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IU Students Learn Far From Campus and Make a National Impact

July 1, 2013
Bloomington, Indiana --

In board rooms, classrooms and even furnace rooms, students at the Indiana University Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs are taking advantage of an increasing emphasis on learning while doing.

Thirteen IU students received VISTA assignments for 2013-2014. "The SPEA VISTA program continues to break new ground as an innovator in national service by creating exceptional opportunities for VISTA members to address poverty in urban and rural America," says Louis Lopez, state director for Indiana, U.S. Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

CNCS directs VISTA (formerly known as Volunteers in Service to America). The agency has contributed more than one million dollars to the SPEA program and it continues to be its first and only partnership with a graduate school.

“Participating in programs such as VISTA and Service Corps can make a profound difference to students because they get an extraordinary opportunity to put to use the skills they’ve been learning here,” says SPEA Executive Associate Dean David Reingold. “The students, in turn, can have a profound impact on their communities by performing truly meaningful work that otherwise wouldn’t be possible in this time of tight budgets and reduced government spending.”

The new, year-long assignments for SPEA’s VISTA Fellows underscore the national impact students are having in high-profile organizations. Maat Trevor, for example, will work with the National Human Services Assembly in Washington, D.C. Liz James will work with the New York City Women’s Foundation and Kaitlyn Walker will work with The Mind Trust in Indianapolis.

Another student, Ellie Craig, is completing her year of service at The Mind Trust, an innovative organization dedicated to improving the quality of Indianapolis schools.

“Ellie has been a tremendous asset,” says Patrick Herrel, Vice President of Education Initiatives for The Mind Trust. “She has substantively advanced several major initiatives and created sustainability for her work in preparation for her departure. In addition, she cemented our view of SPEA as an excellent program and VISTA as a source of committed and talented leaders. We could not be more pleased with Ellie or the SPEA VISTA program.”

Indiana CNCS director Louis Lopez says: "The connection between SPEA and VISTA is no accident. Dean Reingold is nationally known as a pioneer of experiential learning and was director of the Office of Research and Policy Development at CNCS from 2002-2004."

While the VISTA Fellows work for agencies and organizations around the country, Service Corps offers students positions in the Bloomington area. On a steaming hot summer day, Service Corps Fellow Ian Champ inspects the furnace room and then the air conditioning units and then the lights at the headquarters of Bloomington’s Parks and Recreation Department. He’s preparing a report on energy-wasting trouble spots that, along with a similar analysis of other city facilities, should result in significant energy savings. That’s a plus for taxpayers and for the environment.

It is also a plus for Champ. The graduate student is planning on a career doing exactly this type of energy consumption analysis. “The program affords me a position of responsibility with the city, a chance to further develop my skills and use what I’ve learned in school to help improve my community,” Champ says. “All the while, it gives me real-world experience in my dream job.”

Champ was awarded an Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps Fellowship that provides a salaried internship. “I have an opportunity to use my skills and passion to affect real change while I am still in school,” Champ says. “This position with EDF Climate Corps is invaluable experience for the career path I’ve chosen and has already helped me become a more effective sustainability expert.”

There is one other advantage to Champ’s fellowship as he pursues a Master in Public Affairs/Master of Science in Environmental Science dual degree. While the maintenance shed at the Parks and Recreation Department on a sweltering day is hardly a glamor spot, his next stops aren’t so bad. He’ll be inspecting the energy consumption at the city’s two swimming pools.

About SPEA’s VISTA Fellows:

2012-2013 VISTA Fellows and their assignments:

  • Carly Book – Indianapolis Mayor’s Office for Educational Innovation
  • Hayley Crabb – Robert R.McCormick Foundation
  • Ellie Craig – The Mind Trust
  • Caitlin Ertel – Keep Indianapolis Beautiful
  • Kaitlyn Fox – Second Helpings, Indianapolis
  • Joseph Franzwa – Civic Consulting Alliance, Chicago
  • Laura Freeze – United Way of Monroe County, Bloomington
  • Sarah Greenberg – Robert R. McCormick Foundation
  • Kelly Harris – Butler University Center for Urban Ecology
  • Kathryn Meier – IU Office of the Executive Vice President for Regional Affairs, Policy and Planning
  • Benjamin Tapper – Indianapolis Mayor’s Office for Educational Innovation
  • Andrew Thomas – U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Josh Wheatley – New York City Center for Economic Opportunity

2013-2014 VISTA Fellows and their assignments:

  • Nathan Banion – Feeding America, Chicago
  • Jeremy Booker – Robert R. McCormick Foundation
  • Chris Converse – OAI, Inc., Chicago
  • Polly Fairfield – Common Good City Farm, Washington, D.C.
  • Lauron Fischer – Indianapolis Mayor’s Office for Educational Innovation
  • Caitlin Fish – Indianapolis Mayor’s Office for Educational Innovation
  • Liz James – New York Women’s Foundation, New York City
  • Trevor Maat – National Human Services Assembly
  • Kaitlyn McClain – Metropolitan Planning Council, Chicago
  • Lauren McConnell – Indianapolis Mayor’s Office for Educational Innovation
  • Julie Singer – Interagency Council on Homelessness, Washington, D.C.
  • Kaitlyn Walker – The Mind Trust

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