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The Valpo Difference: Exchanging more than Service

The Valpo difference can take on many different meanings both on campus and off. It stands for the experiences that are afforded to Valpo students in the pursuit of guiding and supporting tomorrow’s servant leaders. It can look like a student getting involved in their community and making their voice heard. It can be the dedication that our faculty upholds to the betterment of our University and the success of their students. It can also look like a service trip to Nicaraguan schools with the intention of learning and teaching in an entirely different environment and gaining a life changing experience that can be carried far beyond graduation.



For Selina Bartels, assistant professor of education, the service trip that she planned with Jay Grossman, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, was divided between her education students and professor Grossman’s engineering students. Her objectives for her students were clear: to provide service for the school that they would be teaching in, and to participate in an international teaching experience in a school that was much different than the U.S.

“The school that we were teaching at is in a developing nation and was incredibly under- resourced,” Bartels says. “It really made the students rely on their creativity and push their abilities to their potential.”




Professor Bartels provided professional development workshops about inquiry-based teaching with the help of a facilitator, while her students were paired up with Nicaraguan teachers and given the task of creating lesson plans and supporting the teachers in class.

“Our students learned so much from this experience,” Bartels says. “The camaraderie between the Valpo students and Nicaraguan teachers and the really authentic relationships that they built on this exchange between two teachers from two different countries was incredible to witness.”

Valpo students who major in elementary education spend a significant amount of time in schools as a part of their curriculum requirements. During their junior year, they spend 6 weeks   student teaching and then a more immersive 15-week student teaching experience during their senior. So, they have high intensity extensive field work experience here at Valpo, but this service trip wasn’t about that necessarily. It was about seeing a school in Nicaragua and how the resources there are very different from the ones available in the U.S. and how to teach a research-based practice in a school that has very little resources.



“The lack of resources forced them to be creative, and I’m not saying that teachers are not creative. Teachers are fundamentally creative,” Bartels says. “It’s just thinking about the only resource you have is a white board and you have paper and that’s what you are teaching with. So, if you want to make a handout for your students you need to hand write them. It’s really interesting and it pushed our students to really think about these things and overcome them in a way and reach their students and teach their lessons.”

And in true Valpo fashion, our students excelled when faced with hurdles and learned to adjust to a new environment and give their students the best learning experience that they could offer.

“One of my students taught a phonics lesson and the kids were learning onsets to words which was really interesting, because we were teaching phonics in Spanish,” Bartels says. “So, she had to come up with Spanish words and doing word blends and drew all of these pictures and wrote the Spanish world below it. Then she would read the word and the students would look for the picture and hold it up and interact and she created graphic organizers for them to complete, too.”



Before our faculty send students out into their chosen fields, they make sure that they have all of the tools and resources that they need to not only succeed, but to thrive. And the dedication and passion that Professor Bartels saw in her students in Nicaragua can be a direct reflection of the dedication and passion that our educators have for teaching.

“The most meaningful part of this experience for me was the relationships that were built amongst the students that I taught,” Bartels says. “The relationships that my students built with the Nicaraguan teachers, as well. I knew this would be life changing for my students but I didn’t realize the amount of relationship building and pedagogy sharing would go on.”

This year Professor Bartels and Professor Grossman teamed up to expand the WAVES program to include majors outside of engineering, and together they created a life changing experience for all of the students that attended the trip. This kind of selfless teamwork, and limitless goal setting are the foundations of the Valpo difference.


To read about the Engineering side of the trip please visit our news site here:

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