Summer of service

Melissa Collum started at UWL in fall 2016. She spends her summers volunteering in developing nations. This summer she asked UWL School of Education student Morgan Alexander, right, to join her. “She stepped up to the challenges I gave her,” says Collum. “It is profoundly fast and furious when we get there. I work them very hard, and she was a rock star with phonics.”

Melissa Collum started at UWL in fall 2016. She spends her summers volunteering in developing nations. This summer she asked UWL School of Education student Morgan Alexander, right, to join her. “She stepped up to the challenges I gave her,” says Collum. “It is profoundly fast and furious when we get there. I work them very hard, and she was a rock star with phonics.”

Ed. Studies faculty member, student serve school, community in developing nation

UWL Middle Childhood-Early Adolescence major Morgan Alexander held up a flashcard with the letter S and a picture of a snake. The faces of the two and three-year old students in her Nepal classroom lit up as she made the “s” sound with her teeth and tongue. It was a sound the students had never heard before.

“Sssssnake,” she said.
“Sssssnake,” they repeated, grinning.

During a trip to Nepal this summer, Alexander helped create and demonstrate easy phonics lessons that teachers at the Nepal school could adopt. She also helped with classroom evaluations and teacher training.

Morgan Alexander teaches letter sounds using pictures while volunteering in Nepal. She says it was fun to see English as a Second Language learning in action.
Morgan Alexander teaches letter sounds using pictures while volunteering in Nepal. She says it was fun to see English as a Second Language learning in action.

Alexander’s volunteer opportunity was possible because of connections UWL Educational Studies instructor Melissa Collum has made during years of service work in developing nations — particularly as a former volunteer with the United Nations. She led educational teams that provided school evaluations, professional development and medical exams in collaboration with non-profit organizations. When funding for the U.N. program ended, Collum continued leading teams on her own and with non-profits that — through word of mouth — continued to seek out her services.

Collum told Alexander about the opportunity to join her team in Nepal during the 2019 spring semester. While Alexander’s volunteer efforts helped the Nepalese people, they also helped her prepare for her future.

“I could really see myself helping educators create lessons for their classrooms,” says Alexander. “That’s a big part of what I’d like to do in my career.”

UWL senior Morgan Alexander volunteered at a school in Nepal over the summer, along with faculty member Melissa Collum. Here Alexander blows bubbles with students after school while the students wait to be taken home.
UWL senior Morgan Alexander volunteered at a school in Nepal over the summer, along with faculty member Melissa Collum. Here Alexander blows bubbles with students after school while the students wait to be taken home.

Collum’s team worked with the organization, Open World Cause. Based at Tri Ka School Narayanpur, in western Nepal, they brought expertise in areas such as education, health and nutrition. Their work ranged from assessing teacher efficacy in English language learning to providing medical exams for students. The goal of the trip was to foster the development of the school and community long-term, explains Collum, so providing training for teachers and others was key.

Collum says her motivations to serve in developing nations stems from her overarching philosophy of life to help “repair the world,” or as she says in Hebrew, “Tikkun Olam.” And education is a natural focus because “education is the greatest equalizer there is,” she adds.

The service they provide in developing nations is not Western centric and volunteers are simultaneously learning from the communities they serve, she explains.

“We serve others to lift them up so they, in turn, may serve,” says Collum. “It is reflective of servant leadership.”

UWL faculty member Melissa Collum also volunteered at a Buddhist nunnery in the Himalayas later in the summer, evaluating, developing and teaching the non-religious educational programming the nunnery provides. “We learn so much from people in other nations and it is so important – especially in education – that we don’t get in the mindset that we are always right,” says Collum. “Interconnectedness is so easy to foster in the world today.”
UWL faculty member Melissa Collum also volunteered at a Buddhist nunnery in the Himalayas later in the summer, evaluating, developing and teaching the non-religious educational programming the nunnery provides. “We learn so much from people in other nations and it is so important – especially in education – that we don’t get in the mindset that we are always right,” says Collum. “Interconnectedness is so easy to foster in the world today.”

A Day for Girls

The Nepal volunteer team also provided outreach specifically to girls in the community. In Nepal, the dropout rate of girls in school is high and the trend is reflective of their menstrual health and early marriage, explains Collum. Often girls do not have access to bathrooms or hygiene products in school. Instead, bathrooms are often on the edge of the community in a small hut.

Collum and her team ran a program called, “A Day for Girls,” which outreached to 80 girls and women. They provided menstrual supplies and education related to hygiene, family planning and more.

During her trip to Nepal, UWL senior Morgan Alexander was invited to a Nepali wedding with other women from the community.
During her trip to Nepal, UWL senior Morgan Alexander was invited to a Nepali wedding with other women from the community.

Education majors gain experience teaching Cold War social justice at historic South Dakota site

Melissa Collum also provides students community outreach experiences closer to home. In April 2019, Collum led a group of four UWL education majors to a National Historic Site in South Dakota, The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, where they taught lessons about social justice issues related to the Cold War to Junior ROTC cadets. The students aimed to provide cadets — sophomores through seniors in high school — with a broader understanding of the concepts of war, peace, and a challenging and complex time in world history.