May 3, 2013
By Mohini Ufeli
Each year, Mount Holyoke admits hundreds of young women. Each individual quietly awesome in their own way, eager to take advantage of the opportunities the college offers. Stéphanie Maître ’15 is one such woman. A Civic Engagement Posse scholar from Miami, community service was an integral part of her high school experience. So when she came to Mount Holyoke and went through a semester without any form of service, she realized, “there was something missing...I wasn’t feeling as connected to the college and the community as I should have been.” On a recommendation from her mentor, she sought out the Community Based Learning program and set up an interview with the director to discuss how best she could participate. Maître is now a Community Based Learning Fellow, serving in an internship with the South Hadley Youth Commission.
The Community Based Learning (CBL) Program connects Mount Holyoke students to the surrounding communities through “courses, independent studies, internships, research and service projects”. The result being that students who participate have a practical environment through which to engage with the world on social issues, and expand on their classroom experience.
Maître is part of a handful of CBL Fellows who work in South Hadley, where she works directly with the South Hadley Youth Commission. Her interests in multicultural diversity, inclusion and education fuel her drive for her work - creating access and exposure opportunities for students from South Hadley high school. For instance, one of her first projects was inviting the high school students to Mount Holyoke’s LEAP symposium. After noticing the students’ reactions to the amount of diversity they saw, she initiated “Diversity Days” this semester. This multi-faceted event featured panelists who spoke about race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and income. It also featured students with diverse cultural backgrounds, who shared their experiences transitioning to college; an important emphasis for Maître whose job also involves helping students understand the importance of that transition. The students then broke out into small groups to discuss those issues. The event's turnout was almost twice the expected number. Through events like these, Maître helps expose the youths to the opportunities available to them post high-school.
Other projects have involved helping the youths get a youth center, attending board meetings, and brainstorming with officials for ideas of events to organize.
Maître is a self-designed Urban Studies major, with a minor in Global Business and Chinese. Her interests lie in exploring how Economics, Politics, Environmental Studies, Sociology, and Geography influence the creation of cities, and how they mold together to create inequality. Her minor focuses specifically on the business aspect and its influence on urban communities.
Though a bit uncertain, Maître would like to pursue community oriented work and possibly Urban Planning. Her work with the CBL has informed her choice of major, and is providing her with a background and experience for that aspiration. She is also learning how organizations work, a skill that is readily transferrable to anyplace. “I feel like the CBL prepares all its students for going out into the workforce, always remembering that you can work for a corporation but still find a way to positively impact people.” Maître also appreciates the opportunity to work with different people, and the exercise in changing perspective and analyzing situations rationally. The independent study class that is a prerequisite for fellowships, features case studies that promote analytical thinking. “A lot goes into it,” she says about the program. As a whole, the CBL program highlights analysis skills, and consideration for the social impact of decision-making.
“It’s not just a job, where you might go in and out,” says Maître, “You’re constantly thinking, ‘are they benefitting from this?’ You’re constantly engaged and involved...What we’re learning is to work alongside people, really form relationships, like ‘we are with you in this’...not ‘I’m doing this for you because I’m getting paid.”
In the end, Maître’s advice to other students is, “If there’s something that you’re passionate about, or thinking about, do the research, and see if there’s something that fits you.” Also, interview. Maître spoke to the CBL director before applying to the program, in order to see how best she could combine her interests with the program's aims. “There’s a lot you can take from a job if you dig deep and don’t just take it at face value,” she says, “You can take any job and if you really enjoy it and really learn from it, you can apply it to so many other things that you’ve done.”