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High-impact experiences on campus and in world help prepare Blugold for future success

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Natalie Lasinski was drawn to UW-Eau Claire because of its exceptional international programs. So, while the December graduate packed a lot of experiences into her time as a Blugold, she says the highlight of her college career was studying abroad in Spain. (Submitted photo)

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s strong international programs convinced Natalie Lasinski to become a Blugold, so it’s no surprise to hear her say that studying abroad in Spain was the best part of her college experience.

What is surprising is just how many other experiences Lasinski has had as a Blugold that could have topped her list of favorites.

When Lasinski graduates this month with degrees in behavior analysis and Spanish-liberal arts and a certificate in Latin American studies, she will take with her a resume that is overflowing with accomplishments and experiences — on campus, in the community and around the world — that have prepared her well for her future career and life.

In addition to studying abroad, internships, community volunteer work and research all have helped to enhance and shape her college career.

“Something I am proud of on top of these experiences is that I am graduating in 3½ years — instead of four — and maintained a high GPA throughout,” says Lasinski, a native of Hortonville.

Finding her academic path

When Lasinski came to UW-Eau Claire, she brought with her several college credits in Spanish, a language she began studying in high school. She already knew then that she would major in Spanish.

“I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish so I could travel and make connections with more people, experience and learn about new cultures and be able to use the language in my community as a resource to help others,” Lasinski says.

It was a course in the University Honors Program, however, that piqued her interest in Latin American studies.

“I discovered a passion for Latin American studies in college because of an Honors Colloquia course I took my freshman year, ‘Introduction to U.S. Latino History and Culture,’” Lasinski says. “It really broadened my perspective and understanding of this topic, which made me want to learn more about it.”

Lasinski already was a Blugold when she learned about the university’s behavior analysis program in the psychology department. She was immediately intrigued by it because it aligns well with her interest in how the environment can be modified to change behavior, and to provide services and resources to socially disadvantaged populations.

Lasinski credits Dr. Kevin Klatt, professor of psychology, with helping her see the opportunities she will find within the growing field of behavior analysis.

“He helped me see how to apply it, how to think scientifically, conduct research and prepare for graduate school,” Lasinski says of Klatt, who she calls one of her favorite professors.

Klatt, the director of the university’s Campus Autism Program (CAP), says Lasinski is an extremely hard working and serious student.

“She works very independently and has very high ethics,” Klatt says. “Natalie is well liked by her peers, and she is serious about helping people who are less advantaged. She has a very bright future in academics ahead of her.”

Campus Autism Program

Lasinski has been an intern at CAP for two semesters, something she describes as a “great experience.”

CAP brings psychology students, young children with autism or related pervasive developmental disorders and their families together and offers intensive behavioral intervention. Student therapists teach communication skills, using scientifically validated intervention techniques and educate caregivers about how to help their child make progress.

“I’ve been able to work with a variety of clients in clinic and school settings, and I’ve had the opportunity this semester to be the student director and a lead program therapist,” Lasinski says. “This experience has strengthened my leadership skills and helped me narrow down the career within behavior analysis that I want, which is specific to early intervention.”

Her involvement with CAP also led her to a job providing in-home services to children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

“However, it was the experience at CAP and my current job teaching children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder that really shaped me as a student and defined my future goals,” says Lasinski, who also is a lead student collaborator on a behavior analytic research project through CAP.

A semester in Spain

“I chose UWEC because studying abroad was one of the biggest priorities for me, and UWEC has very good study abroad programs,” Lasinski says.

Studying in Valladolid, Spain, was all she hoped it would be and more, Lasinski says, calling her semester abroad “the best experience of my undergraduate career.”

“Studying abroad was the perfect immersion to strengthen my Spanish speaking skills and experience the culture,” says Lasinski, adding that living with a host family was a highlight of her time abroad.

While in Spain, Lasinski took 16 credits of Spanish classes, all taught by Spanish professors.

“They were amazing professors and taught me a lot about the Spanish language, culture, history, literature and art,” Lasinski says. “Unfortunately, I was sent home halfway through the semester when the COVID-19 pandemic started. An example of the amazing cultural connections we made was how the Spanish professors held Skype and Zoom classes with us each day for the rest of the semester despite a seven-hour time difference to still give us the best experience they could amidst the pandemic.”

Despite her unexpected early return home, Lasinski still managed to travel extensively during her study abroad semester. She explored many parts of Spain as well as Switzerland and France.

“The people I studied abroad with and met throughout made the experience so great,” Lasinski says.

Community connections

While she enjoyed exploring new places and meeting new people abroad and on campus, Lasinski also was eager to immerse herself in the greater Eau Claire community.

One of her most valuable community experiences was serving as a volunteer crisis responder. In this role, Lasinski helped victims of crime-related trauma by providing on-scene support and advocacy.

“I assessed victims’ immediate needs and served as a resource for them to articulate their experience and validate the physical, emotional and financial impact of an experienced crime,” Lasinski says. “I also provided information about community resources and bridged the connection to these resources and crisis response specialists for continuous support and services.”

In another community-focused project, Lasinski joined a UW-Eau Claire research team that spent time at Chippewa County jails, where they conducted interviews and mental health screenings of incarcerated individuals.

The students screened for mental wellness, childhood adversity, housing instability, employment and health care conditions prior to arrest. They then used the data they complied to collaborate with community members and professionals to promote evidence-based decision-making and reduce incarceration as a response to mental illness within the Chippewa Valley.

“When I got back from studying abroad, I came back to this project and conducted interviews with incarcerated individuals in the Eau Claire County Jail virtually on Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lasinski says. “I focused specifically on writing about adverse childhood experiences, and we presented our data and research to the Eau Claire County Board to promote evidence-based decision-making.”

One important outcome of this project is that now incarcerated individuals are screened for mental wellness upon intake to evaluate whether they need more mental health services, Lasinski says.

University Honors Program

The University Honors Program has created countless opportunities for Lasinski on and off campus.

“The unique colloquia offered by Honors gave me opportunities to take courses in areas I was interested in but weren’t related to my major,” Lasinski says. “For example, I’ve always been interested in criminal justice, and the research I was a part of with incarcerated individuals was something that started as a practicum for an Honors course. I enjoyed it so much and learned so much from it that I asked the professor to join her research team.

“Also, the Latin American studies Honors course was one of the most influential courses I’ve taken, and it prompted me to further study the topic and become better equipped to enter a career and life with a lens of equity, diversity and inclusion.”

As a volunteer in the Honors Helping Honors program, Lasinski provided individualized support and resources for two incoming Honors students. That experience is helping her in her current role as a mentor for a section of the Honors 100 seminar.

She’s gaining as much as she’s giving through her work as a mentor, Lasinski says.

“Being a mentor has helped develop my leadership and communication skills, as well as my teaching skills,” Lasinski says. “This is super helpful for my future because I want to teach English in a foreign country, and I will have a career in behavior analysis where I will always be teaching.”

A bright future ahead

After she graduates, Lasinski will stay in Eau Claire for several months to continue providing in-home services to children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

In the future, she plans to earn a master’s degree in behavior analysis and become a board-certified behavior analyst.

She also applied to the Fulbright Program. If she’s accepted into the prestigious international program, Lasinski will teach in Spain.

“The Fulbright Program is an opportunity to combine my passions and areas of study as an English teaching assistant,” Lasinski says. “I applied for Spain because of the amazing experience I had when I studied abroad there, and I applied for the Canary Islands specifically to teach early childhood and elementary-aged children. If I am accepted, I will spend September 2022-June 2023 as an English teaching assistant in Spain and return to go to graduate school.”