Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Xochilt

profile-picture-xochilt-alamilloThis week we’re happy to share with you the work of GSSW alumnae Xochilt Alamillo. Xochilt received her master’s degree in 2016 and is now working as a school-based therapist at Aurora Mental Health. While at DU, Xochilt’s scholarship brought attention to social justice issues surrounding health services for disadvantaged communities and as a grad student she helped develop the HIV, Alcohol, and other Drugs Needs Assessment with a community of Mexican American Indians in Washington.

Researcher: Xochilt Alamillo, alumnae from the Graduate School of Social Work master’s degree program.

Current Research: I am currently interning at the Aurora Mental Health Center as a school-based therapist, where I provide therapy services to youth of color and their families at Aurora Central High School. As a student at DU I had the privilege of working with various faculty on and off campus on different research projects, most of which involved direct work with the Latino community. Most recently, I assisted Dr. Ramona Beltran, in the Graduate School of Social Work, on an HIV, Alcohol, and other Drugs Needs Assessment with a community of Mexican American Indians in Washington.

I also served as a Family Coach on a randomized control trial team at DU that collaborates with the University of Oregon, and originates from Harvard University. Filming Interactions to Nurture Development (FIND) is a video coaching program that aims to strengthen positive interactions between caregivers and children. It uses select clips of adults engaging with children to reinforce the kinds of responses that are the foundation of healthy development. In this position, I had the opportunity to conduct home visits with families in the program and coach them using this intervention.

It was also my great honor to serve as the Navigation Chair for DU’s Latina/o Graduate Association in 2016. As an organization we collaborated to bring a Dia de los Muertos event to campus, a La Raza Writing Group series, as well as the amazing spoken word duo, Sister Outsider. Most importantly, we helped to provide a safe space for Latinos on campus.

Collaborators: In regard to research, I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Ramona Beltran on a couple of projects. Her scholarship focuses on intersections of trauma, environmental elements, and other determinants of health among indigenous communities. I have learned a great deal from her as an indigenous woman and as a scholar.

I also had the pleasure of working with Dr. Omar Gudiño, in the department of psychology on a project to explore what encourages or discourages Latino parents from seeking mental health services for their children. The impact of his work within the Latino community, and youth specifically, is truly inspiring.

Initial Inspiration: I am passionate about working with my Latino community, especially youth. I have three young children and I am inspired by them daily to go out and do what I can to contribute to our community.

Biggest Challenge: Saying no! I loved being involved at DU and there were so many interesting projects I wanted to be a part of, but I just didn’t have enough time or energy to do everything.

Research Advice: For students who might be in a program, such as mine, that does not necessarily require research the way that a PhD program might, I would advise to get yourself out there and get to know faculty and other students as much as you can. If you are interested in research, don’t be afraid to let people know that you are interested in working on projects with them, or that you have an idea for one. You would be surprised at how much people are willing to help and include you.

Ask a Vet: Army Vet Discusses What Brought Him to DU

Josef Korbel master’s student and Army vet, Chris Mamaux, has some advice for his fellow DU veterans: No excuses. Crush it. He will be sharing more about what drives him and what it was like transitioning from active military to graduate school at DUSVA’s Ask A Veteran Anything event today from 12-1. Here’s a little snippet of his he’s learned over the years and what motivated him to explore the first-hand effects of non-functioning states across the Middle East/South Asia:

How long were you on active duty? I served 5 years of active duty for the U.S. Army, working in the Parachute and Stryker Infantry units.

Where did you serve? I served in a variety of different locales including:

  • Georgia– I received my initial and advanced Infantry training, as well as Airborne School, commonly known as Jump School in the Peach State.
  • North Carolina– Next I moved to North Carolina where I served in a line Company within the 82nd Airborne Division’s 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
  • Texas– Then my travels took me to Texas where I served in a line Troop within the 3d Cavalry Regiment’s Sabre Squadron.
  • Afghanistan– Finally, I was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), to Logar Province, Afghanistan. Here I conducted a variety of missions including partner operations with an Afghan National Army brigade and securing and escorting the ballots for the RC (regional command) East in the 2014 election. Missions ranged from the mundane to the unique during our time there, and culminated into a massive effort in the fall of 2014. During this time we worked to strategically degrade the ability of the Taliban to continue to stage attacks in and around Kabul by surging into a district in the south of Logar which had not seen US/Coalition forces since 2011.

What was the hardest part about transitioning to civilian life? Everything moves at an incredibly fast pace in the military, even when you are playing the “hurry up and wait game.” Leaving that environment and getting back into the “real world” can feel like being dropped from warp speed. The pitfall to avoid in that instance is letting yourself get too comfortable with the slower pace and losing sight of what you need to do in order to achieve your personal and professional goals.

What are you studying at DU? I am pursuing my interest in the nexus of development and security in Josef Korbel’s International Security master’s program. I am specifically interested in seeing the first-hand effects of non-functioning states across the Middle East/South Asia, and trying to understand how security provides the atmosphere for development. I suspect that, after certain thresholds have been met, this will in turn require less security down the road. My scholarship is not for a thesis, nor a substantial research paper per se, but it drives how I structure my courses as well as topics I choose for required papers/projects.

Do you have any recommendations for other veterans transitioning from active duty to university life? Any higher level academic setting is going to be a challenge, not just for you, for everyone. We’re all in the same boat, and yes, there will be times when elevated stress will be the norm – for a short while. The tasks you face will be different, but not harder than what you’ve accomplished in the military. This is your time to succeed in a different arena you also volunteered to enter. No excuses. Crush it.

*Don’t miss DUSVA’s Ask A Veteran Anything event this today from 12-1! Ten DU student veterans will be sharing their diverse experiences while serving our country and transition to civilian life.

Ask a Vet: Marine Corps Veteran and DU Student Shares His Journey

Happy Monday Pios! We are very excited to highlight the military and university experiences of master’s student Conner Swett. Conner is a first year master’s student in the International Security program at the Korbel School of International Studies. His research focus is on international development and security. He’ll be presenting on the Ask A Veteran Anything panel tomorrow at 12, but we wanted to get things started a little early and give you a sneak peak!

How long were you on active duty? I served in the Marine Corps for 9 years and 3 months, reaching the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Where did you serve? I was lucky to have served on 5 major continents including a position in the U.S. at the Pentagon! Here’s a breakdown of my travels:

  • Okinawa, Japan 2008 – 2009
  • Marine Corps Embassy Security Guard
    • Pretoria South Africa 2010 – 2011
    • Asuncion, Paraguay 2011 – 2012
    • Moscow, Russia 2012-2013
  • Office of the Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Headquarters Marine Corps, The Pentagon 2013 – 2016

What was the hardest part about transitioning to civilian life? I would say dropping everything and moving across to the country to attend graduate school was one of the hardest parts. I came to DU with a lot of unknowns. Once I was accepted I immediately put my stuff in storage, packed my car up, and attempted to drive from Washington to DC to Denver. Unfortunately, my car broke down on the way and I ended up taking a train and just barely made the first day of school this past winter quarter!

Another difficult aspect of transitioning to university life was not having the support staff that I had gotten so used to. I had become so comfortable with having offices for events in the area, financial/education, admin to help me with my pay, and a legal office to provide me free legal services. Oh and the lack of insurance and figuring that out. That was something I never had to think of before. (I am still pumped that I get gym access!)

What brought you to DU? I lived in South Africa for a year and fell in love with the area. Over the years, I have read more about the continent to stay aware of the political events, history, cultures of the individual countries. Those aspects instilled me with the desire to focus on international development that region. Korbel’s program International Security seemed like a perfect fit for that. Right now I’m taking my first development class this quarter and those I have met in the class have been amazing and have kept my interest in development going strong.

Do you have any recommendations for other veterans transitioning from active duty to university life?

  1. Reach out to the SVA. The SVA staff and members have gone through the same stuff you have and will have some advice. It also gives you a place to socialize with other veterans and you can discuss (or vent) on your transition and student life.
  2. Get involved with a club or group. Leaving the military can seem lonely and you can feel like there’s a lack of direction. You were a Marine, a soldier, or a sailor, that was who were and it can be a shock that that’s not you anymore. I was warned about it, but it wasn’t until a few months later that it hit me. Joining a club or group or getting involved in the community of the school is a great way to find that new role and mission to help out.
  3. Meet new people but don’t jump in with talking about the military. Sounds strange but it’s comparable to going to college and talking all about high school or going to a new unit and only talking about your past unit. It’s hard for other people to relate and build a connection with you and that’s what university life is about, meeting new people and expanding your perceptions. I found that I had a lot in common with people once I stopped talking solely about my Marine Corps life all the time, which really helped me adjust to my new life. Let’s be clear, I’m not ashamed or hiding that I’m Marine, I just don’t go waving it around.

*Curious to learn more? Don’t miss DUSVA’s Ask A Veteran Anything event this Tuesday! (Also, there will be free lunch from Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill!)

Ask a Vet: US Army Vet Reflects on His Transition to University Life at DU

So much goes into the transition from active duty to civilian life for a veteran, especially when it comes to integration into a university. This Tuesday, 10 student veterans will be sharing their diverse experiences while serving our country and transition to civilian life at DUSVA’s Ask a Veteran Anything event. We hope you’ll be able to join DU faculty, staff, students and alums as they ask DU veteran students about their varied perspectives. Today we’re excited to highlight one of those student veterans, Dan Rouse. Dan Rouse is a graduate student enrolled in Daniels College of Business’ Executive MBA Program (EMBA).

How long were you on active duty? My total service in the U.S. Army comprised 27 years. I served 23 years as an officer, and 4 years as an enlisted soldier.

Dan in Tibet

Where did you serve? I guess all over is too broad, but I did cover some serious distance whilst serving in 5 of the 10 Army divisions. After Ranger School, I started out in Hawaii with the 25th Infantry Division. Next was the 101st Airborne in Kentucky. Following that I went back to Hawaii and did three years of POW/MIA investigations and recoveries. Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) kicked off and I did a year there. Then I went to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for a year at the Command and Staff College, before stationing at Fort Bliss, Texas, with the 1st Cavalry Division/1st Armored Division and followed by15 months in Iraq. Finally, I went back to Hawaii for 3 years of POW/MIA missions and then retired from the 82nd Airborne, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Overall I’ve worked in the United States, Australia, New Guinea, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, China, Tibet, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Kuwait, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates!

What was the hardest part about transitioning to civilian life? Actually, two things come to mind. The first, and most significant, was the loss of purpose. No matter “the suck,” when you’re in the military, you always had a sense of duty to a higher cause, whether it was to your comrades, your unit, or the basic oath to “Defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign or domestic.” You were a part of a distinct culture with its own values and norms. So the cultural dislocation was huge. You live your life as a member of it, but end as an employee moving on. It’s hard to get that same feeling from turning a profit, etc.

The second, for me anyway, was finding my next career. I did my time and could have had all the “security” t-shirts I wanted, but I had no desire to be a government contractor/beltway bandit or get a government job. When you put those restrictions on future choices, the prospects dim a little. As one recruiter candidly put it, “I’m looking for round pegs for round holes and you’re an oval.” I was either overqualified (meaning they didn’t think I’d stick around very long) or didn’t have the right background experience. Bluntly, too many civilian recruiters and HR folks considered me too expensive. HR computerized applicant tracking systems didn’t really digest military resumes very well – even when they’re “civilianized” by resume reviewers. These two components, along with many others, were what motivated me to pursue the EMBA program in Daniels; civilian credentials and networking as “mercenary” as it sounds.

Do you have any recommendations for other veterans transitioning from active duty to university life? Treat your education as you treated your service; you can’t just show up. You need to maintain the work ethic and discipline you had when you were in service and transition it to your studies. Build connections with your professors, alumni, peers, etc.; they may be the key connection to your next career. For undergraduates: you have life experience advantages that almost none of your peers do, so use them. “S2” your situation (most service members will know what “S2” is) and get the most out of your university experience (which doesn’t end at attending class or getting good grades).

*Curious to learn more? Don’t miss DUSVA’s Ask A Veteran Anything event this Tuesday!

Collaborative Classrooms, or the Art of Letting Go

– By Dr. Julia Roncoroni, Counseling Psychology, Morgridge College of Education

 My first day teaching college was awful. No, no, take note. I mean that. I knew the drill: you stand in front of the classroom, you pull up a digital presentation, you talk, and you command control. Students, well, they just stay quiet and listen. Except for I was bored, really, really bored. And I know students were too. I could not decide if it was my uncharming tone, the lack of animation in my slides, or the classroom lighting… but I was doing what teachers do, and students weren’t buying it.

Paulo Freire suggests that, in the traditional model of teaching, we view students as “empty vessels.” So we teach how we were taught, and we measure success accordingly: the more we fill the receptacles, the better professors we are. And students typically buy into the model. In fact, they are often baffled by the proposal that “this is [their] class and [they] decide what form it takes.” Many students go into courses thinking, “education happens to them.” If they sign up and show up for class, as professors, we will do something that will transform what/how much they know about a topic.

Yet, education is a deeply civic and moral exercise, an inherently political practice that enables students to expand on the possibilities of what it means to be critical citizens of their worlds. Capturing the spirit of Freire, Theodor Adorno claims, “Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn’t break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility. Its insatiable aspect, its aversion to being quickly and easily satisfied, refuses the foolish wisdom of resignation… Open thinking points beyond itself.” The cycle of student dependency must be broken, but one of the most difficult steps in our journey as professors is to do away with the way we were taught.

Syllabus Design 

The syllabus is a key communication tool between a professor and his/her students. Many instructional resources will advise professors to ask themselves the following questions as they design the syllabus: (1) Who are the students? (2) What do I want students to be able to do? and (3) How will I measure students’ abilities? Little is said about what students want to learn and how they would like to measure their increased abilities.

Democratic education is emancipatory—students’ understanding of what they should learn and how is just as powerful as the teacher’s. In democratic education, students are empowered to collaboratively (with the professor) design and implement class materials, including the syllabus. The role of the teacher is not to decide what students will learn and how, but instead, facilitate an environment where the students can decide and make meaning of class content.

Classroom Activities

When I surveyed students in my first class at DU, in Fall 2016 (four years after I first taught college), about their class experiences, the response was unanimous: the most liberating aspect of their participation was selecting a topic for a mini-lecture and sharing the results of their research with their peers and the broader DU community. It is easier for students to grasp core psychological concepts and frameworks when they become active collaborators in the investigation of psychological theory, research, and practice. I invite students to participate in projects that allow them to select and present topics that are appealing to them personally. When we design curricula in a way that gives students freedom to decide what (and how) they want to learn, students gain knowledge and skills that go well past the content matter of the course.

Assessment

Faculty member have the “beauty” of getting it both ways—students think we are out to get them; my colleagues think students are out to get us. Whether you are taking or preparing/grading them, exams can be truly tedious.

We frequently play the ‘gotcha’ game: we use exams and other assignments as an instrument to oppress our students, to see how well they can adjust and not how well they can think critically to the service of their own learning.  We want to know, can students regurgitate this motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable bits of ‘reality’ that we have narrated to them?

Instead, we should ask, are students moving in the direction of being able to think creatively about their reality and participate in the transformation of their worlds in ways that fit their personal and cultural backgrounds and developmental levels? Assessment needs to be consistent, using multiple methods over time. These methods have to be, in part, determined by the expertise of the professor, but they also have to be defined by the expertise of the student-colleague. Making ourselves vulnerable is pivotal in deciding if learning has happened. As professors, we model this vulnerability and make space for students to engage. Students set their own personal baseline against which to contrast class outcomes and decide if learning has happened.

Conclusion   

Democratic education can take many different forms, but all forms have one common denominator: a commitment to go outside the box of standardized one-size-fits-all education, so that students can feel empowered and engaged as learners. If we wish to train well-informed citizens who are intrinsically motivated and prepared to confront society’s most pressing challenges, we must provide them with the skills and critical thinking opportunities they need to build a more equitable and socially just society.

Dr. Roncoroni is an Assistant Professor in Morgridge College of Education’s Counseling Psychology department. She received her PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Florida. She is a member of the American Psychological Association (APA). Dr. Roncoroni’s primary research interests include health disparities, customized culturally sensitive health promotion and health care, and the integration of health promotion in medicine. She is a yoga and Zumba instructor and enjoys traveling, cooking, and spending time with her family.

What I Learned as an Amazon Intern: DU Computer Science Grad Student Shares Her Experience

sneha-sawlaniSo a summer internship probably isn’t at the forefront of your mind with papers, projects and the end of the quarter looming ahead, but when it comes to grad student internships it’s never to early to get the ball rolling. A lot of competitive internships have deadlines in late winter and early spring and it’s definitely worth fitting in some time to apply. Just ask master’s student Sneha Sawlani. She applied early in 2015 and landed a 2016 internship at commerce behemoth Amazon. This internship was so successful that she even landed a full-time position with them! Take a read below and check Sneha’s advice to DU grad students looking to land their dream job.

Intern: Sneha Sawlani, MS student majoring in Computer Science
Employer & Position: Amazon, Software Development Engineer Intern

The Application/Interview Process

The application process was fairly rigorous and involved 2-steps:

  1. Online Coding Challenge: This involved solving 7 questions in 20 minutes. After one week of passing the Coding Challenge, I was notified of a Phone Interview round and was given 2 weeks of time to prepare for it.
  2. The Phone Interview: The phone interview was technical in nature. It lasted for 45 minutes and the individual I spoke with had me write code on a shared screen to solve 2 problems. The problems tested my understanding of object-oriented design, data structures, algorithms and basic coding skills. The interviewer concluded the interview by briefly explaining intern activities at Amazon.

The Internship

From June–August 2016 I worked in Amazon’s Search department as their Software Development Engineer (SDE) Intern in the rainy city of Seattle. The first week of the 12-week internship was spent getting oriented – meeting my team, settling into the culture, and getting the hang of Amazon’s internal tools and technologies. Then it was time to get more focused. I was assigned a Software Development project to be completed under the guidance of my mentor. SDE Interns at Amazon are given most of the typical responsibilities of a full time software engineer, including writing code, attending scrum meetings, code reviews, and reporting progress to the manager.

At the end of the internship, I presented my work to the team and received feedback from senior managers and engineers. I was also required to write a self-performance review, which along with my manager’s and mentor’s review, were used for evaluation of a full-time hiring decision. I’m happy to report that at the end of the internship I was offered a full-time position and will soon be working for Amazon Search!

Favorite Parts of the Internship

  • Meaningful work, challenges, and learning: At Amazon, I got to work on an actual application that was used internally by mangers, engineers, and data scientists. The challenges of writing production code that is maintainable, scalable and efficient pushed my skills to the limit but also helped me grow as software developer. It was a productive summer with a steep learning curve.
  • Perks! Amazon took all the responsibility of relocating me to Seattle for the summer. I got to stay right next to Lake Union, attend fun intern events on weekends, and received a humongous stipend which made all the hard work worthwhile!

Advice for DU Grad Students

  • Start early: I noticed that most summer intern positions at Amazon were filled up by March. I would suggest students to apply to jobs and internships at least 7 to 8 months before the actual time.
  • Prepare for the Technical Interview: From my personal experience and from what I heard from other interns and employees, data structures, algorithms, and object-oriented design are very important topics for the technical interview preparation, especially for people fresh out of college. So take those classes seriously!
  • Get an Employee Referrals: Although I got the interview just by applying online, I think it was easier to be noticed in the pool of thousands of applicants by having an employee referral. I would suggest networking with people who already work at your target company in order to obtain one.

Getting summer internship at Amazon was a dream come true and getting a job offer out of it was even a bigger dream come true. Working with so many smart people, learning and using cutting-edge technology to solve complex problems, and applying classroom knowledge to real-world problems was a very valuable experience. It also gave me an opportunity to showcase my skills and capabilities to Amazon and allowed me to network with fellow employees. All of these steered my career toward an exciting new direction with the e-commerce giant.

Graduate Citings: DURAPS Edition with Leanne McCallum

Today we’re excited to share with you the research of DURAPS presenter Leanne McCallum. Leanne’s presentation will uncover the history of anti-trafficking efforts in the US to demonstrate how certain stakeholders and ideologies have (for better or for worse) driven the anti-trafficking narrative. Leanne’s goal is to have her scholarship aid State Department policy makers in reforming the Trafficking in Persons Report to reflect a more accurate representation of anti-trafficking efforts around the world.

Researcher: I am a 2nd year graduate student at the Korbel School of International Studies studying International Studies, with concentrations in human rights and human trafficking.

DURAPS Presentation: Title- Historical Analysis and Critique Of the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report

In undergrad I studied International Relations and had a vague interest in gender and refugees. I participated in a month-long study abroad course in Vietnam and Thailand to study political change and modern political issues facing Southeast Asia. While I was in Thailand, I saw firsthand the way that vulnerable populations like migrants and refugees can be exploited by human trafficking. Particularly, there was a night when we visited Soi Cowboy, a notorious street in Bangkok known for its prostitution and connection to sex traffickers, where we saw women and trans women (known as Kathoey or Ladyboys) being openly exploited in a commercial sex establishment. Though I realize now that my understanding of human trafficking during my first trip to Thailand was relatively shallow and misinformed, it was a catalyst for my subsequent anti-trafficking advocacy and research.

My research focus is on anti-human trafficking policy, both domestically and abroad. I generally focus on the US or Southeast Asia, while paying particular attention to Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). The specific project that I will be presenting at DURAPS analyzes the U.S. Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report– an annual report on global country-level anti-trafficking efforts that is conducted by the U.S. Department of State. The project includes an historical analysis of American anti-trafficking policy, the foundations of the TIP Report itself and how it has evolved since it was created, and the major critiques the TIP Report is facing today.

The intent of my research project is to unpack the history of anti-trafficking efforts in the US to demonstrate how certain stakeholders and ideologies have (for better or for worse) driven the anti-trafficking narrative. Although my research paper itself has not been published, I have published several academic blogs related to this topic on the Human Trafficking Center (HTC) blog. My ultimate goal is to have my research help the State Department reform the TIP Report to reflect a more accurate representation of anti-trafficking efforts around the world.

Biggest Challenges: There are two main challenges associated with my research.

  1. The first is that there is so little academically rigorous, methodologically sound information available about human trafficking. Since human trafficking is a hidden market- because it is an illicit market, and because the victims are generally legal vulnerable populations or hidden populations- there is little verifiable data available. This means that I often am faced with a difficult question: do I utilize flawed data to inform my conclusions, or do I attempt to do the research myself?
  2. The second challenge is overcoming the pervasive misunderstandings surrounding human trafficking. This human rights issue was not recognized until the late 1990s, so there isn’t a lot of information available. As such, there are many misunderstandings about what human trafficking is and who is affected by it. For example, people often talk about US domestic human trafficking using the “perfect victim” paradigm. This is the idea that there is a specific type of person (generally a white, American girl who is sex trafficked) that people associate with human trafficking. In reality, the people most vulnerable to human trafficking are people of color and people of marginalized identities such as LGBTQ+ or compromised migratory status. This is just one example of a misunderstanding that informs anti-trafficking policy and inadvertently causes further harm to trafficking victims.

Collaborators: I work with the Human Trafficking Center as the Human Trafficking Index Project Manager. I also am a Student Event Coordinator with the Korbel Office of Career and Professional Development.

Research Advice: My advice is simple and comes from the HTC’s Director, Professor Claude d’Estrée: match your passion with your academic rigor. Your passion and interest in a topic is an important component of your research, and will help carry you through the difficult times of the research process. However, academic rigor is crucial. We cannot accurately represent the populations that we seek to support if we are conducting research that is methodologically flawed. Question the sources that you use. Are you using it because it agrees with your opinion? Or are you using it because it has clear research design and has a sufficient literature review, research background, and/or a transparent bias? Also, if you are focused on a specific population or a human rights issue, I suggest that you utilize the voices of survivors to inform your conclusions. If you exclude their voices from your research you are missing a key component of holistically understanding the nature of the problem and the solutions.

I can’t wait to share more about my research with you all at DURAPS!