Senior Lang Scholars Reflect, Offer Advice

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Last Friday, March 27, the seven senior Lang Opportunity Scholars, Cortnie Belser ‘15, Hope Brinn ‘15, Chris Capron ‘15, Jason Heo ‘15, Isabel Sacks ‘15, Duong Tran ‘15, and Minh Vo ‘15, gave presentations about their experience implementing their Lang projects at the event “The Lang Scholars Present: Social Responsibility in Action.”

Cortnie Belser ‘15 was the first scholar to present. Belser’s Lang project, “Mission: Bmore,” encouraged over 60 high school students in Baltimore city to engage in dialogue, mentorship, and social engagement. Throughout the course of the project, Belser and the youth she was working with traveled on field trips for political literacy and advocacy, completed a six-week summer workshop and partnered with many community organizations and organized a cummulative project.

At the end of her presentation, Belser noted nine things she wished she knew at the start of the project and learned throughout the course of it. The list included several pieces of advice: “be on time or no one else will,” “respect is often requested and rarely understood,” “smile even when it isn’t pay day,” and “I’m not as young as I claim to be.”

Belser also noted, “The biggest beneficiary of this program is myself. They don’t say that in the application and we don’t say it in our reflections […] but the person the Lang Opportunity Scholarship is going to have the biggest impact on is yourself. […] The Lang Opportunity Scholarship has taught me that the next thing I do, that any time I do something that is about affecting change, the biggest change will be in myself.”

Following Belser, Hope Brinn ‘15 spoke about her project, “Collegiate Mentoring.” Brinn began the presentation by telling the story of a young girl, Mackenzie, who was academically intelligent, driven, a hard-worker, yet didn’t have the family resources or knowledge-base to get into a competitive college. Brinn noted that many students from a similar background simply don’t go to competitive colleges because they don’t even apply.

Brinn channeled her knowledge of the college application process into creating The Collegiate Blog, an online blog dedicated to the utilization of the knowledge that talented first generation college students have about the college process that is aimed at helping underrepresented students gain admissions to, and successfully complete, college through a mentoring program.

Chris Capron ‘15 spoke after Brinn, about his project, “Addressing Barriers to adherence with Type 1 Diabetes in Quito, Ecuador.” Capron’s project began with one question: “How can I improve diabetic health in a meaningful way?”

Capron focused on the population of children with diabetes in Quito, Ecuador and began a telemedicine process using SMS technology and social media tools to remind children with diabetes to care for themselves.

Capron gave some advice for future Lang Scholars: “Plan and know deadlines, and stick by them. There is always so much to do and it is really good to not get behind. Also, like so many other things here at Swarthmore, if you feel overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Ask for help, get a team together, brainstorm, work with other Lang Scholars.”

Following Capron, Jason Heo ‘15 spoke about his project, “Farepath.”Farepath” is a phone application that increases food access and promotes neighborhood civic engagement. The application allows donors to monitor their contributions and also offers an easy way to recruit volunteers.

“Work on something you’re truly passionate about,” Heo said. “Look for opportunities to marry your project with your academic work. Consider what other people or organizations (outside of Swarthmore) can offer you or assist you with.”

Next, Isabel Sacks ‘15 spoke about her project “Pedagogy for Social Action,” teacher-led workshops that are focused on addressing issues of social justice with high school students in the Dominican Republic at Santa Maria del Batey. Sacks sought to empower the teachers, open discussion in the wider community about social justice issues, and to inspire the students to make positive change in their community.

Sacks spoke about some of the challenges she faced in her project implementation. “Each day after the workshops we held a reflection session with the teachers, which meant that we were adapting the project to their ideas on a daily basis. Honestly, most of the challenges were logistical,” she said. “Schedules are more laidback in rural Dominican Republic and we had limited resources. Seemingly simple things like transportation for the students and printing our lesson plans were not always that simple. Also, sometimes I had ideological differences with some of the teacher collaborators, particularly around the issues of gender and Haitian immigrants in the DR. It was tricky to balance my personal convictions with the fact that the teachers had a much deeper understanding of the local context than I did.”

Duong Tran ‘15 then spoke about his project, “Youth’s View, Voice and Vision in Society.” The focus of Tran’s project was to empower young Vietnamese students to create positive change in Vietnam. Through his project, Tran worked with students to develop their critical thinking, debate and public speaking skills through workshops, clubs and events.

Tran’s final goal for his project is to create “a strong network of youth with ideas, skills and self-confidence to discuss social issues effectively, formulate solutions and take actions to change society for the better.”

The final Lang Scholar to speak was Minh Vo ‘15, who began “Life Skill and Mentorship Program for Young Orphans” in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Vo’s project was designed to create a life skills and character development program for orphans. Vo noted that there is a population of 90 million people in Vietnam, and out of every one hundred people, there is one child who is orphaned.

Since founding his mentorship program, Vo has been working on “Project Sugar,” a project dedicated to improving the social outcomes of orphans by mobilizing public support for orphaned children in Ho Chi Minh City.

To summarize the work of the senior Lang Scholars, Jennifer Magee, Associate Director of Student Programs for the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, invoked the words of Eleanor Roosevelt to describe the work that the seven scholars have been participating in for the past two years. Magee noted that these Scholars, who are simultaneously students, athletes, social entrepreneurs, and so much more, “Have done what they can with what they have where they are.”

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