Sept. 8, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - The summer is virtually over, but it will never leave Stanford gymnasts Jenny Peter and Amanda Spinner, who spent much of it in gaining valuable experiences in foreign lands. When they returned, each had a story to tell about their experiences and self-discoveries.
VI Scholars - Working with an Education Program in the Virgin Islands
By Jenny Peter
I thought that seeing an image would be sufficient. From the pictures I saw in travel magazines, I knew the U.S. Virgin Islands would be beautiful. I knew the water was aqua-blue. I knew the islands were lush and green and hilly and authentic. I figured I knew enough when I boarded my plane from San Francisco to St. Thomas to embark on my journey to the Virgin Islands in August.
My purpose was to work as assistant program director of a start-up education program supporting high school students called VI Scholars. Though the islands are known for the resort life, in reality their education system one of the most lacking among U.S. states or territories, with the highest dropout rates and high crime rates. There are many factors that cause this social problem, of which inadequate support and exposure play significant roles.
I was wrong about pictures being sufficient. As I landed on St. Thomas and took a ferry over to St. John to meet my co-workers, I quickly learned that the images in the media and in my head did not do justice to the island's beauty. Yet, even more profoundly, I learned throughout the 2½ weeks of working on St. John that the attraction of the island didn't even compare to the true beauty of what was happening within our program inside the four walls of Gifft Hill School.
At VI Scholars, we brought together high school students from all over the territory and empowered these Scholars to become leaders that make positive changes in their communities. In the short span of this three-week summer program, our Scholars were exposed to Senators and other future Virgin Island leaders. They took classes from our six student-teacher-mentors (STMs) who are Stanford seniors and alumni who taught them non-traditional classes such as Leadership and Public Speaking, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, and Computer Science and Technology.
A highlight of the program was their Social Impact Project course where the students developed their own programs that are currently being implemented into their communities in order to give back right away. The Scholars presented their projects at Convocation at the end to a large crowd full of supporters and community leaders. One group plans to create an after-school program for K-3rd grade to help prevent gun and gang violence, since gang recruitment tends to began that early in the VI. Another group, the Coral Reef Protectors, presented their project that raises awareness of the harm that sunscreens containing oxybenzone can cause the Islands' reefs.
One group plans to create an after-school program to help prevent gun and gang violence.
"I know many young adults my age who barely know who they are and what they want-and in the VI Scholars program I had the chance to meet 13-17 year olds who already have purpose in their lives because they know they want to go to college and make a difference in their community," said Rosalyn Gold-Onwude in one of her blogs. Rosalyn was an STM and former Stanford basketball player. Our Scholars are committed to be the next leaders of the Virgin Islands while we worked to give them the tools they'll need to succeed in doing so.
As my fellow co-workers and new friends would agree, the program wasn't simply for the Scholars - it was just as much for me and the staff as it was for the students. As Assistant Program Director, I did administrative work and worked alongside Lincoln Liburd, the Founder and Executive Director who is originally from St. John. Last fall, Lincoln and I were talking at a dorm dinner and he was telling me about his vision for increasing education opportunities for youth back home in the Virgin Islands.
I was drawn to his level of passion and commitment and told him "I want in." Throughout the year, I worked as Director of Communications and learned invaluable skills along the way about start-ups and nonprofits. We grew to nearly 15 people on staff and now, nearly a year later, we were in the Virgin Islands making it all a reality thanks to Lincoln's vision.
"At VI Scholars, we're changing lives, broadening perspectives, and providing students and the VI Scholars Team with an opportunity to experience what service is all about," said Lincoln.
The staff worked as the man behind the curtain making magic happen, yet I loved how I could step from behind the curtain at any time and engage with the students one-on-one, have mentoring sessions, and sit-in on classroom time or play games during lunch. Learning where I fit in with my strengths and weakness in the work environment was a valuable lesson. I also learned tangible skills such as how to delegate tasks, how to make a business plan, and how to manage a marketing strategy. More than anything, I honed in on my skills of how to work collaboratively towards a common vision - something that will help me on the Stanford women's gymnastics team and beyond.
Seeing pictures of the Virgin Islands weren't enough: I had to see for myself. Talking about dreams and passions weren't enough: deciding to do something about and actually taking action was even better. Our vision of developing future Virgin Island leaders in their community had become a reality, and we cannot wait to see what the future holds, including a more expansive summer program that involves SAT and college prep help as well as year-long services.
Stanford University takes this notion to heart as well. Learning from a textbook isn't enough: going out and having hands on experiences like this takes it a step further and is one of those invaluable experiences that I will forever remember. And though the image will never do it justice, a photo of my fellow staff members and me on the beach will be hung up in my dorm to remind me of the beauty of the experience inside and out.
The SWG 2012 team is also taking this approach to our year as well: we're going to make things happen this year. We'll talk the talk and walk the walk. Get excited, SWG fans, because this team is ready to get down to business!
You can find out more about Jenny and the organization at http://www.vischolars.org/
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Spending three weeks with my lifelong friend Deirdre in the heart of London was not where I expected myself to be this summer. Stanford University is about a one-hour drive from my hometown in Danville, so I haven't ventured far. While I have traveled to the East Coast and internationally with my family, I have never traveled farther than San Diego on my own, so I would say London is a bit of a distance.
Toward the end of the 2010-12 school year, my good friend who attends Harvard University heard about a summer school program at the London School of Economics (LSE). Both of us are considering economics or business-type majors and thought this could be a great opportunity. Soon, Deirdre had applied for an Entrepreneurship class and I had applied for a class in E-Business. Then, little did we know that on July 23rd we would be flying to London, England.
From the taxi, we started to see old cobblestone houses and a big city in the distance. Already we sensed that we were in for a great adventure. London is an old and historic city. A typical journey to class at Stanford is a short scenic bike ride possibly passing Hoover Tower, the hundreds of palm trees that line Palm Drive, or the main quad featuring historic Spanish-like architecture. But on my way to class in London, things were a bit different.
I looked in the wrong direction to check for oncoming traffic and almost got hit by a double-decker bus.
I began my journey to class on the first day and I looked in the wrong direction to check for oncoming traffic and almost got hit by a double-decker bus. I jumped in with the fast-paced businessmen and women who were headed to work, and I found my class in a building on a main street of London. We were in the middle of a busy part of London rather than a beautiful enclosed campus. Who would have thought ...
The diversity of people in my class was amazing. All around me I heard languages from all over the world. Our professor, Steve Smithson, began to introduce himself and the goals of the class. I loved his British accent. Right from the start, the class seemed interesting. The focus of the class was on E-Business, a rather broad term.
E-business refers the use of the Internet to conduct exchanges and transactions. Growing up during a time period where the Internet has always been a part of my daily life, at first it seemed odd to me why "E-Business" was really that big of a deal. It seemed like it had been around forever when you experience it on a day-to-day basis. Whether it's checking Facebook, researching on Google scholar, or ordering a pair of shoes online, E-business is being used.
We examined the transformation that E-Business brought to the business world and the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating an online channel for certain businesses.
My first class section was the most memorable. We all introduced ourselves and there were people that came from Italy, Spain, India, Greece, Denmark, and the U.S. Keep in mind there were only about 17 people in my section. We talked about how we depend and use the Internet and it was interesting to see how different the Internet is used in other countries. What seems like a necessity to us is still developing in some countries. Every day we broke into small groups to discuss the case study we had read the night before.
I was the youngest in my group, and possibly our section, so it was interesting to get the others' perspectives. In my group there was a woman who had finished business school and had worked for a fashion company, another who was a marketing director for Yahoo in Mumbai, and two college juniors from other U.S. schools. We did a presentation together about a Harley Davidson case study and the advantages and disadvantages of implementing RFID technology. Working with this group was great because we could get opinions from very different experiences that spanned both the classroom and some very exciting companies.
At Stanford, there certainly is much diversity, but being at LSE was something different. There were very few people who spoke English as their first language and only some of those who did were from the United States. I met some incredible people, both my age and older, and left LSE with a sense of accomplishment and feeling as though I grew up a little more. Not only did we experience London in the classroom, but we also had plenty of time to explore the city and sight-see.
I did my sightseeing with Deirdre and two other girls who also go to Harvard, and were in my lecture at LSE. We covered almost all the tourist destinations such as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Tower Bridge, the London Eye, Cabinet War Rooms, Churchill War Museum, Greenwich, markets at Covent Garden and Notting Hill, Stonehenge, and Bath. We also took advantage of a very busy theatre district. We saw Chicago, Wicked, and Legally Blonde. It was incredible to be able to go to class then pop over to the London Eye or get a glimpse of Big Ben.
We figured out the Tube, which is the underground transportation similar to a subway, and that made life much easier. One of my favorite places was an outdoor market in Notting Hill. There were hundreds of vendors that lined the street, selling everything you can imagine from books to jewelry, photographs, clothing, and even fresh fruit and vegetables. Later, we were able to take a trip down the Thames River on the Clipper, which was a boat service that brought us to Greenwich. The boat ride was complete with a sarcastic tour guide who pointed out various historic sites down the Thames River.
We arrived at Greenwich and went to the National Maritime museum, but my favorite was the Prime Meridian. It was a bit of a hike to get up to but the view was amazing. You could see all the way to the water and the city beyond from the lookout point. Of course it was also cool to stand on the Prime Meridian! There was an official countdown until the 2012 Olympic Games in London as well.
This was an amazing trip. I was able to experience a new culture and gain a new sense of independence. Being on my own in a foreign country was definitely a new experience and I learned so much both in the classroom and about myself. It was such a great experience and something that I will always cherish. I was able to gain a new perspective on the field of economics and now have so many memories to look back on with a great friend!