Student Success Story: Student Success in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Student Success in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
By Caroline Serrano and Taylor Thorne

""This past spring break, Bonnie Gasior and students in her “Urban Poverty: Problems and Prescriptions” class set out to do community service in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Here, Dr. Gasior’s students had the opportunity to apply theories they learned in class to the experiences they had while serving the Pittsburgh community. Gasior states, “Service-learning is only as good at the conversations you have before, during, and after you do it. Deliberate learning and reflection are key.”

One conversation the students had during their service learning was with Chaz, the Alternative Spring Break coordinator for the University of Pittsburgh. Christopher Ortiz, one of the students on the trip, declares, “Chaz emphasized that we are not going into communities to tell them what needs to be fixed and fixing the problem; instead, we are going into communities to figure out what they feel are their needs and working with them to find solutions. I learned how to let the voiceless have their own voice.”

Mackenzie Alvarez touched on this topic as well. She suggests, “When helping others, I will remember that my efforts are not to change their current situation but to be of assistance to help them however they need me to.” Realizing the importance of community members’ voices in addressing their problems is integral to the success of the service being done in their community.

""Informed by these discussions, Gasior’s students volunteered each day with various organizations. They were able to participate in house rehabilitation at Open Hand Ministries, cultivate fresh produce at Garfield Community Farm, and provide positive affirmation to prison inmates through Free Minds Poetry. David Reyna, one of the volunteers, states, “If every day we were to spend just a little time working with, thinking about, and helping our communities grow, I truly believe we could make the world a better place. Big change starts small.”

The ASB trip has also influenced how these students view their experiences as CSULB students. Sophie Morrison notes, “Your college experience is what you make of it – you have to seek opportunities. The Alternative Spring Break program is a good way to meet like-minded people and to build relationships and bonds that can be hard to come by at a commuter school.”

Conclusively, the Alternative Spring Break trip to Pittsburgh gave new insight to the theories these students had been learning in class and how to apply them in real world scenarios. Their experiences here will continue to inform both their personal and professional decisions as they finish their degree and transform into young professionals. As Sophie Morrison states, “My experiences have been a continuation of what I had been learning in my classes and reaffirmed my career goals in politics.”

""Some have even been inspired to continue making a difference in Long Beach. Dante Jaramillo affirms, “The challenges and struggles of Pittsburgh are unique, but are not too different to issues faced in areas of our local community.” Laura Bietman states, “Complacency or acceptance of the systemic failures is no longer acceptable, and I am dedicated to educating myself and working intentionally within communities of need.”

The work that has been done in the Pittsburgh community not only provided for the people within that community, but for Bonnie Gasior and her students as well. Dr. Gasior comments, “What better way for a professor to give back than through his/her students, who, at the same time, are forever changed as a result of their own initiative!” A huge thanks goes out to Bonnie Gasior, her students, and the organizations they partnered with in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Like David Reyna said, big change starts small – and these students have all sparked big change. Go Beach!