Category Archives: Community Engagement

Flint Michigan Alternative Spring Break

This spring break, Student Life, in collaboration with the Construction Design and Management Program, organized a service trip to Flint, Michigan, with the Firestone Center. Thirteen Parkland students worked with five different nonprofit organizations over three days during the break.  Below, Emily Grumish, a psychology major from Champaign, recounts her experiences on the trip.

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“Thinking about doing a service-learning trip for spring break? Have you heard about the crime rate in Flint, Michigan?”
“You shouldn’t go there, it’s way too dangerous.”
“Emily, have you ever used a power tool before? How are you going to help construct a house?”
“They don’t need your help. You would just get in the way.”

These responses from my peers almost stopped me from going on one of the most life-changing experiences of my life! Around four weeks ago, I was offered the opportunity to head to Flint, Michigan, on an Alternative Spring Break service-learning trip hosted by Parkland College Student Life. I was nervous to sign up for this trip because I had never done construction work before, or even held a hammer.

The trip was initially focused toward college students with electrician and construction backgrounds. As a psychology major, I was worried that I didn’t have the skills to volunteer on a trip like this one. Before this trip, I also had a limited knowledge of the turmoil that resulted from the Flint Water Crisis.

On April 25, the town of Flint will have been without clean water for four years.

The first time I heard about Flint, Michigan, was in my Child Psychology course I’m currently enrolled in. I remember hearing about some of the children having unexpected cognitive and behavioral difficulties due to the lead pipes that have been poisoning their citizens for years. This honestly sickened me. Full of questions, I started researching the history of Flint using different books and journal articles.

I was surprised to find that Flint is one of the poorest cities in the United States. I noticed a common thread while looking at different news articles. These news articles failed to explain the great work being done to give hope to the city and missions. This work was providing strength to citizens who were beginning to give up faith because they could not even support their families. I decided that a great way to learn about these missions was to actually go volunteer at them.

After meeting and discussing the hard work being done in Flint with Student Life Activities Program Manager Josh Clark, who was also one of the coordinators and chaperones for the trip, I was ready to embark to Flint, along with Josh’s co-chaperone, Parkland Marketing and Public Relations Staff Writer Ruthie Counter, and 13 other Parkland College students.

On the way to Flint.

Going into the trip, I made the quick assumption that the students going would mainly be young men in construction majors. I was happily proved wrong. Our team included a mix of men and women who varied in ages, background, culture, and college majors. However, we all shared one common goal: We all wanted to give back and make a difference in any way possible.

Accommodations and Tour. We stayed at The Firestone Center in Flint. The Firestone Center was created by Social Impact Philanthropy and Investing (SIPI for short) to continue the impact made by Father Tom Firestone, who helped form the Alternative Spring Break Program that houses researchers, students, and families that want to help the community there.  SIPI provided us with a platform to get to know many of the different organizations so we would be able to provide our services in multiple ways. The Firestone Center provided us with a place that felt like home, with warm beds to sleep in and a hot shower, after putting in a day of hard work. We were also provided three meals a day. Did I mention that the two chefs, Melissa and Crystal, prepared some of tastiest meals I’ve ever had?

On the first day, we went on our bus as Firestone Center manager and coordinator Annie Stoltman gave us a tour of the city. First, she showed us the pretty parts of Flint that included well-constructed homes. As we passed the buildings, we heard about the University of Michigan–Flint, Kettering University, and Mott Community College. I had no idea Flint was even a college town. We were shown a building that is being turned into an early childhood development center. Annie made the comment that it’s very interesting that it took a water crisis for Flint to start focusing on creating these centers. I found her thoughts on the topic showed that some powerful transformations can occur after hardship or tragedy.

As we started heading to the east side of Flint, I started to notice how many houses were caving in and/or had broken windows. As we reached the city’s north side, the houses looked like they were hit by a tornado, because many of them were collapsing. I started noticing that CP was written on almost every house, which stands for “cut power.” There were also spots where there were no houses at all, because they had been demolished. Annie explained that Flint was the city with missing teeth.

The missions we worked with in the next following days, are helping to fill some of those missing teeth. Some of the organizations we volunteered with, included Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village, Franklin Ave. Mission, Flint Eastside Mission, St. Mary’s, and Habitat for Humanity. We decided to split into two groups, so we could accomplish work with all of the organizations.

Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village and Franklin Avenue Mission. While volunteering for two days at the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village, I learned about the afterschool problems that are challenging education and leadership in the city, and how the Broome center would help address them. I helped paint a classroom and clean up a gym that had been fully painted in only two days. One memory from that place, that will remain stuck in my mind forever, was seeing a smiling little girl walk into the center, with her mom in hand, to tell us about how excited she was to be able to take dancing lessons there. She was provided an outlet to explore her love of dancing through the help of this center.

The other half of my group was at Franklin Ave. Mission that first work day, where they were building walls in the church. I felt empowered when I witnessed the women using power tools with confidence, as they developed new skills constructing the wall. Many women in our society today are held down by gender stereotypes that say that women are too delicate for construction work. I’m happy that our group could crush those assumptions.

Eastside Mission and St. Luke’s Rennovation. I was later given the opportunity to learn about the Flint Eastside Mission as we worked on their future women’s alcohol and drug treatment facility. It was incredible to see the impact we made in such a short period of time. The group that worked inside the house finished early and then helped the rest of the group pick up the trash and sticks off the lawn. While we were helping at the Eastside Mission, the other half of our team helped St. Luke NEW Life Center fix up a house on the east side that a family will be able to move into in a few more weeks.

Habitat for Humanity Build. On our last full working day, while at the Habitat for Humanity house build, I had the chance to bond with all my fellow coworkers, all construction volunteers from the community, as they shared stories and jokes.

They were great at teaching us how to use the tools to help us gain skills that we never had before. I was so happy to hear that the Parkland College group accomplished everything on the daily check list during the house build.

Hearing Presenters and Making Friends. Some of my favorite memories included our dinner time at Firestone, where we had an outside speaker come in nightly to shed light on the work being done in Flint. This inspired me to pursue future service work. With each speaker, we went around the table introducing ourselves and sharing what we learned that day. Everyone had a different perspective. I was never expecting to form such a strong connection to students who were strangers to me just the week before. They were some of the most positive and open-minded people I had ever met, so knowing that we would be leaving Flint soon and going back to our busy lives made me feel kind of sad.

On our last night, we sat around in a circle to reflect on the trip. We were asked to explain our experience in one word. I said “perseverance”, because that is exactly what the people of Flint have shown. They were able to come together, despite their hardships, and begin the process of repairing this city. I could not have chosen a better place to spend my Spring Break, and I look forward to returning to Flint soon. As quoted by SIPI founder Steve Wolbert, “if you’re interested in making a difference and adding value to a community, there’s no better place to do it in than Flint.”

[Josh Clark is the activities program manager for Student Life at Parkland College.]

12 Tips for Winter Driving

As we head into the winter months, conditions on the road can become more dangerous. We need to make a few adjustments to our driving habits to make sure we’re safely reaching our destinations.

As a reminder of those adjustments, we’ve republished our January 2017 post on winter driving, below, which includes tips from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation website. Please give it a read.

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How can you keep safe on the road this winter? Here are the top 12 tips:

12. Clear snow and ice from all windows and lights—even the hood and roof—before driving.

11. Leave plenty of room for stopping.

10. Pay attention; don’t try to outdrive the conditions. Remember the posted speed limits are for dry pavement.

9. Use brakes carefully. Brake early. Brake correctly. It takes more time and distance to stop in adverse conditions.

8. Bridge decks freeze first. Due to the difference in the exposure to air, the surface condition can be worse on a bridge than on the approaching road.

7. Exit ramps are an even greater challenge during the winter, since they may have received less anti-icing material than the main line. Be aware of this when exiting the highway.

6. Don’t use the “cruise control” option when driving in wintry conditions. Even roads that appear clear can have sudden slippery spots and the slightest touch of your brakes to deactivate the cruise control can cause you to lose control of your vehicle.

5. Don’t get overconfident in your 4×4 vehicle’s traction. Driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle may help you get going quicker, but it won’t help you stop any quicker. Many 4x4s are heavier than passenger vehicles and actually may take longer to stopWinter Driving

4. Look further ahead in traffic than you normally do. Actions by cars and trucks will alert you quicker to problems and give you a split-second of extra time to react safely.

3. Remember that trucks are heavier than cars. Trucks take longer to safely respond and come to a complete stop, so avoid cutting quickly in front of them.

2. Leave room for maintenance vehicles and plows! Stay back at least 200 feet and don’t pass on the right.

1. Most importantly, please, remember to SLOW DOWN! Also, seat belts should be worn at all times; it’s the law.

[Ben Boltinghouse is a public safety officer with Parkland College.]

I’m a Cubs fan, and I’m glad they lost

Rattle the Stars Executive Director Kim Bryan has graciously shared with us her journey of suicide loss, below. She is one of many who have had to endure similar painful experiences. Join Kim and others Saturday, Nov. 18, as Parkland College recognizes International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day with a program and discussion, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Room U140 of the Student Union.

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When the Cubs disappointingly dropped game five to the Dodgers, I breathed a small sigh of relief.  We’re a family of Cubs fans: my husband was sucked in at age 7 in 1984, I acquired fandom through 20 years of marriage to a die-hard, and my kids were all born into it.  We even named our youngest daughter after Ryne Sandberg (she has yet to decide whether she loves or hates it).  We made a regular pilgrimage to the Eden that is Wrigley Field, and even braved the cold to wish her a happy 100th birthday.  As much as I would have loved to see my beloved Cubbies repeat this year, I was glad to be spared the pain that comes with their success.

In April 2016, just as the magical season was getting underway, my 19-year-old son died of suicide.  Sam had battled depression for several years, and after the dreadful disease drained every ounce of his happiness, it moved on to those who loved him.  When Sam died, my world went dark.  For the entire regular season, the Cubs were the farthest thing from my mind.  Just getting up and functioning each day was exhausting, and every spare moment I had was spent questioning the last minutes, hours, days, years of Sam’s life trying to figure what I could have done differently, better, to save him.

By the time October rolled around, I was just beginning to pay attention to the rest of the world again, and the Cubbies were certainly demanding attention.  But with every win, I was secretly hoping they would lose.  The little voice in my head was begging them not to win, not now, not this year.  When they won Game 6 of the NLCS, I cried.  I cried, not out of happiness, but out of grief and loss.  It was really happening.  The Cubs were going to the Series, and he was missing it.  How could he miss this?  It was all he had wanted since Neifi Perez tossed his batting gloves over the dugout to him at his first Cubs game.  Despite my best efforts, they just insisted on winning.  When Rizzo made the final out, and the world erupted in celebration, I sat stone-face on my couch, not able to move.  I finally managed a hug to my husband, but no words would even come.  This was just adding insult to injury.  Six months after suicide stole my son from the world, his dream came true.

A few days later, my family made another pilgrimage to the Eden that is Wrigley Field.  I was determined that Sam was not going to miss this.  We put on all our Cubs gear and took the worn-out Cubs hat that Sam wore every day for years, and we joined countless others in writing our tributes in chalk on the brick.  Even though I know it was eventually washed away, it was comforting to know that his name was on that wall.  A piece of him was there at Wrigley celebrating his beloved Cubbies winning the World Series.  We hugged and cried and reminisced about the great times we had had there.  We stayed as long as we could, and then begrudgingly left for home, feeling the gaping hole in our lives that was left when Sam died.

The most difficult part of healing from the death of my son has been reconciling the simultaneous happiness and sadness that comes with times of joy.  When I first started to feel happiness again, I felt guilty for it.  I actually dreaded things that I would feel good about, things that would bring me joy, because I knew that they would also bring guilt and regret, and things that I knew Sam would enjoy were the absolute worst.  Before his death, Sam had written that he knew people would be sad when he died, but that they would get over it because they were better off without him.  Every time I felt happy, those words rang in my head.  Happiness meant I was getting over it, and how could I ever possibly get over losing my son?  If I was happy, did that mean I was better off without him?  How was I going to get through the rest of my life if I couldn’t find a way to experience happiness without being consumed by this turmoil?

Thankfully, I began to connect with other survivors of suicide loss.  Through AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk and Survivors of Suicide Loss Day I began to meet and talk with others who understood what I was going through.  I found a community of people that have both supported my personal healing and my new journey to prevent youth suicide with our organization, Rattle the Stars.

It’s now been over a year and half since suicide stole my son from me.  I’m still not great, but with the support of other survivors, I’m getting back to okay.  For me, okay is something to celebrate.

[Dennis Cockrum is a counselor with Parkland College’s Counseling Services department.]

In the Shadow of the Moon

I guess this is where I’m supposed to describe the Great American Total Solar Eclipse of August 21. The problem is, I can’t. I’ve been attempting to come up with words that would give the event its props and, I’ll admit, I’m coming up short.

Camp Ondessonk. Online photo from Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, Inc.

I’ve been asked many times “How were things in Carbondale?” I didn’t go to Carbondale. That venue was a bit overcrowded for me. My and CU Astronomical Society colleagues and I descended on Camp Ondessonk, near Ozark, Illinois. The Catholic youth camp was previously directed by my brother-in-law, and my kids spent a lot of time there. We set up telescopes in an impressive row in a horse pasture, meaning you had to pay close attention to where you erected your tent! We had numerous telescopes from CUAS, the twin city group from Bloomington-Normal, and University of Illinois students. And my daughter made the trip from Chicago to go with us.

We arrived Saturday morning to avoid traffic, and my wife and daughter took part in some of the camp’s amenities like archery, hiking, and craft-making. Carl Wenning (ISU) and I did three workshops each on Sunday, and Carl did a keynote after dinner. The food was awesome! They treated us well! Stargazing was a bit disappointing as we were greeted with heavy dew and clouds both Saturday and Sunday night. But the main event was Monday.

The observing field (half of it anyway). Photo by Dave Leake.

We all smiled as we opened our tents Monday morning, greeted by blue skies with a few clouds. I did two radio interviews via cell phone before breakfast and then spent the rest of the morning setting up equipment. Our camp director said that with the influx of “Monday only” traffic (no overnight accommodations), he expected 800 people in the camp. I used my telescope to project an image of the Sun, about a foot in diameter, on a poster board. It was here that I shouted, “first contact” to the group right at 11:53 a.m.

The partial eclipse as projected by a colander. Photo by Dave Leake.

We watched as the Moon seemed to consume a wonderful sunspot group on the Sun’s face. People used pegboards, mailing tubes, and even colanders to project the partial eclipse.

As the Moon overtook the Sun, everything seemed “weird!” It is difficult to articulate! Shadows became sharper and the countryside took on a pale appearance as if it were twilight, but it was everywhere (not just one direction) and the Sun was high in the sky! It got darker and cooler. At the first diamond ring, a roar came from the crowd and there was applause as we bathed in the Moon’s shadow. The horizons stayed relatively bright, but the sky overhead darkened and Venus became brilliant. Jupiter was visible east of the Sun.

Eclipse totality at Ozark, Illinois. Photo by Saiko Rosenberger.

Some colleagues began snapping photos. I did not. This was my first total eclipse and I was advised just to watch. That was great advice. It was an emotional scene:

  • My daughter was there, with whom I had shared telescopic views of Saturn when she was just a tyke. She spent seven years as a camper here, so this was a homecoming for her.
  • Chuck Greenwood was there from Florida; he was Staerkel Planetarium’s show producer when I started. We presented shows together for 12 years. Frank Oriold was there from St. Charles. Frank and I were in the UI Astro Club together in 1981 and I had not seen him in years. Mike Rosenberger was there with his wife. Mike and I co-founded CUAS back in 1986—a lifelong friend.
  • And I was wearing my dad’s eclipse T-shirt. I lost him in 2015. The coronal streamers were nothing short of spectacular and the Moon’s perimeter took on a pearl white color. He would have loved this!

My wife kept a timer on her phone and, at 2.5 minutes, I yelled “have your glasses ready!” The second diamond ring was more dramatic than the first. The Sun’s brilliant light appeared as a point that grew in size. Given the high ice crystal clouds in the area, the point was surrounded by brilliant colors and the crowd gasped. Afterwards, club members gathered and either hugged or provided a “high five.” It was only 2.5 minutes but it will be etched in our memories forever!

The next eclipse in the area will be April 8, 2024. I hope I’m around for it. What an amazing experience! I didn’t even mind the 6.5-hour drive home!

[David Leake is director of the William M. Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College.]

PRECS Summer Research “Invaluable” to Students

Ten science-focused students from community colleges across Illinois and two other states came to Champaign recently to participate in the inaugural summer of PRECS (Phenotypic Plasticity Research Experience for Community College Students), a research experience for undergraduates program (REU) funded by the National Science Foundation. PRECS provides community college students with authentic research experiences in the area of phenotypic plasticity, the phenomenon in which a single genotype produces multiple phenotypes depending on environment.

Our summer program started with a two-week boot camp at Parkland College on May 24. The boot camp prepared participants for the eight-week research immersion portion of the program, where students became integrated into research laboratories at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The immersion portion ran through July 26.

PRECS is different from the NSF’s other REU programs in two ways. First, although most programs include research immersion experience, it is less common to have a boot camp. Second, many REU programs are designed for undergraduates in their junior and senior years, while PRECS is specially designed to meet the needs of community college students, who may not have had any research experience and relatively few college-level science courses. In fact, as far as we can tell, PRECS is the first NSF REU in the field of biology to be open exclusively to community college students and to have a community college faculty member as one of the creators and administrators of the program.

As our program wraps up, two PRECS participants,  Elliot Ping and Aaron West, share a bit about their experiences and what they are taking away from this excellent summer opportunity (below).

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“PRECS provided a platform for growth and learning, both academically and professionally, while also providing a candid look at what it’s like to be a part of a research lab. The program has been a whirlwind of learning opportunities (including the mistakes and frustrations that often come paired with them) from start to finish. These experiences, from the outright failures to the great successes, are all good preparation for what it means to be a person in research.

An average workday for me was 9 am to 5 pm, sometimes earlier or later depending on what we were doing. If we could only get a timeslot on the confocal microscope at 8 am or at 6 pm, for example, then the day would be adjusted differently. The specific project I was working on involved a lot of downtime between steps while things ran their course, so I had the opportunity to learn other skills (like R programming and other software skills), read papers, and shadow other members of the lab.

My favorite moment was when we finally got our antibodies to work. We were at the confocal microscope doing a continuous scan to get a look at the brain tissue, and we found real colocalized staining on the sample. It felt good to see my efforts come together and to get good images of something, especially after something like two weeks of repeated failure.

This summer, I have gained more perspective about science as an institution than I gathered through the entire course of my associate’s degree. Research is not the simple, straightforward thing many people think it to be. It is failing and trying again, or trying something else, until you get it right, and, like with most other things worth doing, it takes practice, patience, and outright stubbornness to gain the skills necessary to make success a possibility.

I will hold close to my heart for a very long time the relationships I have built and the education I have received, both formal and informal, from working and studying in the PRECS program. The opportunity to work, learn, and present, especially when coupled with the guidance of so many knowledgeable, experienced people, has been, and will likely continue to prove itself to be, utterly invaluable to my development as a student and as a professional-in-the-making in the sciences. I am so grateful to Parkland College and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for working to make this opportunity for community college students possible. It has been a privilege to be involved with PRECS, and I would encourage any community college student who thinks research may be for them to look into this or other opportunities as something that can both broaden their horizons for the future and deepen their understanding and appreciation of the things they are learning in the classroom.”   — Elliot Ping

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“I am honored to have been picked to participate in PRECS (Phenotypic Plasticity Research Experience for Community College Students). Coming from a community college located in the south suburbs of Chicago, I only had a vague sense of what being in a lab entailed. What PRECS would go on to teach me this summer is the community a lab has. Every lab is different, specializing in different fields, participating in different research.

PRECS has been a great program to participate in over the past 10 weeks. It has prepared a mindset geared toward graduate school. PRECS has exposed me to real-world scientific practices, and stresses. PRECS gave me a true experience, exposing me to what my life would be like after graduating with my bachelor’s degree. I feel more prepared moving forward with my education. Whether I go on to continue scientific research or not is not foreseen, but I know that it is a viable option.” — Aaron West

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For more information about PRECS, visit precs.igb.illinois.edu.

[C. Britt Carlson, PhD, is an associate professor of chemistry in the  Natural Sciences department at Parkland College.]