Service: The “Why” in IEDP

Emily Moore is a first year IEDP student specializing in higher education for marginalized and minoritized populations. A proud midwesterner, she hails from Columbus, OH and is a graduate of The Ohio State University. She is also the IEDP blog manager for spring semester 2020.

Mo nife re. It means “I love you” in Yoruba, a language and a people indigenous to West Africa. It was also the phrase of the day at Third Antioch Home School Center on January 20, 2020, a day we in the United States celebrate the memory and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As part of Penn’s annual MLK Day of Service, two dozen Penn students (including 11 IEDPers) spent the morning cleaning and painting the multi-purpose rooms of Third Antioch. As the sounds of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Prince filled the air, we rolled up our sleeves and rolled on the paint, all the while getting to know other students and the wonderful people who work at Third Antioch every day.

Penn students & Third Antioch staff and students on MLK Day of Service

As the day wound down and we all gathered together to share delicious, cheesy pizza, Doug Paige, a staff member at Third Antioch and our leader for the day, taught us all how to say mo nife re. He explained that those words are shared between staff and students every day when students enter school, and again when they leave. The atmosphere of deep caring and love was evident in every person we encountered at Third Antioch. As I have reflected on that experience for the last few weeks, mo nife re has echoed in the corners of my mind, and made me curious about the ways that IEDPers share their love through service. Although the IEDP holds monthly service events (like our trip to Mill Creek Urban Farm in September and our upcoming visit to MANNA next week), I wanted to get a deeper understanding for individual experiences. I got to chat with a few members of the ’19-’20 cohort about what service they do and why they do it, and a few main themes emerged.

Cohort members got into the weeds at Mill Creek Urban Farm in September

Academically Based Community Service

ABCS students and faculty work with West Philadelphia public schools, communities of faith, and community organizations to help solve critical campus and community problems in a variety of areas such as the environment, health, arts, and education.

ABCS courses, run through the Netter Center at Penn, are an amazing opportunity to expand your learning outside of the classroom and many IEDPers have enjoyed taking them. Out of the 20 graduate-level courses available in fall semester, and the 14 this spring, some IEDP favorites are:

  • Ethnographic Filmmaking (taught by Amitanshu Das)
  • Language Teaching and Literacy Development in Multilingual Contexts (taught by Dr. Anne Pomerantz)
  • Developmental Theories and Language Application with Children (taught by Dr. John W. Fantuzzo)

“I didn’t want my experience [at Penn] to be all theoretical,” commented Anna Pettee, a first year IEDPer currently enrolled in an ABCS course. Along with her service-oriented coursework, Anna volunteers as a mentor for 6th and 7th grade students at General George G. Meade School, and is an aid in an 11th grade English class at Paul Robeson High School through the Netter Center. She explained that her engagement in community service gives a real context for her schoolwork and the personal experiences with students keep her grounded in the realities of education. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer, service is something that has always been important to Anna. Her PCV past is shared with another first year IEDP student, Emily Nielson. Emily is also taking an ABCS course this semester, pairing her in-classroom learning with a volunteer experience at a parent-infant center in West Philly. “It’s a really good way to understand your community,” said Emily, a West Philly resident herself.

Emily with her students during her time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ajloun, Jordan

Expanding Education Outside of Penn

Student experiences in service-learning courses underscore a common reason for volunteering outside of class – it is a great way to expand your learning beyond the tree-lined, brick walkways of the university. Penn has a wealth of resources and opportunities, but there is no substitute for real-life experience. Aishwarya Kaple, another member of the ’19-’20 cohort, explained, “It gives me the ability to expand my horizons, and broaden my perspective.” Her sentiments were shared by every other student I talked to. As wonderful and interesting as it is to be in class, we all know that our time in the graduate school bubble is short, and we need to be ready to enter the real world as soon as this summer. “I really wanted practical experience,” said Catherine Hidalgo Jara, a service-star who has taken an ABCS course each semester. Being in the community is what brings it all home, makes it all real, and gives our plentiful readings and numerous papers a bigger purpose.

Anna with her students during her time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Anshun, China

Development as Community Service

What most interested me, throughout the course of interviewing my cohort-mates, was that they all brought up something I had not yet considered: the field of development, itself, is all about being in the service of others. The deep-rooted desire to help and to give is, in a way, what brings every student to the International Educational Development Program. Service is at the core of what all IEDP students do, and as Catherine so-eloquently said, “Service feels very purposeful: it reminds you of your why.”

IEDPeople at Third Antioch for MLK Day of Service

While development can at times seem like an amorphous amalgam of multi-lateral organizations and policy analysis, logic models and log-frames, technical proposals and endless data, the element of service brings it all back home. It reminds us of the communities, students, and people we have served and loved, those who inspired us to come to Penn to learn, so that we may serve them better in the future. Service, my friends, is what binds us together as IEDP students, what drives us every day, and what ultimately, will make this wild world of development worth it.

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