Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Destination Deutschland: My Summer Research at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

It has been one week since I returned home from my summer research internship in Germany, and I figured it would be as good a time as any to let you know what I was up to for eight weeks in the land of sausage, potatoes, bread, and chocolate.

Did I mention chocolate?

Let me start by saying that my first time flying in a commercial airplane was when my Levine cohort left Charlotte three years ago for our NOLS excursion in Alaska.  However, my trip to Deutschland marked my first time out of North America, my first international flight, and my very first passport stamp!  And, once I landed in Frankfurt, I also made the abrupt realization that it was my first time being a country where English is not the primary language (Yes, I promise I did know that before I chose this internship, but it still made for an anxious airport experience!).  And to clarify, yes, I did go to Germany without previously speaking any German...

View from my apartment balcony (The church bells rang every morning)

My internship was part of an exchange between UNC Charlotte and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), one of Europe’s largest and most prestigious research and education institutions.  My research project focused on the use of electrochemical battery storage systems in residential applications in an effort to increase renewable energy use and reduce electricity grid inconsistencies or failures.  My papers and documents will provide my colleagues with in-depth information and possibly lead to further projects or publications.  The energy-related research at KIT directly corresponds the variety of exciting sustainability, engineering, and energy projects at UNC Charlotte and in the Charlotte region (one of the prime reasons why I chose UNC Charlotte and the Levine Scholars Program).

Tour of the Smart Energy Home
KIT Battery Lab Visit
My Research Team along with other UNCC Interns
KIT's PV Research Field

I really enjoyed my time exploring Germany and being immersed in the culture.  I will thoroughly miss walking and biking around the city and other aspects of the ingrained, environmentally conscious German lifestyle.  My inner civil-engineering-and-sustainable-development nerd was overwhelmed by the mixture of old and new architecture, high-density and pedestrian-oriented development, integration of the environment with indoor spaces, and the prevalence of city plazas and other populous social gathering places.  The U.S. still has a LOT to learn in this respect.  I will also add that Karlsruhe is known as the “fan city” because of its unique spoke-like street design that leads to the city’s central palace and gardens (my favorite place to people watch)!

Karlsruhe Palace with Levine alumnae Bethany Hyde and Anna Swartz

I will always look back on my summer in Germany with fond memories of people, scholarship, travels, and food.  Thank you EPIC and UNC Charlotte for helping foster such an amazing educational, professional, and social exchange opportunity.

My Favorite Part of Germany?  CASTLES!

My other Favorite Part?  German Food!

My institute really liked to play Foosball (aka "Kicker") - I actually got third place in this tournament 
(only because I had a talented partner...)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My Internship with Present Age Ministries

This summer, I am interning with Present Age Ministries, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating the sexual abuse, exploitation, and trafficking of teen girls.  In short, they partner with local law enforcement agencies and the FBI (yeah, I know, that’s awesome) to bring girls out of sex trafficking and provide them with medical, educational, and counseling services while working with them relationally and spiritually.  I just finished my first full week, and I am absolutely thrilled to move forward into the summer!!!  This internship is already one of the best experiences ever!!!!!  I’m so excited; I don’t think I’ve told anyone about my internship without attaching an excessive amount of exclamation points to the end of every sentence.  (I’ll try to refrain, but sometimes I just can’t help it.) 

I started working with Present Age Ministries in February after watching a video explaining the seriousness and prevalence of sex trafficking in the United States and, more specifically, Charlotte, North Carolina.  There are at least 100,000 children used in prostitution, and approximately 100,000-300,000 children at risk for commercial sexual exploitation every year in the United States.  North Carolina is the sixth biggest state for trafficking, and Charlotte is the number one city in North Carolina.  The average age of girls entering the sex industry is 12-14 years old, and these girls are forced to service 15-20 men every single night. 

Go back and read those statistics again slowly. 
Y’all. That is insane. 

And so, I’ve found a cause that adds excitement to my voice and determination to my work.  No task seems like a waste of time.  I’ve spent time speaking to other college students and members of the community to raise awareness about the issue.  I’ve been able to sit in on board meetings and community gatherings to discuss awareness opportunities and prevention strategies.  I’ve also written newsletters and copied stories and poems composed by survivors.  And I am able to leave everyday feeling hopeful that these girls will understand that they are loved and valued despite what lies they have been told in the past.

Being part of a team committed to reclaiming the value of these girls is truly incredible.  Present Age Ministries is doing important and necessary work in the Charlotte area, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the summer has in store for me!

Also, this is a shameless plug for Present Age Ministries: check them out!!! (presentageministries.org)
The link to the following video gets to the heart and soul of what Present Age Ministries is all about: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4kaw8Rh-zE&feature=youtu.be)
--Written by Erin Coggins, Levine Scholars Program Class of 2018

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How NOLS Prepared Me for a Semester in France

Eileen Jakeway looking out over the Cliff of Moher
During the summer of 2013, with a 45 pound backpack on my shoulders, a burning sensation in my throat, clambering up a steep incline on a mountain in Wyoming, I would have never thought to find myself in a similar condition once more, in, of all places, the Paris metro.  During my semester abroad studying in Limoges, France, I have been reminded of several key lessons that NOLS taught me while I’ve been abroad. First of all, carrying heavy backpacks up inclines is hard work whether they are full of food up a mountain or full of clothes up the seemingly never-ending stairs of the Paris metro. Secondly, hydrate or die. Staying hydrated in Europe is not easy; you will be ridiculed for carrying around a water bottle or drinking tap water, but it is just as crucial walking to class as it is hiking a mountain; no matter what they say, you can NOT stay sufficiently hydrated off wine and beer.

 On a more serious note, 
NOLS and study abroad overlap in that you will find yourself in terrifying, isolating situations that only you can get yourself out of. You must rely on yourself, on your strength and believe that whatever situation you are in, you are in control. Even when that means keeping your cool in a completely foreign educational system or finding your way home when the bus stopped running. Furthemore, building relationships with the people around you is what the true experience is about. The people you surround yourself with are what you will always remember, what makes the experience worthwhile. So ask the nice girl you met on the tour bus to go out for dinner and drinks once it’s over, meet up with people you otherwise might not hang out with and be open to forming new bonds in hostels. I was able to meet up with a childhood friend of mine and her neighbor from Germany in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day. Because we hung out together, I found out that I used to be neighbors with her friend for three years and that we lived right down the road from each other! These are the kinds of discoveries that study abroad brings wih it, but not without the sheer determination and hard work that it took to get through NOLS.  So, I would say that the most important lessons I learned on NOLS augmented my study abroad experience immensely:  take risks and be adventurous; carry the extra weight for someone else when they need it and they will be there for you too;  don’t be discouraged by the unknown. And most importantly, the view from the top makes it all worth it—by the end, you will be amazed by how far you’ve come.

--Written by Eileen Jakeway, Class of 2017 Levine Scholars Program

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Finalists' Weekend Reflection

With Finalists’ Weekend but a few days away, I can’t help but reflect on my own experience as a Finalist last year, and all that’s happened since. For me, between my nervousness and excitement and the rush of new information, Finalists’ Weekend is but a blur in my memory. My dad and I flew from Minnesota to Atlanta, but because of delays in Minneapolis, we missed our flight to Charlotte, and had to spend that night in Atlanta and catch an early plane to Charlotte. Then there was the dinner Sunday night, and a day full of activities Monday, and a VERY early flight home to Minnesota so that I could be back for early afternoon classes on Tuesday. As we took off, I breathed a sigh of relief. We had only just missed the snowstorm that was about to hit the southeast, and we would have certainly been delayed had the snow started to fall any sooner.

February 11th in Minnesota (the day after Finalists' Weekend)
My visit to UNC Charlotte for Finalists’ Weekend was my first time seeing the campus in person. It was even my first time to visit North Carolina! I immediately fell in love with the campus (and the warmer weather!). Believe it or not, it was 80 degrees warmer in Charlotte than at my house on the Sunday of Finalists' Weekend! As my plane took off and departed toward home, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be at UNC Charlotte when fall rolled around.

Megan Woody and I after a snowball fight
When I accepted the offer to study at UNC Charlotte as a Levine Scholar a little over a month later, little did I know what an adventure I was about to embark on! The first month after graduation was rather slow, but then everything took off! It began with a pre-NOLS road trip to Kansas City and back, just my cousin and I, to serve at a preteen camp I’d been going to for years. Then, only a few days after my return, I was again on a plane, this time to Denver, Colorado to meet the rest of my cohort for the first time. I’d spend the next month getting to know them VERY well as we trekked through the wilderness of the Absaroka Mountain range in Wyoming. NOLS was the experience of a lifetime. I don’t think I could do it justice trying to explain it, it’s something you have to experience for yourself! I can guarantee though, that you will come away having learned quite a bit about yourself, and with memories you’ll keep for the rest of your life.

After NOLS, I went home for about a week: just long enough to do laundry and pack up nearly everything I had. Then, my parents and I embarked on yet another road trip, this time to relocate me from the ‘middle of nowhere’ outside a small town in central Minnesota all the way down to Charlotte, NC. Let me tell you, it was quite a change! The weather, terrain, and culture were all quite different from where I’d spent my entire previous life. We made the entire 1000+ mile trip (approximately 24 hours of driving) in about two and a half days. The trip was both invigorating and exhausting.
Rent a Puppy!
Build Day
My first semester involved many of the normal ‘freshman experiences’, including living away from home for the first time, adjusting to living with other people, forming and managing my own schedule, planning in time for studying, eating, (sleeping!), and relaxing, and getting to know other people. My not-so-normal freshmen experiences (thanks to the Levine Scholars Program!) have included serving on a committee for Charlotte Dance Marathon, attending a Panther’s game with Mr. and Mrs. Levine, participating in Rent-a-Puppy!!, spending fall break at Cherry Grove Beach, participating in the Build Day for the UNC Charlotte Community Garden, and countless others!

This semester, I've become more involved with Patchwork Epiphany (another Levine Scholar’s civic engagement project) and am working on plans for my non-profit summer internship and next big road trip! The past year has been an exciting (kinda crazy at times) adventure, and I can’t wait to see what the next three years hold. Deciding to attend UNC Charlotte and accepting the offer to become a Levine Scholar has changed my life, and I couldn't be happier about my choice to attend!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Natural Playground: Plants, Stumps, and Dirt

When I was brainstorming ideas for my civic engagement project, one of my main goals was to find a way to combine civil engineering (my major) with child & family development (my minor). Trust me, I realize this is not a common degree combination. Amazingly enough, thanks to some networking and some luck, I was able to find the perfect site with which to collaborate for my project.

I have partnered with Easter Seals UCP, a non-profit that provides services, classes, and childcare to children with disabilities in North America.  This particular Easter Seals center in Charlotte is blessed with enthusiastic and helpful staff as well as plentiful outdoor space. My project involves improving this outdoor space by replacing overused items, adding natural elements, and creating learning modules so teachers and students can benefit from the additions.

Before I get into the details of my project, here are some before and after pictures of changes we have already made! (Because everyone likes before/after pics)

This area had exposed tarp and mud and was not a very safe place for children to play. Below, the first picture shows the newly mulched area, and the bottommost picture shows some partially buried logs and stumps for balancing and jumping!

We are emphasizing the natural playground philosophy, which favors mud, gardens, water, and logs rather than metal swings, slides, and bouncy rubber surfacing. Using natural elements in the new portion of the playground will benefit the children and the childcare center in several ways. Using natural items with rich textures and complex visual forms stimulates cognitive development, particularly for children with disabilities. Furthermore, exposing children to gardening and natural physical activity will have lifelong benefits for healthy lifestyles. Lastly, natural playground elements are far cheaper than large playground structures. Safety codes tend to require much more for a large swing set than for a maze of bamboo or a balance course of buried logs and stumps.

Future additions which are in the planning phase include a series of raised gardens that will be accessible by wheelchair, a previously mentioned bamboo maze, and a raised deck over a water/pond area. 

Stay tuned for our latest improvements at the playground, and contact me if you'd be interested in providing some manual labor! 
My car has definitely put in its fair share of effort.