvadorian child named Axel and the practice of solidarity. During my two-day service work placement, I worked with many kids and they were so much fun to interact and play with. Their innocence was what made the experience so memorable. When I leave this country, I wanted to have at least one genuine tie that kept me connected in a positive and ongoing way. Sponsoring a child’s scholarship through Programa Velasco was perfect. My natural, internal consensus of this decision was one I’ve never experienced before, and for once in my life I could help another person on a level I never thought possible. Axel (who is ironically named after a popular Kingdom Hearts video game character) is a short, energetic, shy, and slightly inquisitive little 2-year-old boy. His birthday is next month in June and from what I’ve heard he’s an excellent artist. I committed to paying about 75% of his preschool/head start tuition for the year. His family qualifies for it based on a financial assessment via the organization. In Axel I see so many puzzle pieces similar to mine, so much potential if given the chance. After I hugged his mother, she thanked me and was tearing up, as was I. I was able to hold him and I knew a good decision was made today and I could positively impact his life. Though just as important, I know he will positively impact and influence mine as well. I have a lot to learn from Axel. I see this not as an act of charity, but one of solidarity. We are two equals helping and learning from one another.

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I learned that no matter what I will always have more to learn and it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. I have also learned I may have to relearn concepts and information I thought were straightforward but now my perspective is more broaden and heightened. During my flight back to the United States, I sat next to a nutritionalist named Cathy, and we had a long conversation about both our professions. We were both returning from other countries: me from El Salvador in Central America and her from Cayman Islands, which is overseas territory of the United Kingdom (check them both
at the bottom left and upper right respectively). After realizing I truly enjoyed my study abroad experience, Cathy gave me a Cayman Islands dollar, and I was in awe at the new form of currency and quickly gave her $1.25 back, which was the equivalent exchange rate. This nice gesture of hers also sparked something else in me; the notion that more places and knowledge exist and the drive to visit as many places that apply to the higher education and student affairs contributions I want to give to this world. We may live domestically, but the world operates globally. I want to become an individual who fully embraces this and live up to the greatest, constructive, and authentic potential possible to support my values and profession. This study abroad trip to El Salvador has positioned me along this path.

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“Pensamientos Aleatorios” – El Salvador Day 12/15

I have had MANY experience on this trip that do not necessarily fit into a day’s blog post, so because I did the exact same service project today as yesterday, I dedicated this post to some aspects of this trip that don’t necessarily fit into other blogs, but nonetheless are quite interesting and educational.

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The first is how the city is structured and built. There are many different styles of living in El Salvador (ES). The rural Santa Marta is very open to nature with how the homes and rooms are built. However, San Salvador (where my Hotel Oasis is) has a more modern look in terms of traffic, buildings, etc.

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To elaborate on the city structure, ES has one of the best highway/road systems in Central America. Even though ES is considered a two thirds world country, it is important to remember it has modern aspects of what we consider “modern”, which is essentially just social construction. I thought this photo of construction workers nicely captures this notion.

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The food here is so great and flavorful–chicken, fish, beef, every meat I’ve had is just delicious! Fruits and veggies are another highly eaten item and avocado (and lime) is great in almost anything. Plantains can be fried like potato chips to make a tasty snack and I bought many of them! Pupusas (a thin bread folded in meat, beans, and/or cheese) are another great food and I learned how to make them.

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Street life is always busy in the urban areas, with people selling food, items, hanging around, or the rare sight of street performers. A single photo does not do this guy justice, though nevertheless here’s a glimpse of his show.

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In the United States I’m used to security guards and the occasional police offices, but in ES there is the national civilian police paid by the government. They carry many different guns (simi-automatics, handgun, shotguns, etc.) and it took some getting used to being so close to them because they patrol many areas we frequent. They do smile.

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The last day at Programa Velasco, my service site, was similar to yesterday. The highlight though was I was able to sponsor Axel, who’s almost 3 years old and is just an awesome little guy. I have always wanted to support a child in a different country and it felt so right to do so. Hopefully this will ensure Axel makes it to the 1st grade and lives a happy, safe life. I’m already looking forward to getting some mailed updates from him!

“Adorables Niños” El Salvador Day 11/15

H. Bart Merkel, Vice Provost of student affairs at Grand Valley State University says: “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” Indeed, how you grow up has so much influence on your childhood, adolescent years, and young adult path. I was home schooled and had the fortunate opportunity to grow up free of mental/physical abuse, bullying, peer pressure and dictation. Exactly on the contrary: I grew up doing what I liked, which is drawing, playing video games, and helping others. My tattoos, hobbies, friendships, and profession echoes this testament.

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For this study abroad experience there are three placement sites where my classmates and I could work for the next few days. The first is with current and ex gang affiliated youth, the second is with girls who have been victims and/or survivors of human trafficking, and the last site was working with kids 2-7 in a preschool program. I, of course, chose the most educationally focused placement. Ironically and iconically, I asked for wisdom via our celebrity guest Melissa Leo before she left us what was the best way for new college students to possibly realize what their place in life is and how to commit to a career path. Her response: “Ask your mother or father how you genuinely acted as a kid and how you developed naturally, and where might this lead.” This was powerful because in summary, how you acted as a kid is a natural representation of your true self. I kept this in mind as I reflected on my own constructive childhood and for the kids I would encounter today.

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After dividing and getting to our placement sites, the school was a beautiful building surrounded by vegetation, bight soothing colors, and posters and paintings of Mons. Romero. We met two North American coordinators and they explained that this building started as an orphanage, gives scholarships to needy families, aims to provide holistic care, includes a health checkup which is “preventive focused” while other health clinics are “curing focused” with natural medicine a priority, detailed commitment that all children have access to a genuine counselor/physician, and equal access to education that will prep students for elementary school.

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As soon as I entered a classroom on our tour, the kids gravitated to me and began jumping, talking in Spanish and grabbing me to follow them to different places around the room. My two classmates and I said our names in Spanish, and because my name is a common Spanish/Italian/Hispanic/Latino name it was easy for them to pronounce, albeit said in a slightly different way. I was placed with 5-year-olds and our first part of the day was recess.

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Playing with the kids was truly a genuine moment of this study abroad experience when I interacted with innocence in the most absolute of context. El Salvador may have many ecological trials and political challenges, but these kids are able to have fun without the cares of murder, drugs, etc. Playing on the swing, climbing play ladders, sliding, high fives and playing with toys with them filled the bright, breezy afternoon and I had just as much fun as those adorable kids did.

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Inside the kids were learning about careers (the irony of this day is just unimaginable) and the children learned how to pronounce and articulate careers such as firefighters, police officers, doctors, etc., and we drew and colored in what these careers were visually. I drew a police officer and colored it in as the kids kept showing me their drawings and I would give them their deserved affirmation. I ended my time with them by playing with blocks, puzzles, stuffed animals, and other toys before leaving. I hoped to myself that these innocent kids could grow up free of violence, sexual abuse and other injustices we heard about during our orientation here. I want to know each and every one of them can go to college if they want and can pursue the careers they have a genuine interest in and drive for.

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Our last stop was to a few home visits, where the two coordinators would visit the homes of the parents and chat about their academic performances and behavior–both praises and concerns. We took the city bus to the first stop and it reminded me of home because I took one so frequently there. Interestingly, it was only 20 cents per ride. We got off and met a young women with an adorable 2-year-old son and we walked to their home to chat about casual, random conversational topics. We played with toys at their house and I let him draw on my 3DS and watch the intro to Tales of The Abyss, one of my favorite RPG games. The second visit was similar, though there were two older teenage boys with the youngest an excellent anime artist and the oldest owning close to 30 swimming medals! I congratulated them both and hoped that like the kids I met today at the preschool, they could make a living out of what truly makes them happy.

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“Educación Superior” – El Salvador Day 5/15

For me, a photo can capture the appearance, but it can’t capture the essence; my feelings do while my memories retain them. With that said, “You cannot unknow what you know” & “Knowledge is power” are two phrases that perfectly convey my stance on education, specifically with higher education. My 5th day in El Salvador was filled with reminders of why learning is a necessity for an empowered, broadened, and informed life. Just being still and observing life can teach you just as much as a professor, teacher, mentor, and other educators. However, understanding the past and prior experiences in general are among the the greatest routes for learning, and I was able to do this the entire day and due to some excellent connections. When I teach my freshman students next year, I will also motivate them to learn from the world around them on their own accord as well.

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The first stop was to Divina Providencia where Arch Bishop Romero lived and was assassinated. He was an individual who supported El Salvadorians of the lower class who struggled due to unjust and inhumane treatments. It was heavy depressing to be in the actual place he was killed, and I took photos of the church only, not the gruesome, explicit photos of his death or his personal effects.

For me, a photo can capture the appearance, but it can’t capture the essence; my feelings do while my memories retain them.

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This was enough for me, and I took a photo of a soothing bird that made me feel constructive peace in a place that witness such destructive actions.

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The next location was a talk with David Morales, Procurator for the Defense of Human rights. This was a detailed conversation that was broad enough to cover the necessities, yet detailed on each point. The piece on El Salvadorian higher education was of course where my interest was. The equivalent of a bachelors degree in ES takes five years, and there is one public university and many private institutions, yet it is difficult for many to get here due to inadequate primary education. Also, their focus in majors is on law, medical, philosophy and theology, with technology, sociology, and the arts almost entirely removed from major offerings. I was so discontented after heating this. The world is a diverse learning space, and by limiting the knowledge available to these students is actually LIMITING their learning, and the contributions they can make to their society and communities. Traveling to the USA to study is an option, but immigration and limitations on foreign students hinders more than helps. It is a vicious, limiting cycle that need to be reformed.

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Our last location was a park where my group planned activities and games for elementary to middle school-aged girls who are and/or were victims and/or survivors of human trafficking. We played basketball, soccer, and a few ice breaker games and they had a fun time. I was hesitant as a male to do too much interacting with them due to their possible bad experiences, but the group climate was great and we just had fun playing without worries–I was happy to see the kids having the type of fun kids should have. At this moment I realized I’ve interacted with ES gang members and victims and/or survivors of human trafficking, and they all had smiles during our interactions. I really cannot articulate how I feel, or should feel, about that. I know one thing though, my little niño friend who I played catch with really energized me and kept my focus on having fun with the kids. He is an awesome little guy and won’t be forgotten.

“Perseverancia” – El Salvador Day 3/15

Even though my birthday was a few days ago in El Salvador (ES), like most individuals I didn’t feel more mature after it. I mature as a young adult and practitioner in education every moment my limited perception is expended by the testimonies and experiences that shaped current societies, and thankfully ES has helped me with this greatly. After another excellent breakfast and fellowship with my classmates, we left for a community, one of many community settlements where ES gang members lived. My initial framework of what a “gang” is will forever be changed, or at least a negative connotation will not be automatic. Foremost, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members, one of two top tier rival gangs of ES (including simply troubled youth) lived with their family and friends there. There is a complex, systematic hierarchy built in their operations that only members know. The leaders of this community house in Selva told us about their current affairs with the ES government and how the gang members fit in. Their artistic mark was all around the community, and as an artist the skill they must possess in art is all too apparent.

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The military are tasked with routine checks to maintain order. When the military and the youth (I will use the term youth now because not all of them are in the gang, even if they were once affiliated with them. They could have a brother, girlfriend, etc., affiliated with them, simply be a troubled youth, or a full gang member) interact, they do not just search them; they beat them–even in front of friends and family with no probable cause. Additionally, some military members are drunk during these moments and attack the youth because they are “bored”, with the youth not doing anything to them. The community leaders and youth themselves also report it is difficult to reenrolled in schools because the military tasked with guarding the schools harass the youth at school via threatening and encouraging them not to go. Because our arrival alerted the military, the youth stay away from them if possible and we were unable to meet them in the community house (where events, parties, meetings, etc., happened) we had the opportunity to walk through their community and meet them, and I felt so safe; safe in an area full of youth involved in MS-13 gang activity. I was the first of my group to interact with them and they were so young, smiling, shy and talking in Spanish about “Americanos”. I asked one if he liked video games in Spanish and he smiled yes. Following this we heard their individual stories, and one of the older young adults pulled up his shirt and showed us brutal marks from when a military officer attacked him a week prior. This instantly hit the entire group about the severity and reality of their struggle; it’s one thing to hear a claim, and another entirely to witnessed the effects of it. In no way am I justifying gang activity, however, I can honestly understand why the youth would feel the desperate need to “band together” and fight back because of their circumstances. After we thanked them and left a little boy was jumping fence and I asked to take his photo. While he was posing, I quickly prayed that he wouldn’t have to go through what those in his community did.

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The next stop was to ACSYECA, a non-profit community organization that supported surrounding communities with health care options, education, and environmental issues. It was a small building, yet an aura of hope could be felt there. ACSYECA staff helped anyone, no matter gang / political affiliation or financial stability with care and medicine.

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The unfortunate piece here is it was voiced not all supported this organization, and wanted to turn it into a place for fun, sex, and dancing. Even though some clients don’t pay their bills, they still care for their needs. They also work with schools to teach health literacy and academic subjects. At this time I asked, “How do you all stay so positive and smile under these circumstances.” The speaker replied their perseverance, hope and fulfilling the legacy of those before them, and this was said with a smile as well.

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We had lunch at the beach and it was beautiful. The sun was shining, the water was clear and the scenery of the area was just stunning. I had fish, chicken (both delicious!) and spicy veggies that just made this breezy afternoon perfect. A group of performers similar to a mariachi band approached the table twice, once to request a song from our group and the second time specifically for me. I recorded one and truly enjoyed their musical talent. During the first two sites we visited today, two new students were with us for the day: Maria and Alejandro. While Maria talked with the women, Alejandro and I really hit it off. He was 25 and was a senior studying Psychology at an ES university. After realizing he liked video games, I showed him my Pokemon tattoos and he got 2/3 of them right. For the rest of the half hour we talked and I taught him English and he taught me Spanish (though we could both speak the other language fairly well). We talked even more on the ride back, and I learned how ES universities differed from those in the US, such as not having student organization because they don’t need that structure to have activities with friends. I also explained how snow affected the climate and social structure of the United States, and he voiced that he really wanted to touch and experience snow and a winter season because ES is hot all year round. Alejandro said he really liked technology, so I gave him my digital LED watch that told time via blue stacked lights instead of hour and minute hands. He was thrilled to have it and we promised to hang out again on one of our free days.

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The last stop was to a workshop on masculinity gender roles. This was located in the heart of downtown El Salvador and the facilitators were excellent. We started with an ice breaker, small group activity, then full group debrief, all centered on identifying how masculinity was formed, how it was associated with femininity, and how these labels were affecting males and females. The most striking aspect about this session was how it was linked to the other two sites we visited. Gang and military activities could be seen as masculine, status building decisions because males are suppose to be “tough” while Acsyeca supports victims of violence, health issues and decisions made from persons lacking education. My professors said that almost all issues are linked, and I could clearly understand both why and how.

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After saying our goodbyes after taking photos and exchanging information, we were shown Iglesias el Rosario (church of the roses) and it is the most beautiful interior of a church I have ever seen. I was in a trance looking at the stain glass, just wondering what this city has actually gone through, and what will happen to it next.

“Café Delicioso” – El Salvador Day 2/15

Light was filled in the room when I woke up in my second day in El Salvador, and the exotic sound of birds chirping woke me up before my iPhone’s alarm. There’s a bird that chirps with a sound similar to a harmonica and it sounds heavenly. It honestly seems like I’ve been here for three days because each day is full and takes much energy to tackle and process. Breakfast was great as usual and our first agenda item was a testimony from Damian Alegria, who is now a deputy of El Salvador. His testimony was powerful and talked about his journey into FMLN during their civil war and their fights against ARENA (similar to the United States’ democratic and republican parties respectively). In short, he was captured three times and escaped because of the loyalty he shared with his comrades. The ARENA (who controlled the El Salvadorian government at the time) used dictatorship to control the country and now Damian still works to improve the country to this day.

If there are two main exports El Salvador (ES) is known for it’s indigo (blue dye) and coffee. Because indigo was soon synthetically produced, coffee became the main export, and many internet searches will frame this in a positive light. However, it’s far from positive. The ES president at the time valued the marketability of coffee to the extreme by claiming land where coffee could grow and hiring basically the equivalent to slaves to grow and harvest the coffee. My group spent much of our day at El Jabali Coffee Cooperative, where the coffee is fair trade (genuine labor and prices) and organic (meaning no chemicals were used in the growth process). The owner Miguel, similar to the hospitality of other El Salvadorians, offered us coffee are afternoon. I truly like coffee, and his was so delicious I could drink it without cream and sugar. It was smooth and very flavorful. We got a tour of the area and learned about ALL of the logistics involved with growing coffee: from how they are planted to exporting details.

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The attached photo is of a coffee plant infected with a fungi know as “Roya”, which thrives on the leaves of coffee trees, choking off the source of nutrition for the coffee cherries that encase beans. Afflicted trees produce fewer cherries, and harvested beans are sapped of flavors. Because this coffee farm is organic, they cannot use chemicals which could get rid of it because it would go against their organic farming and they could lose funding. It is indeed bittersweet, and was truly an enlightening session. The lunch we were given was as flavorful as what I’ve quickly grown to expect from ES food. I bought 5 bags off coffee and cannot wait to brew it.

The last stop was to an open market area called Paseo El Carmen, and it was an urban, exciting, and bright place. As usual, we received smiles and attention from El Salvadorians and were always treated nicely. I bought a ton of souvenirs and want to make as many purchases as I can to remember this amazing country (it also helps give back to the communities because many crafts and items are handmade). What truly impacted me this day was a little adorable El Salvadorian boy who walked up to my group and handed us little pieces of paper, which in summary were asking for money so he could buy food for his family.

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This honestly broke my heart because he was so young, yet had a business ethic and strategy to obtain money. However, I was left with many questions. Was he being exploited by his parents? Did he do this on his own? How did he get these pieces of papers typed up via a computer, printed, and cut? During our debriefing our group was reminded of solidarity, which means understanding someone where they are without a hierarchy and as social workers and educators we cannot “save” the world, only help as best as we could. Would giving him money have helped? Did they eat tonight? These are the types of questions I just cannot help asking myself. Hopefully, and truly, I hope he did.

“Los Problemas” – El Salvador Day 0/15

I’m an American. I’m a young adult. I like video games, drawing, writing, and research. Then there are El Salvadorians, who have vastly different values and priorities than myself. El Salvador (which mean “The Savior”) is a beautiful country which lives up to its namesake. Rich in Myan and Aztec culture due to their close proximity, El Salvador is a country were it initially was able to embrace its culture without outside influences; this means traditions, customs and languages were rich between the Pipils, the earliest known group that would soon become modern-day El Salvadorians. However, with the rest of the world industrializing and expanding, this culture would soon change in many ways. 1524 brought about the first wave of intrusion by the Spanish, and since then there has been constant clashes regarding El Salvador ownership and identity.

 

Today, El Salvador is classified as a two-thirds world country, and issues such as inequality in work, political corruption, human trafficking, and gang scuffles flood this beautiful area, just to name a few. For myself, this study abroad experience will be a balance between noting the positives of this rich culture with lavish landscapes while simultaneously accepting the negative foundation of current events and historical acts that contributed to its current state. I was told that as an American, many natives will want to take a photo with me, request specific items unobtainable there, and inquire about my views on politics. While here, I can treat this experience in two different ways: I can be passive. I can simply listen to the speakers during sessions and take notes, take photos while touring the country, and buy as many survivors as I can afford. I can also be active. I can do the before-mentioned actions while also inquiring the “whys” and “hows”. I can use my research skills to do strategic planning for organizations with limited resources. I’m no solider fighting for either country. I’m not a millionaire able to contribute greatly, nor do have access to staffing resources to address major issues. However, I do have drive, and even though I cannot positively impact the country, a city, or an organization, I’ll make all efforts to positively impact that one, single, individual or issue. Also, this experience isn’t necessarily about “me”. I’m a guest of this county and to achieve  solidarity this must be remembered. I may not be “The Savior“, but I will be active in the work I do here.

 

Asociación ~

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Education to Employment – 5 Transferable Skills from any Undergraduate Major

Majors, minors and even certificate programs  from colleges and universities offer a vast array of knowledge, skills and hands-on learning experiences. Although the aim of most college students are to create a “brand” or “trade” for themselves in their chosen fields, there are some skills that all forms of employment will require regardless of what your degree is in. Here’s a brief  rundown of those five.

Communication Skills

Effective communication is  one of the most requested skills any employer wants. Verbal communication through annunciation, articulation–both said with utmost confidence. Written communication through reports, memos and emails–all spelled grammatically correct. Tactfulness (knowing when and when not to say something) and cross-cultural communication (cultural competency) are two other types of communication skills you should have.

Project Development Skills

All those semesters of extended research and putting together projects (essays, slideshows, etc.) will not go to waste.  Many employers will request for different projects depending on the type of work. It is even more crucial if said employers lack skills in that project area and are relying on you to provide an effective project or report. Innovation is more and more becoming an unsaid standard, so the more creative the better.

Time Management Skills

Yeah, let’s revisit these familiar two words. In a typical work day there could be many assignments or tasks that need to be completed.  The most effective way to categorize your assignments in a work environment is by deadline and complexity. Have due dates on hand while simultaneously working on your more difficult assignments first. Also, ask yourself if you can break the most rigorous work up in sections to make it easier.  Completing work early if you have any free time could also prove beneficial.

Conflict Resolution Skills

No matter where you work, conflicts with co-workers, difficulties with work assignments and emergencies are all possible options where having conflict resolution skills are a must. Talk with your co-worker (before going to your supervisor, depending on the conflict) using “I” language (“I feel…”) instead of “You” language. If technology, lacking a needed skill or piece of material, etc, is holding you back from your work, communicate this with a supervisor, or ensure you can resolve it on your own if you chose to do so. Emergencies are special (or not-so-special) cases when it pays to know procedures and escape routes depending on the emergency.  You can practice these as an undergraduate via group projects and assignments.

Etiquette & Civility Skills

I cannot stress enough how building a good reputation can advance you in the workforce. “I’ve heard great things about you” and “you’ve always done good work” are just a few examples of how much weight etiquette and civility skills can carry. If you know you’re lacking in these skills get a book on building them or talk with a person you trust to help you assess what could be worked on. It is no secret that “people talk”, so make sure to the best of your abilities that it is good things those people are talking about in regards to you. This skill is a must, and even an individual having the four previous skills and only lacking this one would have difficulties advancing.

zerolocked1Mario Adkins is a graduate student in Grand Valley State University’s College Student Affairs Leadership masters program. When not drawing or playing his favorite video games, he can be found on campus collecting, assessing and process data as Research  Analyst in Teacher Education for GVSU’s College of Education. Follow him on Twitter @zerolocked