The assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education is nearing the halfway point of her term as a Service-Learning Faculty Fellow, a program of the NIU Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning.
Awarded last September, the fellowship is enabling Kortegast to create a new service-learning course in Adult and Higher Education that includes an international opportunity at Bucerias, Mexico-based Human Connections.
Kortegast chose to work with Human Connections because of its commitment to “socially conscious” international education experiences.
Students who enroll in her new course will learn how to create and facilitate their own service-learning and study abroad experiences for future generations of students, she adds.
“We take a philosophical approach to volunteerism and tourism, approaching them in a way that is sustainable, ethical and socially just, not just taking knowledge but honoring the communities in a way that’s not exploitative of the community’s knowledge.”
Renique Kersh, associate vice provost for Engaged Learning, told Kortegast about Human Connections and put her in touch with Executive Director Elly Rorher. NIU enjoys a long association with Human Connections through Trustee Dennis Barsema, who has taken students there.
Located near Puerto Vallarta, the nonprofit pairs its partners – artisans, tradespeople and organizations on Mexico’s Pacific coast – with travelers and students to ignite action toward lasting social change. Providing these platform to share their culture is meant to empower communities while fostering conversations to shift perspectives and grow understanding.
Kortegast has been preparing for this summer’s exploratory trip, and developing next summer’s course, through training and helpful conversations with OSEEL staff and other Service-Learning Faculty Fellows.
“I’ve been meeting with two other faculty members – Alicia Schatteman and Mylan Engel – because this has been a planning year for me,” Kortegast says. “Alicia and Mylan have already done their courses, so they’re asking some good questions and providing feedback to me as I plan my course.”
Michaela Holtz, associate director and coordinator for Community Engagement at OSEEL, also has worked with Kortegast to enhance the professor’s understanding of service-learning and how to enhance it.
OSEEL expects that the new course will become an ongoing, regular offering, something that CAHE Chair Suzanne Degges-White is charged with maintaining.
“There are more constraints on working professionals and their ability to engage in service-learning than there are with undergrad, so I’m learning how to make this a robust, meaningful experience that is also doable,” she says. “Also, many of our graduate students did not have the opportunity to go abroad as undergraduates.”
NIU Service-Learning Faculty Fellows receive $2,500: $1,500 in Year One; $1,000 in Year Two. Kortegast is using the $1,500 to fund her travel to Mexico this summer and plans to put the second-year dollars toward promoting her work at academic conferences.
She encourages other NIU professors to apply.
“People should do this,” she says. “It provides incentives to do engaged learning and service, and to incorporate it into our courses. It also provides not only social support in how to do it but also some financial resources to make it possible.”