How conversations lead in interesting directions

Shevaun Watson, Director of the composition program in UWM’s English Department, and I met for coffee in April to talk about her work on the landscape of languages.  Followers of Learn Deep know of our interest in maps as a point of engagement for students, and I was curious to learn more.  There’s an interesting project in that work, particularly for schools with students who speak a diverse range of languages.

Towards what I had expected to be the end of our conversation, Shevaun asked what else we were working on.  I mentioned an idea that had originated in conversations at Reagan High School.  While the school had healthcare career tracks, students had little sense of the broad range of careers inside of healthcare or the varied paths people might take to get there.  We thought an interesting way to address that would be to have students interview folks in a wide range of health care careers.  The focus would not be on the classes they took or what their day to day work looks like, but the experiences they had which led them to their career and helped develop the skills they now use.  We saw this as a process that could be used across domains, and, if the stories could be gathered and told by students across the community, a great resource for career exploration.

Shevaun was intrigued — she and her colleagues have been looking at ways to leverage the humanities for community engagement.  They were also getting a little tired of reading “interest papers” on abortion, gun control, and legalizing marijuana.  She asked “What if we gave you a couple of sections of a freshman English class to pilot the process?”  Over the summer we met with Shevaun’s team and teachers from Reagan, New Berlin, and Dr. Howard Fuller Collegiate Academy to map out what that might look like, and what the high schools teachers would need to pull the work into their classes.

Our pilot is now underway.  We tapped our network to assemble a pool of interview candidates that includes everyone from a community healthcare advocate  to bio-medical engineers to sports medicine professionals to an attorney representing the rights of the disabled.   Students will conduct their interviews the week of October 7th. We look forward to where this will lead.