By Carol Chester
One of the greatest joys in life is being able to share what you have learned with others. I experienced this firsthand at the Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity, held at Worcester State University on April 15, 2015. Projects were showcased from students majoring in communications, business, chemistry, biology, math, computer science, psychology, education and nursing.
I had the privilege of attending two oral presentations at the Student Center, and I was able to browse through numerous poster displays on exhibit in the May Street Building.
First, I listened to five nursing students talk about their recent experience volunteering in a rural community in El Salvador:
“I was nervous to go to El Salvador because I only knew a little Spanish,” graduate nursing student Janna Trombley said.
“I was taken by how grateful they were to have us there,” added RN to BSN nursing student Tara Cortright.
The students spent a week (March 14 – 21, 2015) in a small town near the El Salvador/Guatemala border.
“We were in a compound,” faculty advisor Maryann Sabetti-Gramajo explained. “Barbed wire was all around.”
“All of the buildings have barbed wire,” senior nursing student April Traverse added.
In El Salvador, children are exposed to violence every day.
“The Barefoot Angels is a group that focuses on keeping children safe,” Cortright said. “They run a before and after school program for the children.”
The nursing students from WSU worked in conjunction with the Barefoot Angels organization.
“The kids loved our phone to take pictures,” sophomore nursing student Kristen Delisi said. “They had never seen an iPhone before.”
“Coloring was a great way to bond with the children,” Traverse added.
“The children loved us; they hugged us,” Delisi said. “We grew so close.”
Graduate nursing student Jessica Gervais said that the WSU group provided water filters for families to use in their homes. She explained that many children in El Salvador suffer stomach aches and diarrhea from drinking contaminated water.
Traverse said the WSU team gave a hand-washing demonstration.
“You teach one person [how to wash hands], so they can teach it to their friends and family,” she said. “Their hands were so dirty.”
As you can imagine, the living conditions in El Salvador are much different than what most of us are used to.
“A couple of houses didn’t have a roof,” Traverse said.
Garbage piles at the side of the road were common, Traverse added. “They burn it when [the pile] gets too big.”
“Most of the roads were not paved,” Gervais said.
While in El Salvador, the WSU team ate meals prepared by the Salvadoran Association or Rural Health (ASAPROSAR).
“We ate a lot of beans and tortillas,” Delisi said.
After the El Salvador Nursing Group concluded their presentation, I stayed for the next program in the Fallon Room: “Heartland Jingoism – How Nashville’s Cultural Narrative Explains Post-Flood Media Coverage in May 2010”, presented by senior Urban Studies/History major Kaitlyn Benoit.
During her presentation, Benoit compared local news coverage with national news coverage of a flood that caused death and destruction in the Nashville, Tennessee area on May 1 and 2, 2010. A total of 13 inches of rain fell during a period of 48 hours.
Benoit reported that eleven people died and 26,000 buildings were damaged during the storm. She showed the audience a front-page article from The Tennessean, a Nashville newspaper that ran stories about the flood every day for a week following the storm.
“The national news media covered the event weeks later,” Benoit said.
Benoit showed a video of an NBC newscaster talking about water damage to the Grand Ole Opry building in Nashville.
She also showed a video of Anderson Cooper interviewing a musician lamenting the fact that a lot of artists lost their equipment in the flood.
“Country musicians became the figureheads of the flood,” Benoit said.
Benoit emphasized that many residents in Nashville had no means to rebuild after the flood, yet the national news did not tell that story.
“Local residents could not relate to the national coverage,” she said.
One of the least affected areas of Nashville during the flood was Vanderbilt University, Benoit said, yet national news media chose to praise Vanderbilt students for helping with relief efforts.
“Look how great these Vanderbilt students are,” she said, referring to the national news coverage.
Benoit said that this project taught her about ways that the news media creates narratives that don’t tell the whole story.
“The residents wouldn’t tell the same story,” she said.
After Benoit finished her presentation, I left the Student Center to view the poster exhibits on display in the May Street Building. For ninety minutes, I wandered around the room, gazing at a wide variety of topics. Two exhibits in particular attracted my attention.
English major Kate Boyle showcased the website she created, Kate Eats Clean, to spread the word about the health benefits of using coconut oil, and nursing student Shelagh Amrich displayed photos of caregivers spending time with patients in a hospice program.
After spending three hours of my time listening to students present their ideas and experiences, I can truly say that my afternoon was enriched by the enthusiasm and sincerity expressed by each presenter.