My name is Stephanie Muringer, and I'm a first-year AmeriCorps VISTA checking in from Delta College in University Center, MI where I'm about 8 months into my service. My core work centers around designing workshops around student success both for K-12 schools and at the college level. Despite rolling out a few surveys attempting to hone in on specific areas of student success to target, we found that respondents could not agree on one area. Once we found a site willing to work with us, a local alternative high school, we were able to draw up some topics that both Delta and the alternative high school agreed upon. These workshops have been going on since January and will conclude later this month. The topic areas include: financial education, college access, career readiness, food security, and leadership.
These workshops are held in a one hour period reserved for outside groups to come in and teach “life-skills,” which requires students to write brief reflections on what they learned. Twice a month, Delta staff have facilitated these workshops to a group of about ten students who range in ages (14-20). Evaluations from the workshops show a trend of students already “knowing” what they should about these topics, but the workshops offer a chance for better introspection. The best facilitators connected their personal experiences to a topic which gives students concrete examples on which to draw on for their own reflection on the topic.
Built into the evaluations from time to time have been questions probing them to find out where students really want help. Mostly these fall into the realm of social-emotional learning. Students want help learning how to trust others and open up about their emotions when others have failed them. Many students come from backgrounds where they have been kicked out by parents, have been bullied at other schools, or come from marginalized backgrounds. These concerns have been echoed by students in the Gay Straight Alliance group held bi-monthly by Delta College staff.
Additionally, Delta staff held a workshop on Delta College’s scholarship applications after challenging a student to rise up to the role of leader in the Gay Straight Alliance group. He was charged with getting classmates to sign up for the workshop and start their applications. The workshop was designed to review finished applications so they could be polished and submitted that day, which was also the submission deadline day. The two Delta staff expected three students, and ended up helping twelve. The opportunity offered a chance to really get to know the students on a personal basis. Many found difficulty in finding “anything interesting about myself.” Probing by the Delta staff helped the students see themselves in a positive light – valuable individuals who do have agency to define themselves. I look forward to making the training documents for future Delta College students to be able to help in this capacity for the next year. Watching the face of a student beam brightly in the evidence of their own value has been an invaluable experience.
For my VISTA Year Initiative project, I chose to work with Delta College’s food pantry. College student food insecurity is something I personally experienced, and my friends and classmates suffer from. While the “poor college student who lives off of ramen exclusively” is a pervasive joke, the reality is certainly no laughing matter. To that end, I helped connect both staff and student workers from Delta and nearby Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) together in order to learn from each other. SVSU’s food pantry was migrating into its own designated space, and social work graduate student Gerred Pease was looking into various models of student pantries to emulate. I earned my undergraduate degree at SVSU and was able to leverage my relationships with former professors there to bring Gerred to Delta to meet with my site supervisor who is the manager for the pantry. We all also connected with the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan to be able to purchase both food and basic needs items at a much lower cost than retail. In January, we worked together to arrange for Nicole Luzack from the food bank to come in and train us for the Serv Safe food pantry safety program.
In addition to working on college food insecurity, Nicole connected me to the Food Access Collaboration Team of Saginaw. This group pulls together food reclamation teams, food pantries, free meals, and food distributers together to assess where services are still needed. I helped put together a sharable digital calendar of all the free food available in the county for this group. Benefits of the calendar include color coding the different types of food distribution, adding addresses so locations can be put into phone navigation easily, and putting in any restrictions or special rules in the notes of each event.
I also continue on a past Delta College VISTA/current VISTA leader Zekiye Salman’s VISTA Year Initiative the SACE Cares Period free menstrual product program at Delta College. My work in this capacity include creating an inventory sheet to track use of the products, and distributing the flyers that Zekiye designed in bathrooms across the main campus. By doing this, I learned that three gender neutral bathrooms exist along with one breast feeding room. Now I need to make sure other students know about these...the work never ends! In the next few months, I intend to help work on workshops centered on sexual assault and gender-based violence on college campuses. Last week I attended a workshop at the University of Michigan that seemed to be useful for incoming students. Next month, I will be attending the Ending Gender-Based Violence Conference at the University of Michigan. This interdisciplinary conference will hopefully offer insight on how I can help Delta College build capacity to ensure cultural and institutional barriers are torn down for potential victims of gender-based violence.