When Michaella Coughlin ’16 went to Springfield last year to tutor East African refugees in English literacy, she thought she would complete two sessions. But she found it so rewarding that she continued this year and took a leadership role in the program. “I developed strong relationships with students and found myself returning week after week,” she says.
Her work in the program earned her three awards at the Celebration of Excellence on April 15:
- The Newman Civic Fellow, which honors student leaders committed to creating lasting change;
- The Global Engagement Award, which recognizes students who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to raising awareness about critical global issues; and
- The Sally Montgomery Award, given to a student or student team whose community involvement exhibits a union of student learning and community needs.
Coughlin, who is from Carlisle, Massachusetts, is an English major with a minor in Italian. She received her awards as part of a team leading the expansion of the tutoring program. Uzma Hussain ’14, who started the program in 2012 along with Mahdiya Ahmed ’14, also won the Global Engagement Award, and all three won the Sally Montgomery Award.
Coughlin says the refugee program has grown from a couple of families to more than a dozen. An alternating team of some 40 mentors takes a bus to Springfield’s Dunbar Community Center every Sunday to spend two hours there. She says, “Toddlers are our youngest [students], and the oldest are grandparents.”
Coughlin was a Community-Based Learning Fellow leading the program this year with Hussain. She says they have made friends with the people they tutor while also learning about East African culture and language. Coughlin’s involvement with the program, a collaboration with Springfield’s East African Cultural Center, grew out of MHC history professor Holly Hanson’s seminar, How Wars End.
“There’s a huge community of refugees, and Springfield is struggling to accommodate them,” Coughlin says. “There are people who don’t want them there, and we are showing we do want to have a diverse community, and we want them to feel comfortable.”
In addition, the experience put the possibility of a teaching career on her radar.
In his letter to President Lynn Pasquerella nominating Coughlin for the Newman Civic Fellow Award, Alan Bloomgarden, director of community engagement at the Weissman Center for Leadership, cited Coughlin’s resilience, persistence, poise, and professionalism in overcoming a range of challenges in a campus-community collaboration.
—By Ronni Gordon