Since its inception, the Race Relations Project, then the World in Conversation Project, and now World in Conversation: A Center for Public Diplomacy has relied upon the vigor and vision of young students to fuel its work. From developing engaging “ice breaker” questions, that launch dialogues, to building more efficient systems of staffing scheduled programs, to refining the use of video technology to enhance training practices, to launching social media campaigns and building websites, students at World in Conversation have been a primary source of innovative energy.
A significant part of my work as Program Manager at WinC focuses on the recruitment, hiring, and training of these students. Growing up in State College Pennsylvania, I’ve always thought of Penn State students as a bunch of drunken idiots who cared more about living for themselves than about bringing about change in a world in desperate need of it. After having had the opportunity to serve beside faculty, staff, and students in World in Conversation, my adolescent perceptions of Penn State have been thrown in my face!
When our student facilitators found out that our program could no longer operate and still offer financial compensation for their work, our student facilitators remained committed to working with us. Nine times out of ten when our student facilitators have been given opportunities to step up and take on leadership positions coordinating, managing, and coaching their peers, they have stepped to the task in a professional, respectful, and committed manner. In witnessing their commitment to WinC I’ve been forced to re-construct my perceptions of Penn State students as people who are committed to a process of personal growth for selfless reasons. They are driven and talented, and people who I can feel good about being the future of our world.
It’s the students’ naivete and lack of experience, paired with a willingness to try new things and a desire to grow which fuels my desire to remain committed to our student-centric roots. I think naivete and a lack of experience serve as assets for our students. These qualities allow them to take on challenges that would, for a lot of adults at least, often present a laundry list of “no,-I-can’ts” and “I-don’t-knows.” Our students are able and willing to take risks in ways that a lot of more seasoned professionals would not. Time and time again, these risks have paid off in big ways for the students, as well as WinC.
Because of our past being dramatically shaped by student innovation and energy, I remain committed to keeping our students as the focal point of what we do and we why do what we do. In the midst of a growing list of to-do’s that come along with programming development, World in Conversation remains committed to empowering students and to fueling the growth and development of our center.