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University of Iowa News Release


March 12, 2009

Photo: University of Iowa student Samantha "Sam" Brottman helps Sergio Paz, a 13-year-old seventh grader at South East Junior High School in Iowa City, review his homework. The pair is one of 10 matched through a new yearlong UI Leadership and Public Service Seminar.

UI future teachers mentor students through school district collaboration

Once a week, University of Iowa student Samantha "Sam" Brottman gets together with Sergio Paz, a 13-year-old seventh grader at South East Junior High School in Iowa City. During their one-hour visits, they do everything from play games such as Sorry, Mancala and Junior Monopoly to review homework while baking chocolate chip cookies in the school cafeteria.

The pair is one of 10 matches made through a new yearlong UI Leadership and Public Service Seminar offered through the UI College of Education Division of Counseling, Rehabilitation and Student Development in collaboration with the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD).

The UI undergraduate students, many of whom wish to pursue teaching certification and careers in education, are matched with ICCSD students ranging in sixth through ninth grade. The matches have been meeting weekly since last fall for conversation, support and academic guidance.

"During the time I've been meeting with Sergio, his grades have improved dramatically," Brottman said, a UI Honors Program sophomore who has applied to the UI College of Education to obtain her elementary education licensure and certification.

"We wanted an emphasis on developing these students as leaders as well as the public service through mentoring," said Sherry Watt (photo, left), associate professor in the UI College of Education, who directs the seminar. "But we also wanted them to get a sense of what public service is and how it applies to working with people."

Starting in October, the UI students have been meeting weekly with their matches, and they will continue to do so until May. The 10 students also meet weekly for the seminar where they discuss different issues and get advice and feedback.

"An example is one family was displaced," Watt said. "So they discussed different ways to provide support to that student. I suggest the use of poetry in some situations. The use of metaphors in poetry can help to facilitate discussion about emotional subjects. The UI students do a really good job giving each other tips."

This semester, the UI students, working in two teams, will also design two projects with their matches -- one is to coordinate a social event where the UI students work together with their matches, and the second is to set up an academic experience or campus visit to expose the ICCSD students to the UI. Those events will probably take place in April.

The seminar grew out of an initiative supported by Tom Rocklin, interim vice president for student services and dean of students and former UI vice provost, and Marcella David, special assistant to the president for equal opportunity and diversity and associate provost, to see how the UI could more effectively collaborate with the ICCSD.

"The seminar helps our students develop as citizens prepared to serve and lead," Rocklin said. "At the same time, we help the ICCSD students succeed. We would like to see some of those students as University of Iowa students in a few years."

This seminar builds upon the existing ICCSD Academic Mentoring Program (AMP), directed by Coreen Frank, who collaborates with Watt on the project and is co-teaching the seminar with her. Frank helped choose and screen the ICCSD students.

"I think the benefits of this program are two-fold," Frank said. "It's allowed us to continue to offer social, emotional and academic support to students in the school district, while the UI students have explored their own dramatic growth as leaders. Because of the class, many of the UI mentors have been able to explore more issues with their students than they would have without Sherry's suggestions and support each week in the seminar. I've been able to see the college students grow and district students grow, and I feel very fortunate to be able to be a part of that."

Another goal of the program, Watt said, is to expose these young students to the UI in the hopes that they will be inspired to pursue higher education and to consider the UI as a place to do so.

Watt said the other theme to the class is diversity related. "We try to make sure that our UI students are getting training in cultural competence and personal awareness so we can help them develop diversity skills and learning to work with people who are different from themselves.

"This includes teaching UI students how to talk to students about everything from race and ethnicity to sexual orientation, politics and socioeconomic status. We teach them how to talk to kids about some of these issues without offending or guiding them in a certain way that might complicate things with their families."

The UI students are matched with Caucasian, Black and Latino students from the ICCSD.

Watt said there is a commitment to continue the seminar and make it a permanent part of the UI curriculum.

"This is such a good collaboration with the Iowa City Community School District, and it has this diversity theme and public service and leadership themes, which are so critical to our mission," Watt said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you would like to interview, photograph or obtain video of any of the matches or cover the culminating social and academic events in April, contact Lois J. Gray at 319-384-0077 or Sherry Watt at 319-335-5288.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Sherry Watt, UI College of Education Student Development Program, 319-335-5288,; Coreen Frank, Iowa City Community School District Academic Mentoring Program, 319-688-1000,; Lois J. Gray, University News Services, 319-384-0077,