Scholar Q&A: Jenna Jablonski '13

Erica Steinhoff (a class of 2016 Communication Management and Design major from Urbana, Maryland) spoke with Park Scholar Jenna Jablonski '13 (an Integrated Marking Communications major from Lakewood, New York) about the impact the Park Scholar Program has had on Jablonski’s college experience.

Looking back on your four years as a Park Scholar, how would you say that the program has influenced you the most?
The Park Scholar Program has really challenged me to constantly leave my comfort zone, which has been really important, because I think that is where I have grown the most and learned the most. And not only has the program really encouraged me to leave my comfort zone, but it has supported me in doing those things. Without all of the support of the program, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve the goals that I set for myself when I did step outside my comfort zone.

You spent a semester studying away and interning in Washington D.C. Could you tell me more about those experiences?
I absolutely loved that semester. I did the “Cornell in Washington” Program (a partnership between Ithaca College and Cornell University). Going with the program meant that I was studying public policy, which was a little bit different because it didn’t directly relate to communications. However, it really was a breath of fresh air. My favorite class was ‘Global Health Security and Diplomacy.’ It was great being in the heart of the U.S. and the center of the world in a lot of ways. I was able to intern as a marketing intern at Meridian International Center, which is an international nonprofit that does cultural and public diplomacy. My internship gave me exposure to a lot of different cultures and that semester in general was a great blend of professional experience and experiencing D.C. culture. I would love to go back and live in D.C. now.

You also studied abroad in Bolivia during your sophomore year. Could you tell me about those travels and what you took away from that semester?
I went to Bolivia seeking to do Spanish language immersion and to study indigenous rights, because Bolivia has a high percentage of indigenous people. I ended up being in a culture that is one of the most different cultures from the culture of the United States. I didn’t know that going into it, so that led to a very cool experience in a non-western setting. I ended up learning Spanish like I wanted to, but I also ended up learning so much more than that.

One of most life changing experiences that I had while I was there was when I completed a month-long independent study project during which I traveled by myself. I volunteered at a library in a rural community that had only had a library for couple of years. I was also one of the first foreigners or Western persons to have stayed in the village, so there were a lot of cultural barriers making it challenging but also greatly rewarding. And so, as my project, I wrote and illustrated a children’s book about the library that I volunteered at. The book was in Spanish, English, and an indigenous language to promote literacy and cross-cultural education. My experiences in Bolivia reinforced in my mind the notion that the most challenging experiences are the ones that teach you the most.

Have you had any other experiences that have greatly influenced you?
This past summer I actually spent eight weeks volunteering in Uganda and I got to see and experience hands-on some of the issues that I have studied and been interested in all along, related to public health, international development, and human rights. I think that having that first-hand insight on a lot of the issues that I care about really developed my perspective on those issues and now I feel that I can be more useful when trying to help find solutions to those issues.

Could you tell me more about volunteering in Africa and what inspired you to pursue that opportunity?
I actually received the Reginald Simmons Memorial Award through the Park School, which funded me to spend those eight weeks in Uganda. I was inspired to apply for the scholarship after hearing about the amazing experiences of previous Park Scholars who had also received the scholarship in past years. After receiving the award, my main goals for volunteering with the program were fairly vague. I wanted to have cultural immersion, fun, and wholly devote my summer to community service. These goals seemed appropriate considering they are ideals that I personally value and also staples of the Park Scholar Program.

While in Africa I was assigned to work on a community health project and that was another experience that I had which wasn’t directly related to communications or the things that I do here in Ithaca; however, I certainly learned a lot from it and I do have a personal interest in health, so it was great that I was able to work on a project that aligned with my interests. During the project, I worked on multiple tasks, but the one that I spent the most time on was building plate stands to keep families’ dishware off of the ground. One of the best parts of the program was that we worked with a local NGO and they came up with projects for us to work on that they knew the village needed the most.

I enjoyed working on all of the projects; however, I really found my niche in teaching English at a local primary school. It was intimidating at first, because I didn’t expect to fill that role. Also, in the beginning the number of students in the classroom overwhelmed me. However, I quickly realized that they enjoyed my lesson plans and by the end I enjoyed teaching them just as much as they enjoyed learning from me. Throughout our stay, my fellow volunteers and I became very connected to the community and I made friendships with people living there that I know will last a long time.

You have had some amazing experiences off campus. Could you tell us more about your involvements in the Ithaca area?
I have been involved with many different aspects of the on-campus organization called Intercambios since day one of my freshman year. Through the club I have had the privilege of teaching English to migrant farm workers for multiple years. It has been incredibly rewarding, because it has given me a window to other cultures while being right here in Ithaca.

I have also been involved in Megaphone— the Park Scholar group service project that provides free media support to local nonprofits— providing promotional and marketing support to the different organizations with which we have worked.

One of my other favorite organizations on campus is called Free the Slaves. I have served as the public relations coordinator for this organization that combats human trafficking through awareness campaigns and fundraising. Being a part of the club had a profound impact on me and it inspired me to consider working for worker solidarity and continuing to combat human trafficking in the future.

What are your plans after graduation?
The Park Scholar Program has influenced my plans for the future greatly. As to my immediate plans, I am actually going to be interning with a Park Scholar alumna, Lindsay Losasso, who graduated in 2007. I will be working with her NGO, Abriendo Mentes, in Costa Rica as a social media and communications intern. It is going to be a great combination of international volunteerism while utilizing my marketing and communications skills, so I am really looking forward to it!


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