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Student Spotlight: Emilee Bickert

Author: Emilee Bickert

COMM 157SL is a course offered at SJSU in several departments including science, engineering, education, and communication studies. Centered on service learning and connecting students with community organizations and local government, this course provides the platform for students and residents to develop projects to meet the community’s needs.

Below, Comm 157 student Emilee Bickert reflects on her experiences as a service learning student last semester. Emilee took a leadership role in managing College Day by engaging with high school students in topics about the transition from high school to a university. Additionally, she worked on several other projects including a community sustainability and safety fair and distributing food to local communities.

Q: What were some of your expectations of the course before beginning?

A: I really didn’t know what to expect prior to taking the course. I showed up on the first day with a pretty blank slate, ready to listen and engage. I was really inspired by the professor, Dr. Tabitha Hart and the approachable manner in which she discussed these social issues with the class and the way she would facilitate discussion with the students.

Q: Were you actively involved in the community prior to CommUniverCity?

A: Prior to CommUniverCity I wasn’t involved in the community. Working with CommUniverCity provided me a resource to engage more actively with the local San Jose community.

Safe & Green Halloween 2017

Q: What are some of the main projects and events that you worked on?

A: I worked on College Day, Safe and Green Halloween, and a number of smaller events. CommUniverCity allows students to engage with a myriad of different types of community service events ranging from topics like fostering a college-going culture targeted toward the youth to Safe and Green Halloween which focuses on community engagement and safety in facilitating dialogue with police officers and firefighters.

Q: What are some of your most memorable CommUniverCity experiences?

A: I think the most memorable experience for me was College Day. The goal of College Day is to promote a college going culture for students, and to answer any questions they may have regarding pursuing a higher education. I was able to help answer some questions from the audience members regarding topics like the struggles faced while being a freshman, working while managing classes, how to pay for college, budgeting, some of the hardships you may face, and finally the different campus resources available to students.

As I answered these questions I couldn’t help but think how much I wish I had had someone give me all of this information when I was in high school and applying to colleges. I was also really impressed hearing some of the questions the high school students asked their presenters. Some questions were very specific to topics such as how to pay for college, while others were honest and playful, such as “is college like what you see in the movies?” As a society, I don’t think we give our youth enough support when it comes to validating their aspirations and determining their responsibilities, so it was really rewarding to see these high school students listen and engage with the SJSU student presenters to let them know of the resources that are available to them throughout their journey to a higher education.

Emilee Bickart (bottom middle), Executive Director Katherine Cushing (bottom right), Special Programs Manager Elizabeth Figueroa (far left), and other students at last semester’s College Day

Q: Did this course and work with CommUniverCity meet your expectations?

A: I was really shaken by a lot of the things I learned throughout the course. I would leave class feeling uneasy because of the injustices that are affecting the local San Jose community. I discovered some troubling truths about social issues within the U.S, the type of truths that you almost wish you didn’t know  just so you could be blissfully ignorant for a little while longer. It is sometimes difficult to face the harsh realities our country faces and how these issues affect our own local community. Since then, I’ve really grown to appreciate the things that I’ve been exposed to. I’ve found that even if I can change one person’s mind about one of the topics we covered, it’s worth knowing those troubling truths.

Q: What impact has this course had on your perspectives regarding social issues in the local community?

A: This course has definitely given me greater and more expansive knowledge regarding my position on social issues. Especially because of the different topics we covered regarding gender inequality and food insecurity. Food insecurity was a social issue that I encountered several times while volunteering with CommUniverCity. It’s incredibly life changing to look a child in the eye and wonder if they’re going to have a dinner to come home to. You really don’t know what the parents are dealing with  and even more so, don’t realize the immense impact it can have on the children. Now when someone asks me why I believe in something, I have much more to say than simply “because it’s the right thing”.

SJSU Students presenting to an audience of high school students

Q: What impact did your work with CommUniverCity have on your career or perspectives?

A: After 157SL I realized that beyond my interest in the entertainment industry, I really love being able to share stories. Stories are a  useful tool of communication to help people understand different perspectives and empathize with others. By combining these stories and portraying them on the big screen to the masses I feel like the entertainment industry has the ideal platform to expose audience members to social issues affecting us locally, nationally, and globally. We need more people to be aware of these issues so that action can be taken.

Q: Did you feel like you were making an impact when you were volunteering with CommUniverCity?

A: I definitely feel like I made an impact, especially with regards to College Day and being able to have the platform to engage proactively with these students. I also feel that the efforts of entire group as a whole truly had a significant impact on the community members.

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