University of Wisconsin Oshkosh undergraduate students had a great opportunity to connect with the greater community through a partnership between a general education class and the Winnebago Literacy Council during the fall semester.
Students at UW Oshkosh take general education classes through the University Studies Program (USP), which is an innovative way of delivering general education—through courses that ask big questions, encourage academic exploration and create connections. The USP, which was launched in 2013, is made up of Explore courses that encourage students to “try on” many different disciplines, and special Quest courses that introduce students to campus life, college expectations and community engagement.
In the fall semester, Professor Cathy Bryan’s foreign language literature Quest III class was paired with Winnebago Literacy Council learners, who were mostly refugees from many different areas around the world. As part of their class, UW Oshkosh students taught and helped the refugees polish their knowledge of the English language while also improving their reading and writing skills.
“We loved having the students here. The 50 students from the Quest program at UWO came to us and filled a big need in our tutoring program,” said Mylia Yang, volunteer and service coordinator for the Winnebago Literacy Council. “The students worked one on one with individuals, we had 60 to 70 individual learners on our waitlist before the students came and helped us.”
“There were several great success stories. One was that a learner and a student were working for weeks on reading and studying for a driver’s license exam and that learner has just successfully got their driver’s license. It’s great to see that progress is being made in such a short time,” Yang said.
For the UW Oshkosh students, the experience of working with people through the Literacy Council was profound.
Sabrina Polman, a nursing major from Watertown, said her experience was far different from what she had originally expected when she enrolled in the class.
“First going in it was just a class–and now, I have totally changed someone’s life. My learner’s name was Zena and she came from Jordan and has lived here in Oshkosh for four years,” Polman said. “Going in, she knew pretty good English so we got to work a lot on grammar rules and nitty gritty things that are going to help her succeed.”
The Quest III classes help students understand what they are learning in class and apply it to the real world. Polman and her classmates saw the connection when working with the refugee learners, they said.
“We learn a lot about migration and now it’s easier to grasp the struggles of the people we are learning about in class and relate that to the bravery and determination it takes for people to come here. When I look at Zena and her whole family I see so many connections,” Polman said.
Now that the class is complete, Polman said she values the difference she has made and the friendship that was created through the USP class. Polman said she is committed to continuing to tutor her learner in the spring semester.