The ten MAPSCorps interns have been able to learn first hand about developing community-university relationships through their field experience this summer. This week, the interns reflect on how these experiences have shaped their career plans and explore these issues more broadly after talking with with Sonya Malunda, Senior Associate Vice President of Community and Civic Engagement for the University, and Caesarei Marsh, Case Manager at Inspiration Corporation’s Living Room Café.
Health really does affect and is affected by all aspects of life. Without adequate grocery stores, children don’t have the nutritious meals that allow them to think clearly and perform their best in school. Without positive after-school activities, children are at risk of developing unhealthy habits that put their futures and lives at risk. MAPSCorps has broadened my understanding of community health and influenced my career plans in urban education. I have learned that schools can provide much more than just a quality education, because the role they play in youth development and meeting a community’s unique needs can be so critical. As we move forward we should ask: how can we leverage assets like schools and maximize their benefit in communities? Attempting to answer questions like this will be my next step in trying to make a change, in trying to make a difference.
- Anum Qadir, Class of ‘14
While I have always wanted to pursue a career in medicine, MAPSCorps has significantly impacted my future goals. My experiences with MAPSCorps have shaped my desire to pursue a career in academic medicine so I could be an innovative researcher, teacher, and clinician. Having helped map over 15,000 resources in about 20 communities on the South Side of Chicago, I realize that “underserved” or “underprivileged” communities have a lot to contribute to the improvement of their own health. In urban environments like the South Side, it is important to utilize these resources in establishing a community-engaged, asset-based approach to community health. It is crucial to rely on the communities themselves because it is a sustainable way of improving the delivery of medicine in these communities. I hope to eventually utilize my experiences with this internship in a similar line of research as a medical professional.
- Muhammad Shareef, Class of ‘13
One important thing I gathered from my MAPSCorps experience is that when connecting with community members, how others perceive your intent can matter more than your actions. Meaningful communication may be more effective in strengthening university/community relations than financial support alone. In fact, I strongly believe that if university representatives show up to some of the workforce development classes, cooking demonstrations, and health fairs that community organizations hold, this will be received more favorably than if the University sent flyers to community members highlighting their financial contributions to such organizations. I believe that if community members see that “Ms. Smith” from the Urban Health Initiative is personally invested in their fitness, they will have stronger, more positive associations with the University of Chicago, and they may be more inclined to trust the University.
- Huiting Xu, Class of ‘13
This past week’s Focus Friday topic was on university/community relations. We had the opportunity to speak with Sonya Malunda, the Senior Associate Vice President for Community Engagement
for the University. She shared some interesting insights to the challenges of communication between the University and surrounding communities. After speaking with her, the University’s “face” became difficult for me to aggregate. I felt guilty for categorizing the University so mindlessly as being poorly supportive to its community. Rather, once you meet one genuine face behind the University it becomes more apparent that the University is not just a self-serving machine; the “University” is the product of so many individuals, thoughts, and intentions. By the same token, through work in the field I have learned that the South Side is home to a range of individuals. Once you see a face it becomes more difficult to demonize an organization or community, because you can no longer rely on negative stereotypes. Good intentions can be held by both parties but the illusion of bad intentions can still be perceived by both. What resonates with me after reflecting on this past week and the summer as a whole? Only until we consider that there is good are we able to find it.
- Stephanie Short, Class of ‘13
Throughout the summer, I have realized how complex the relationship between the University of Chicago and the larger South Side is. I had initially believed that community members associated the University of Chicago overall with a very negative connotation. However, this summer and, especially this past week through our interview with Sonya Malunda, taught me that the truth is more complex. Even though there are those who have a not-so-positive view of UChicago, it is evident that there are many who see the University in a positive light. As a result of this summer, I have learned not to come to immediate conclusions in any situation without seeing many sides of the equation. If I don’t see the alternative perspectives, I will have a very skewed approach not just to that particular situation, but of the world in general.
- Ayesha Crockett, Class of ‘13
Last Friday, I learned about the difficulty involved in being both a community member and a university representative. While speaking to Sonya Malunda, I asked about the controversy regarding the trauma center. The answer I got surprised me. I expected her to defend the University full stop, but instead she said that as a community member she saw the need for services like a trauma center, and that as a community member it was hard for her to defend the University. She then went on to explain what the University’s position was on the issue, and why the trauma center would not be the best investment for university resources. Her ability to simultaneously critique and defend the University was impressive, and demonstrated exactly how to handle a situation when the university we are part of and the community we live in are at odds with one another.
- Max Smith, Class of ‘15
Our Focus Friday sessions have opened my eyes to the role organizations play in influencing and developing their communities. In the past two weeks, we focused on the University of Chicago’s relations with its surrounding communities. As a freshman, you learn about the negative reputation the University carries with some outside of Hyde Park, because of past actions that served to distance it from these communities. Although the University has taken steps to transform these relationships, its positive impact continues to be upstaged by the past. To further improve these relations, the University must keep students informed about the positive initiatives it takes to strengthen South Side communities – the students then become vehicles for spreading this information. By changing the opinion of its own students, the University will increase student involvement in community programs and will have more leverage when faced with controversy.
- Ammon Owens, Class of ‘13
When I applied for MAPSCorps, I was asked how being in the program would help my future plans. I said I wanted to learn how to be involved in community health without going to medical school. My time with MAPSCorps has given me several answers, especially during our Focus Fridays. We met with Marcus Murray, Executive Director of the Project Brotherhood Clinic who is working on a Masters of Public Health and Dr. Ramona James, the Health and Wellness Director of Centers for New Horizons who has a Masters in Social Work and a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership. These community leaders work on health issues, and they have shown me ways I can contribute to community health without an MD. I am not sure what advanced degree I would like to pursue, but I have some great starting points now.
- Mehnaaz Chowdhury, Class of ‘13
MAPSCorps has confirmed my interest in working in psychology with youth. In conversations with my high school students, we discussed issues like handling peer pressure and relationships. We also talked about the college process and decision-making around career choices. I was able to provide a different perspective, which helped them problem solve effectively. This summer has taught me to appreciate the importance of a mentor and confidante who you can speak to openly. More importantly, I have realized how much I enjoy being in that position. I have always thought that schools should have mandatory classes on anger management, stress relief or conflict resolution. I would like to go into the field of psychology and incorporate this idea into more schools, urban schools especially.
- Janaya Gripper, Class of ‘13
One thing that I learned with the high school mappers was how to be adventurous and go outside our comfort zones. Upon arriving at the field headquarters on the first day of work, the students were very clearly segregated, on one side were the black students and the other side Hispanic students. They came from completely different neighborhoods and predominantly from two different high schools: Bowen and George Washington. I later learned that the majority of the students had not stepped foot out of their respective communities. My initial thought was: who doesn’t leave their own neighborhood? How closed-minded could they be? What I realized later was that I was just as guilty if not more than my students were. I had literally not stepped out of Hyde Park once during my entire freshman year outside of the occasional jaunt downtown. I had been missing out on the vast array of resources near my front door for almost a year, just because they were in a different neighborhood. Now that we have collectively learned what is around us, my students and I can take full advantage of a world of opportunities and assets we didn’t even know existed before.
- Matt Vecchitto, Class of ‘15