by Richard Kraince, Dean of Cooperative, Experiential and International Education
A few months ago I had the pleasure of having lunch with some of the dedicated alumni who regularly participate in Volunteer Work Week on campus. One of the group’s specific recommendations is that I set aside time to write a regular column in The Independent in order to keep alumni and friends of the College better informed about the co-op program’s progress. I know that many of you are eager to hear about students’ work experiences and how we are landing jobs in this “new normal” economy where growth no longer appears to have much of an impact on job creation. Some of you also have ideas and resources that might enable you to assist a co-op student as they struggle to get a leg up in this world. I will thus use this space to describe the challenges we face as well as the victories we celebrate as we re-establish former employer relationships and seek new opportunities for students within the centers of innovation that so many Antiochians seem to animate.
My introduction to the power of the co-op model began 20 years ago when I took a summer job as a carpentry instructor at the Longacre Farm Leadership Program in Perry County, Pennsylvania. As one of the first staff members to arrive, I was sent to the Harrisburg train station to meet another new summer staffer coming in on the Greyhound. I asked my boss how I would recognize her. His reply: “Raven-haired, chestnut-brown eyes, five days on a bus from Seattle (via Yellow Springs), she’s been touring a play through Nicaragua with a theater group—you’ll know her as soon as you lay eyes on her—she’s an Antioch grad.”
I didn’t follow the logic at the time; but sure enough, the last person off the bus was Sherri Biegeleisen ’91. Twenty years and three kids later, I still find it useful to reflect on what Sherri and I had in common, what I’ve learned from being mixed up in Antiochian circles, and what led me to pursue a career in the co-op program.
On the drive up to Perry County, Pennsylvania, I was very interested to learn about her experience with MECATE, a theater group in Nicaragua where she toured a puppet theater production with a group of Antioch women inspired by Amy Trumpeter, the former Antioch theater professor of Bread and Puppet fame. I heard about Sherri’s first co-op job at Spring Lake Ranch Therapeutic Community & Treatment Facility in Vermont, where she helped create a healing environment for individuals suffering from mental illness and learned to make maple syrup. She told me about her second and third co-op experiences at the Stone Environmental School sites in Massachusetts and Maine, where it was discovered that her upbringing in Baltimore had not prepared her to distinguish between goats and sheep. Sherri showed me the scar she received from a pelican bite while doing wild bird rehabilitation at her next co-op job at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. She topped this off with stories about her experiences teaching English in Shimoda on the Izu Peninsula in Japan. After graduation, Sherri and another alum, Cindy Haag ’91, then developed and ran a project for Antioch’s Environmental Field Program (EFP) focusing on border studies along the Rio Grande/Bravo.
One of the things that I took away from that conversation was at 23 years old, this scholarship kid from an inner-city Baltimore neighborhood had already built an impressive resume, attained significant work experience, traveled internationally, developed solid leadership skills, and earned a degree in human development along with a teaching certificate.
“How did you manage to do all of this?” I asked, reflecting on my own struggle to gain professional experience while satisfying the youthful desire to explore the world. Her answer: Antioch College’s Cooperative Education Program.
This made no small impression on me as I saw a future for myself in experiential education. My first job out of college was as a marine educator teaching coral reef ecology at Forfar Field Station on Andros Island in the Bahamas (where current student Rachael Smith ’15 co-oped last winter). I then served as area director of Caribbean Programming for Visions International (now Visions Service Adventures), a community service organization with which we expect to place a handful of students during their international co-op term next summer.
Sherri and I went off to Central America and the Caribbean within a few months of getting together and ran experiential education programs in Belize, the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, and Dominica. Realizing the challenge of moving forward in an education career without an advanced degree, we then entered graduate school at Ohio University focusing on Education and International Affairs. After starting a family, we took off for a three-year research stint in Southeast Asia, where I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the role of student activists in Indonesia’s democratic reform movement. We subsequently moved to Mexico City and I spent four years teaching Southeast Asia studies at the Center for Asian and African Studies at El Colegio de México. After the birth of our third child we decided it was time to return to the U.S. and look for an academic home in the great state of Ohio. Antioch, of course, was at the top of my list since I had been preparing myself for a position in the co-op program for nearly two decades.
The title of this series, “From a Remote Location,” can be interpreted in different ways. The writing is intended to reflect the view from our perch here in Yellow Springs—an out-of-the-way place that requires us to make connections and invest in relationships elsewhere in the world in order to provide a wide variety of opportunities for students. At the same time, I hope it conveys my intention to get off campus, engage with employers in the field, and report on the intriguing things we are learning from our involvement with students, alumni, and friends of the College in some fascinating locations.
The struggle for the College’s independence has made all of us aware of the dynamism of the Antiochian network. The important question this raises relates to what we are going to do collaboratively now that we’ve become aware of our collective potential. I am interested in using this space to contribute to that discussion and to help broaden the co-op program’s role as a point of connection for our extended community. I believe we are getting to the point now where alumni are beginning to see co-op students as a resource that can be mobilized in support of various projects. I want to let all of you know that I welcome your ideas, comments and criticisms as we develop opportunities for students and move forward with our collective efforts.
Dean of Cooperative, Experiential and International Education