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LEWISBURG, Pa. - A delegation of students, faculty and staff traveled on a service-learning trip to Nicaragua this month, handing out medicine to patients at a clinic, making concrete blocks and putting the finishing touches on a spinning factory to provide jobs for the local community. And "Flat Bucky" was there to make his debut.
The sketched and laminated version of the Bucknell University mascot accompanied the Bucknell Brigade to Nicaragua as part of an effort to raise awareness about service-learning and civic engagement opportunities at the University. Modeled after the fictional character Flat Stanley in the book by Jeff Brown, in which a little boy is "flattened" by a bulletin board and sent by his family in the mail to visit friends, Flat Bucky is intended to draw attention to the many service projects going on at Bucknell, including those organized by the University and initiated by students.
"The students on the Brigade really embraced the idea of Flat Bucky," said Kristine Kengor, Bucknell's assistant director of service-learning. "They took photos with him while they were working and on our travel days. Flat Bucky was seen digging a trench for a water line, packing cotton for the spinning cooperative, making cement blocks for paving, and seeing patients at the health clinic in Nueva Vida. Bucky also played tourist with the group, visiting the rural village of El Porvenir, the volcano at Masaya, and cultural sites around Managua."
Throughout the week, students were processing many difficult concepts, such as visiting with children who live at a municipal dump in Managua and experiencing for the first time a place where the majority of people live on less than a dollar a day, Kengor said.
"Without detracting from the severity of the situation, Flat Bucky helped students to lighten the mood and gave the group something to laugh and joke about," Kengor said. "By the end of the week, we had determined that Bucky was in solidarity with the workers of Nicaragua. The Bucknell students were doing some incredible work, and Flat Bucky allowed them to celebrate that work in an appropriate way."
Many elementary schools have encouraged students to color and cut out their own Flat Stanley and take him with them as they explore new places. A third-grade teacher in Ontario, Canda, Dale Hubert, coordintates the Flat Stanley Project, which encourages students to write letters about their travels. The Office of Civic Engagement is encouraging Bucknellians to take Flat Bucky places where they are doing service.
"There may be some initiatives we don't know about," Kengor said. "This is a way to learn about the projects."
Bucknellians may contact the Office of Civic Engagement to borrow Flat Bucky and in exchange take photos of themselves with him as they are engaged in service-learning. The photos will be posted on the Office of Civic Engagement's webpage and Facebook page and elsewhere on the University website.
Bucknell has a long history of civic engagement, and the University recently received the 2010 Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in recognition of its exceptional commitment to community service, educational outreach and service-learning.
For the past 10 years, students, faculty and staff have traveled to Nicaragua twice each year to help survivors of Hurricane Mitch rebuild their community through sustainable businesses, health clinics and educational outreach. For five years, groups have traveled to New Orleans to build and rebuild houses for survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
In the 2009-10 academic year, 1,438 students participated in service-learning programs, and 35 faculty taught courses that incorporate a service-learning component. Students in those courses completed more than 11,000 hours of community service.
One such program, Community Harvest, has provided hot meals for 200 people in the Milton area each week in partnership with Parkhurst Dining Service, St. Andrew's United Methodist Church and local organizations.
Scholars in Service, an educational award program supported by AmeriCorps, provides funds for about a dozen Bucknell students to offset tuition costs, school loans or the cost of books and school supplies. These students commit to providing at least 300 hours of community service.
"Civic engagement really helps people to have a tangible experience with what they're learning," Kengor said. "We're often asking students to think about things that challenge their world views and thoughts. This gives them an outlet to put some action to that thought."
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