MAILED: April 18, 2000
For the third consecutive year, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Human Development Center has received grant money to help fund its "Interdisciplinary Professional Education at Lac du Flambeau: A Service-Learning Project."
The UW System's Unified Grant Program awarded the UW-Eau Claire project $11,808 of Undergraduate Initiative funds from its $300,000 1999-2000 academic year budget. Approximately 45 percent of the submitted proposals were funded.
The UW-Eau Claire project provides an interdisciplinary experience in which graduate and undergraduate students and faculty from the departments of curriculum and instruction, psychology, family health nursing, social work, communication disorders and special education serve the Lac du Flambeau American Indian community in northern Wisconsin.
"The project allows students from Eau Claire to have an experience in an American Indian community where it's not just reading about the culture in a course," said Dr. William Frankenberger, director of the HDC and professor of psychology. "They are working with people and getting a more realistic idea of what it's like to live in a community like that."
Each year approximately 55-70 students spend two days working with children on the reservation. Following a two-day orientation held at the beginning of each semester, three or four students at a time travel to Lac du Flambeau almost every Thursday and Friday during the fall and spring semesters. Students spend most of the first day conducting reading and language lessons for children in the Head Start program. They also tutor elementary and high school students at the community's youth center and Lakeland High School. The second day, students assist teachers in elementary school classes and may have opportunities to job shadow a school psychologist, speech and language pathologist or nurse.
The project also includes 10-15 nursing students from UW-Eau Claire's School of Nursing Marshfield site who provide health screenings, assist with vaccinations and conduct proactive health programs.
Frankenberger said UW-Eau Claire has a good relationship with the Lac du Flambeau teachers, administrators and other community members. "They really like our students," he said. "They can count on our students being there. They have some extra hands for working directly with students."
The university faculty and administrators have been supportive of the project as well, Frankenberger said. "We take faculty along who are interested in seeing what happens so they understand and appreciate why students are missing their classes," he said.
One of the reasons the project continues to be successful, Frankenberger said, is that it is consistent. When researching various aspects of the Lac du Flambeau community, people associated with UW-Eau Claire work in collaboration with the reservation. Frankenberger said the relationship is synergistic and that everybody seems to benefit from the projects and research. He explained other researchers not associated with UW-Eau Claire had visited the reservation, collected data and left. The community feels that it has been "used" in some of these short-term relationships that may have benefited university researchers but not the community, Frankenberger said. They appreciate that UW-Eau Claire has stayed to work with the people on the reservation.
"We've had several people comment they can't believe we're still there," Frankenberger said. "That's a compliment. When we said we were in it for the long-term we meant it."
UW-Eau Claire began working with the Lac du Flambeau community nine years ago when Dr. Damian Vraniak, a Visiting Minority Scholar in the psychology department, introduced the HDC faculty to the professionals at the Lac du Flambeau Family Resource Center. Then the HDC faculty Frankenberger; Dr. Richard Fuhrer, professor of psychology; Dr. Bob Barganz, professor of curriculum and instruction; Dr. Linda Carpenter, professor of communication disorders; and Dr. Kathy Anderson, associate professor of family health nursing visited the Head Start program, which led to the development of the current project. Currently, Dr. Elaine Wendt, chair and associate professor of family health nursing, Dr. Todd Stephens, associate professor of special education, and Anna Alexander-Doelle, assistant professor of family health nursing, are participating in the project.
Now the major struggle is the search for money to continue funding the project. "We've proved the value of the project," Frankenberger said. "Over the next year, we will be investigating both internal and external funding sources that may allow us to continue the project beyond next year."
By participating in the project students fulfill the 30-hour service-learning requirement needed to graduate from UW-Eau Claire. Frankenberger has found that the service-learning requirement, established in 1995, has not affected the number of volunteers. Students were interested in the project before they needed it or something similar to graduate.
Frankenberger admits his involvement in the project has benefited him personally in his roles as a teacher and as a psychologist.
"I've learned about the culture and the importance of being a good listener," Frankenberger said. "I really like the idea of the 'talking circle' where everybody has an opportunity to talk but also that everybody must listen. That's really valued in the Ojibwe culture. At universities we sometimes lose track of that part of communication."
After students have worked on the reservation, they must write reaction papers.
"The experience really has an impact on the students," Frankenberger said. "They studied the American Indian culture, but it didn't have as much of an impact on them. I've been amazed at how much students know about the culture, tribes, treaty rights. What they were missing was the human element."
On the trip home from a visit to the Lac du Flambeau community, Frankenberger said a student told him, "This is the best educational experience I've ever had in my life!"
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: May 16, 2000