Three days per week, individualized studies senior Jesse Helin goes to the University Day Community to help teenagers improve their academic skills and personal relationships.
“It is not your traditional classroom where you take notes and then a test,” Helin said. “You actually go out and learn and put it to use.”
The work is part of Helin’s hands-on coursework from a semester-long experiential learning program called the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs.
HECUA students earn 16 credits while working off campus –
domestically or internationally – studying social change, justice and inequality through fieldwork, internships and classroom discussions, said Elizabeth Petheo, HECUA director of recruitment and student services.
“What makes HECUA unique is that the student’s work is hands-on,” Petheo said.
International HECUA opportunities include work in Scandinavia, Northern Ireland, Bangladesh, Ecuador and a Guatemala-Cuba program. Each program focuses on social change and justice in the country.
In the Minneapolis program, students such as Helin spend the semester at an unpaid internship that helps the community, while studying social change. Students also spend two days per week in class discussing their experiences and assigned readings or listening to guest speakers.
“I believe that communities and higher education can work together, supporting real needs in the community while giving students experiential opportunities,” HECUA internship director Martha Malinski said.
HECUA was created in 1971 shortly after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and race riots in Minneapolis. The late Sen. Paul Wellstone was a professor at Carleton College at the time and helped cultivate the program, hoping to give students a hands-on learning opportunity, Petheo said.
HECUA is recognized by 17 campuses in the country – most of which are in the Midwest. Carleton College, St. John’s University and Macalester College also offer HECUA programs.
Helin said he learned about the program through the University Career and Community Learning Center, which offers information on the domestic programs.
“HECUA tends to draw students from social sciences, but you can make it fit any area of study you are interested in,” said Heidi Rivers, a CCLC student program coordinator.
She said the University offers HECUA scholarships through the CCLC and usually attracts 10-15 students for the domestic programs. Students can find information on international HECUA programs at the Learning Abroad Center.
Helin said he did not know what to expect out of HECUA but knew he would enjoy courses in which the majority of the work is outside the classroom, at internships or on field trips.
“It’s important to get out and see Ö what you are actually learning about,” Helin said, “working on your education in a different way.”
The University’s General College sponsors the University Day Community where Helin interns. Helin described it as a center for middle and high school students transitioning from residential treatment centers. It is also for teens who do not fit the “normal high school” mold, he said.
“When I saw this, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to see if this would be something that I was interested in doing as a career,” Helin said.
He said his greatest challenge has been forming trust with the
students, but said helping them deal with issues he has not experienced is also tough.
Helin said he will continue working at the University Day Community next semester when his coursework is complete.
“I think it’s important that once kids start making connections and work with someone, it is important to stick around and continue that trust and relationship,” Helin said.
Family and social science junior Anna Doherty is also a Minneapolis HECUA student.
She interns at the Sexual Violence Center, answering the crisis line, peer counseling, working one-on-one with clients and advocating for victims’ rights.
She had to complete 50 hours of training – including lectures, group discussions and learning about counseling sexual violence survivors – before beginning work.