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Archive for the ‘From the Field’ Category

Rising to the Challenge

Shannon Engle

During Shannon Engle’s social work practicum as a job developer for Challenge Workforce Solutions in Ithaca, she noticed there wasn’t a training manual for those in her position. Her solution? Create one.

As a job developer, Shannon, a social work major in Keuka College’s Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP) helps prepare adults with disabilities to enter and remain competitive in the workforce. Specifically she assists individuals in identifying their skills, goals, and strengths within the realm of competitive employment.

At her practicum, Shannon was charged with creating, implementing, and evaluating a curriculum called the Pro-Skills Workshop. The challenge was to help job seekers with disabilities and other such challenges learn about “soft skills” they would need to be successful at their job.

“The series of nine training sessions focuses on interpretation and use of appropriate professional engagement and nonverbal communication such as tone of voice, body language, appropriate eye contact, as well as understanding and responding to employers,” said Shannon.

Shannon and Emily Koester, another job developer spent 40 hours creating the first six lessons, totaling 12 group hours. Now, the Pro-Skills Workshop series covers nine subjects and 27 group hours, and participants receive a certificate of completion.

Recently, Challenge Workforce Solutions received a $364,186 grant from the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities through the Balancing Incentive Program (BIP) Transformation Fund. The award will support the transition of workers from sheltered to community-based employment, and will expand outreach to students to support their transition from school to work.

According to Shannon, the Pro-Skills Workshop series she helped create will be utilized within the grant as one of the expanded offerings for area high schools, along with helping prepare recent graduates for entering the world of work. Another key aspect of the BIP grant is to help transition individuals from contract production departments into rewarding community-based services.

As it happens, community-based services are something Shannon is quite familiar with. Raised by her grandparents, she grew up watching her grandmother work for a non-profit agency that supported individuals with developmental disabilities, give back to the community, advocate for “at-risk” populations and strive to make a difference.

Following in her grandmother’s footsteps, Shannon worked for one non-profit agencies upon graduating from high school.

“I worked with individuals with disabilities for six years, but began to feel stuck,” she said. “So I changed professions and did something totally different, but the work was not as enjoyable for me. After three years, my department was outsourced and I had the opportunity to go back to college. I saw earning my bachelor’s degree as an opportunity to advance my skills, knowledge, and employability.”

Shannon had some challenges of her own to face. Prior to enrolling at Keuka College, Shannon said she enjoyed working on the micro level and was hesitant to work in a group. “Group work was going to be new professional territory for me, as I felt intimidated in that setting,” said Engle. “But I took a group process class which helped prepare me for the planning and collaboration that occurred during the development of the Pro-Skills Workshop series. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed collaborating with my classmates, and my Challenge colleagues.”

Another course she credits for preparing her was a research class. And while she admits she struggled with the terminology and the research process, “[Assistant Professor of Social Work] Dr. Gretchen Rymarchyk was supportive and available to answer my questions. What I learned helped me approach my senior practicum with a critical eye and focused intent on my research assignments.”

Said Dr. Rymarchyk: “Shannon is a high-energy, proactive, and eager student who embraces big opportunities. She will be an asset to any agency.”

London Calling

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of features on recipients who received Field Period™ scholarships. Junior Emily Michienzi received a Judith Oliver Brown Memorial Award. The award, named after the late 1963 Keuka graduate, is supported by Brown’s family and the Class of ’63. It is designed to assist students who pursue a culturally-oriented Field Period™.

From a young age, junior Emily Michienzi’s mother instilled in her a desire to see the world and expand her horizons. That is why she has always believed that travel is one of the greatest forms of education.

And the Lake Pleasant resident will get the chance to do both as she travels to London during her January Field Period™. Michienzi intends to learn about the social problems plaguing England’s capital city as a participant in Comparative Social Issues, a sociology course offered through Cayuga Community College.

“As a sociology and political science/history major, this trip will greatly enhance my education,” said Michienzi. “In my sociology courses, we often discuss culture. One concept that is foundational in sociology is cultural relativism. This concept is when we see another culture and its practices in its own right, rather than using our culture to judge another’s as right or wrong.”

By traveling to London and experiencing a new culture, Michienzi intends to use cultural relativism “in a more practical manner and then translate that practice into my classroom discussions and other course requirements.”

This trip also appeals to Michienzi’s interest in history.

“America’s history with Great Britain frequently comes up in my class conversations and readings,” she said. “We always compare our government to Great Britain’s since our government was influenced by theirs. One of our day trips in London will be to Downing Street, the British seat of government. I will be able to see their government up close and learn, while on site, more about their government. By seeing this, I will be able to understand how our government is similar and different from Britain’s and then share that knowledge in my classes.”

In addition to visiting Downing Street, Michienzi intends to visit the British Museum, Parliament, and Windsor Castle, among other sites.

“These sites will show us not only the history of one of the world’s super powers, but also the culture and issues the country has faced over time,” she said. “From Britain’s era of serfdom to their current struggle as a world power, we will learn how Britain has changed and impacted the lives of its citizens and the world.”

Added Michienzi: “This trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity that will change the way I think, and understand the world and my classes here at Keuka College.”

Gaining Understanding of the World Through Travel

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of features on recipients who received Field Period™ scholarships. Senior Mackenzie Ellis received a Judith Oliver Brown Memorial Award. The award, named after the late 1963 Keuka graduate, is supported by Brown’s family and the Class of ’63. It is designed to assist students who pursue a culturally-oriented Field Period™.

For senior Mackenzie Ellis, Keuka College has always encouraged and promoted diversity, challenging students to see the true value in a global mindset.

Ellis, a biology major, says she has been “blessed” with the opportunity to experience other cultures through the people she has met on campus and by attending the various programs offered by the College.

“This is a commendable portion of my education at Keuka College,” said Ellis, a resident of Owego. “However, the knowledge and understanding I have gained can only be further enriched by visiting the places I have learned so much about. My favorite was always Africa. With no travel experience to date, the first country I would like to check off my long list of places to experience is South Africa.”

By visiting South Africa during her Field Period™, Ellis believes she will not only enrich her college experience, but also the experiences of those with whom she interacts after she returns to campus.

“South Africa boasts a plethora of well-represented cultures and religions, which will allow me to continue to be globally minded,” said Ellis. “By traveling to South Africa, I will inevitably acquire a refreshed world view, in addition to firsthand experience with other religions and societies.”

And Ellis will take advantage of her Field Period™ opportunity by engaging in a variety of activities which will allow her to see the various facets that make up the culture as a whole.

“I plan to meditate at a Buddhist temple, visit a Hindu temple, and volunteer at orphanages,” she said. “I also plan to visit a an Apartheid museum, and speak with those who experienced Apartheid before its collapse. By doing so, I will develop a more personal understanding of the challenges and suffering facing minorities. I believe that through understanding our mistakes in the past, we may improve the future.”

Ellis also intends to visit an animal reserve; tour Cape Town and Cape Town University; go to UShaka Marine World; enjoy the Durban Botanical Gardens; and visit the Phansi Museum, host of one of the biggest and most spectacular collections of African arts and crafts in the world.

According to Ellis, she also has the “rare” opportunity to partake in a traditional Zulu wedding, “a treat not normally extended outside the Zulu culture itself,” she said. “This unique experience will allow me to celebrate life and happiness in a different way, to complement my new understanding of oppression and pain.”

Added Ellis: “Traveling is an essential part of becoming a well-rounded adult in today’s global society. In order to fully appreciate and succeed in the world, we must take the opportunity to immerse ourselves in other cultures and ways of living. By traveling to South Africa, I will develop beyond my current experience thus complimenting and completing my education here at Keuka College in the most effective and memorable way possible.”

Seeking the Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions


Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of features on recipients who received Field Period™ scholarships. Senior Julian Díaz received a Spiritual Exploration Field Period™, which challenges students to work either in an overtly spiritual or religious organization such as a church, church camps, or religious charities. Students can also choose to work in other organizations in which the student clearly demonstrates that this Field Period™ will engage his or her own spiritual beliefs in a demonstrable and clear way.

Like many people, Keuka College senior Julian Díaz wants answers to some of life’s biggest questions, like ‘who am I? what is the meaning of life? why am I here? and how should I live my life?’

“These questions led me all over the spectrum of intellectual discovery for answers,” he said. “Growing up in a family that did not have strong religious or spiritual traditions, I was keen to explore different ways of evaluating the big questions of human experience from an early age.”

Díaz will have the opportunity to seek those answers as he completes his Field Period™ at the Rochester Zen Center (RZC) later this month. The biology major from Keuka Park has been accepted into the center’s residential Zen training program, where trainees are expected to participate in a rigorous, full-day schedule of many sitting meditations and lectures by senior members.

“We will also have private instructional meetings with the center’s Roshi, Bodhin Kjolhede, who is the abbot and director of the RZC, as well as help with domestic work in and around the RZC and surrounding community,” said Díaz.

The RZC was one of the first Zen Buddhist establishment in the U.S., founded in 1966 by the late Roshi Philip Kapleau. Kapleau was an influential figure in bringing Zen Buddhist ideology to the west, most notably by his publication entitled The Three Pillars of Zen, which was the first book in English to provide a detailed and intimate view into the highly disciplined and esoteric world of Japanese Zen practices.

This Field Period™ will not be the first time Díaz will participate in the Zen experience at the RZC. Two years ago, he attended a full-day Zazen (sitting meditation) workshop where he was introduced to the basic principles of Zen.

“I was given basic instruction on how to practice the sitting meditation that is central to the Zen monastic lifestyle,” said Díaz. “To date, this experience is one of the most spiritually profound I have ever had. I have been very eager to return to the RZC to continue learning and practicing this lifestyle.”

According to Díaz, what he has lacked the most in his spiritual journey “was actually practicing, and more importantly testing the validity of, the teachings I was trying to take to heart,” he said. “Outside of my formal education, I have spent the last five years studying eastern traditions and philosophies. In particular, the teachings of Taoism and Buddhism have resonated with me the strongest.”

Added Díaz: “Through this Field Period™, I want to continue my study of these spiritual practices and customs. I hope to gain a deeper connection and awareness of myself, and of the deep-seeded desires and suppositions that subconsciously dictate my thoughts and behavior. I hope to cultivate stronger self efficacy, self respect, self discipline, as well as stronger appreciation and compassion for the outside world and all its inhabitants.”

Sini Ngobese Named Experiential Learner of the Year

Two career-affirming Field Period™ experiences, a spiritual exploration of Thailand, and being an active member of the Keuka College community helped earn junior Sini Ngobese the Experiential Learner of the Year Award, which recognizes learning from Field Period™, co-curricular involvement, and community service.
At her summer 2013 Field Period™ at Biogen Idec, a biotechnology company, Ngobese gained invaluable career experience, established a network of human resources (HR) professionals, and solidified her career aspirations. Her January 2014 Field Period™ at the Yates County Personnel Department led her to experience a different aspect of HR through interning in the public sector.

“The theoretical knowledge I gained in the classroom was applied in practice, and, through hands-on, experiential learning, I grew in my understanding, skills and abilities,” Ngobese said.

Nominated for the award by Director of Marketing and Communications Pete Bekisz and Professor of Communication Studies Anita Chirco, the Durban, South Africa resident believes her experiential learning opportunities make her a well-rounded candidate that will be an asset to any organization.

“These opportunities have vastly improved my written communication by emphasizing the importance of communicating clearly, yet professionally,” Ngobese said. “My oral communication also improved immensely during these internships, and I believe I have become a much more effective and confident communicator.”

Elizabeth Abbott, senior manager at Biogen Idec and Ngobese’s Field Period™ supervisor, would agree.

“Sini has many strengths, but her ability to communicate effectively, professionally, clearly, and persuasively in both written and oral communication are what really stand out to me,” said Abbott. “Sini’s communication strengths are impressive at any level, and the fact that she is still in school makes it even more remarkable.”

At the Yates County Personnel Department, Ngobese took “great initiative” in problem solving and was well prepared to have high-level discussions, according to Amy Guererri, personnel officer and human resources director for Yates County, and Ngobese’s Field Period™ supervisor.

“Sini took great pride in the quality of the work she produced,” said Guererri. “She quickly gained my confidence in her abilities and proved to be quite capable of performing well at a high level. Her ability to comprehend multifaceted subject matters, and then proceed independently in completing assignments was impressive. It allowed us to cover a wider variety of topics than we had originally thought.”

Abbott, too, was “extremely impressed by how much work Sini did, with little guidance and structure, and still maintain an extremely high quality of work.”

For example, Abbott told Ngobese that she wanted to create a policy template which would assist policy owners in putting together content with a consistent format.

“I thought I would sit with Sini and give her some ideas, we’d go back and forth on a few drafts, and then it would be complete,” said Abbott. “Instead, Sini sent me her first draft of a template, and it was exactly right.”

With Guererri, Ngobese “produced reports and documents that were at a level I would have expected from a seasoned professional,” she said. “During her short time working with us, Sini produced several viable work products and solutions that we utilized and implemented, which greatly benefited our department and Yates County.”

Guererri added she is “incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet and work with Sini. She is such a bright, determined, capable young woman, and I can state with the utmost certainty that she has an extremely bright future ahead of herself, and will excel in any endeavor she undertakes.”

Ngobese might not have had the same amount of confidence in herself that Abbott and Guererri had in her as she boarded a plane bound for Thailand, a country where Ngobese said she faced language and cultural challenges.

But she chose to participate in a Spiritual Exploration Field Period™ in Thailand, because in the “craziness of the busy streets, dense jungles, tan faces, and humid cabs in Thailand, I had never felt so lost,” she said, “or found.”

Experiencing a culture that differs from her own increased her appreciation of what she loves about her Zulu South African culture.

“Though we are different and eat different foods, worship different deities and have different social and behavioral norms, we all pursue to be happy, loved, and free,” said Ngobese. “My trip to Thailand helped me see that though we are different, at our very core, we are similar.”

Ngobese said her spiritual exploration of Thailand brought her closer to her own faith, Christianity, and helped her gain additional respect and admiration for a different faith, Buddhism.

“I was able to experience Thailand’s delicious food with curious taste buds and smell the rich, and sometimes pungent, odors of its busy streets and clear beaches,” said Ngobese. “I felt the sleek fur of a tiger beneath my clammy, nervous fingertips, and saw the heart-melting adorableness of a dancing baby elephant. There are no words to adequately express my gratitude at being able to embark on this life-changing, independence-solidifying trip.”

Through Field Period™, Ngobese said she has gained a greater understanding of her own greatness and potential.

“To undertake an intimidating adventure in yet another foreign country took courage, and my professional growth has been fostered through challenging Field Period™ opportunities at Biogen Idec and the Yates County Personnel Department,” said Ngobese. “[In all three experiences], I utilized the various knowledge, skills and abilities I have acquired in my liberal arts education at Keuka College.”

Part of the College’s liberal arts education includes the opportunity to get involved outside of the classroom. And Ngobese is taking full advantage of those opportunities as an active member of the Keuka College community.

She serves as an Academic Success at Keuka (ASK) tutor in human resources management and writing, and credits her Field Period™ experiences at Biogen Idec and Yates County with helping her expanded her HR knowledge.

“HR truly feels like second nature to me after having two Field Period™ experiences immersed in its terminology and way of thinking,” said Ngobese. “I believe I am a truly informative resource as an HR tutor, because not only do I have a theoretical understanding of the material, but can provide real-life examples.”

She also serves as an office assistant for the Center for Spiritual Life and the Center for Global Education, is a New Student Mentor, and has been on the Dean’s List since 2011. Ngobese received a Judith Oliver Brown Cultural Exploration Field Period™ scholarship, the Student Senate Leadership Scholarships Rising Senior Award, and was awarded the Center for Spiritual Life Excellence Award.

President of Lambda Pi Eta Honor Society, Ngobese is also active in the Keuka College International Club, where she serves as vice president and community service coordinator. She is a member of Students Helping Students’ Crisis Response Team, President’s Leadership Circle, Budget Allocations Committee, Tuesday Non-Denominational Service Drama Team, Sigma Lambda Sigma, and the Spiritual Life Advisory Board.

Said Ngobese: “Keuka College’s Field Period™ has benefitted my mental, spiritual, and emotional growth, and has revolutionized my college learning. I have aspirations to one day become a full-time Biogen Idec employee, and I look forward to my career with renewed vigor and certainty that this is the career path I want to follow, and I am immensely excited for my future.”