On Friday, September 2nd–a crisp, sunny move-in day on campus–senior Carlea Dulcine stood before a packed ballroom of campus and community leaders in the new Student Union to reflect on the power of her community engaged learning in CESL’s Community Scholars Program (CSP). Her community partners–Nancita Alejandro, Crystal Colon, and Maya Moczo of the VELA Scholars Program at Amherst Regional Middle School–joined CESL staff at our table to cheer her on.
Here are her powerful reflections:
"Good morning, my name is carlea dolcine and I am a fourth year psychology and Afro-American Studies double major with a certificate in civic engagement and public service. As I look forward to where my final year will bring me, I am also looking back at what, and who, brought me to this moment where I stand proudly before you all.
My time in the Community Scholars Program, a community engaged program that is part of the Office of Civic Engagement and Service Learning (CESL), is what tied my two majors together in a way that allowed me, for the first time, to see a future for myself that I could wholly feel passionate about and excited for. I would first like to share a fond memory from the program with you all this morning: it was in the first course during the first semester of my sophomore year, we participated in a short visioning exercise we had done in which we dared to imagine— or vision— ourselves in the future, however far that might be. In it, I saw myself working in a community health clinic as a professional counselor deeply embedded within the community I was serving. From those short but powerful 5 minutes, I was able to see just how this concept of “community engagement” had become integral to how I saw my future, even after barely a full semester of intentionally engaging in this work — and that's also the story of how I decided what I wanted to do after I graduate.
Two semesters later and I was still so touched by the practice of visioning that it became key in the design and implementation of my community-engaged thesis project that I undertook in collaboration with VELA. VELA is a middle school after school enrichment program for students of color at Amherst Regional Middle School where I had been volunteering for the past two years. I also want to extend my gratitude and appreciation for Nancita and Crystal who have joined us here this morning. Thank you for the learning, community and connection I have found within your organization. And in this thesis project, I created and facilitated a visioning workshop designed to tease out and analyze these middle schoolers’ current relationship to learning and school, while pushing them to voice what they dreamed school could look like, in order to truly engage them. In the same way I was dared to envision my own future, I, in turn, challenged these students to imagine and attempt to artistically represent their wildest school dreams out loud.
The lens with which I viewed visioning and community engagement grew with my involvement in planning a two-part conversation series, sponsored by CESL, that brought students engaged in community work and leaders of local community organizations together in intentional and meaningful conversation focused on deepening commitments to anti-racist work in an authentic and sustained way. Through my experience as a facilitator for this series, I was left in awe at the power, connection and healing that is held within communities and their organizing.
All those semesters ago when I took a chance and applied to the Community Scholars program I had no idea I would come out two years later, with a renewed passion for connection and community and a newfound willingness to vision for myself, for my community and for our future. Community engaged work has made all the difference within my UMass education. It gave me the tools and confidence to engage with social issues I had seen and experienced my whole life. It’s given me excitement and direction for moving forward in the world. It is an ideal that guides me in preparation to take my steps into a world where I hold and truly believe in my potential to be a changemaker. And it's an invaluable experience I know I will carry with me for the rest of my life and have extreme gratitude for the ways it has enriched not only my UMass education but my life as well."