UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State College of Education student Rachel Shriver knew that five weeks in Ecuador in 2017 wasn't enough; she needed at least five more in 2018 because she had more questions to ask, more research to uncover, much more to explore.
And while answers to her plethora of questions eventually will materialize, how to fund a second Teaching ESL immersion trip to Ecuador was less clear. Then Shriver earned an Erickson Discovery Grant for her research project titled "Mas Que Mojitos: Reciprocity within Global Conversations Course," which came with a stipend of $3,500.
Erickson Discovery Grants are directed to student-initiated projects in the arts, engineering, humanities, sciences and social sciences that provide experience in all facets of the research, scholarship or creative processes. Shriver's research with reciprocity will attempt to determine whether the work students and faculty do in the immersion program stays with Ecuadorian people or if it's an isolated, one-and-done type of program.
"I want to look at people's mindsets and their ideas about language, their identities, their ideas about language awareness, their ideas around teaching English, and their comfortability about global citizenship or interacting with different cultures, pre-program and post-program, and see if that mind shift that happened to me is a common thing or if it's just individual people at individual times," Shriver said. "I am going to be interviewing United States students and Ecuadorian students to see what the process of the program looks like to them pre, during and then post."
After participating last summer, Shriver had the desire to return to Ecuador for research purposes. She has an income from being a resident assistant in a residence hall and she took a second job as well, but still wasn't sure reality and finances would mesh. "I was on the phone with my grandmother and the phone dinged with an email (about the grant) and I cried," she said. "I was so relieved."
The junior secondary English education major from Manassas, Virginia, will take Spanish intensive courses at the University of Cuenca. She'll also be staying with the same host family as last year. "I'm really a part of the family," Shriver said. "I went to family functions, I babysat nieces, I helped make dinner, I did the dishes … and I'm dedicated to that role once again."
Being dedicated to a well-rounded Penn State experience has served Shriver well. A list of what she hasn't done within the College of Education would be considerably shorter than a list of what she has done. "I did the D.C. Social Justice program so I taught in [Washington,] D.C., through the college and I'm back as a staff member now under Efrain Marimon," she said.
"I didn't teach in the Philadelphia Urban Seminar but I did that program under Jeanine Staples. Then Efrain allowed me to do an independent study at Delta Middle School, so I got to teach in their Hamilton class and help out in that class. I did the urban tutoring in the College of Ed and I did that my freshman year. And then the ESL teaching.
"I've done it all in the College of Ed because this is my love, this is what I want my life to be surrounded by," Shriver said.
Shriver wants to start her career by teaching English as a second language internationally but ultimately prefers to end up teaching it domestically. "If I happen to go some program in some country and that country grabs me, then there I'll stay," she said. She also will apply for a Fulbright Scholarship in Columbia, where she will visit this summer on her way back from Ecuador.
Shriver said the urge and the passion to become a teacher became a reality in eighth grade. "My grandma always used to tell me that she would pray for my teachers so I would have good teachers," she said. "I always had one each year who knew me as Rachel, and I was a person first and a student second.
"My teachers always made sure I knew that I was kind and I was smart and I was beautiful and honored me as a human, and that made me flourish as a student. It was cool for me to always be raised like that. I have this confidence in myself that because of good teachers that could juggle that space of being a teacher and also juggle being human to human."
Shriver was introduced to research, as well as Penn State, through the College of Education's S.C.O.P.E. program, or Summer College Opportunity Program in Education. "That's your basic how-to-do research setup; it's a fantastic program," she said. "That was my foundation, that was my everything; I would not be at this university without S.C.O.P.E."
Shriver said the program instilled critical-thinking skills in her. "And critical-thinking skills to me are liberating; it taught me how to think," she said.
"You research a certain topic in education and present on it (during S.C.O.P.E.), and mine was on productive failure. "The idea is that failure doesn't need to be shameful and embarrassing, that you can use that as a pedagogy and give students situations to purposely fail because in the process of failing, you're not embarrassed and you're not hindered by that," Shriver said.
It also laid groundwork for her for a philosophy pertaining to teaching. "Education is not just this process of the teacher says 'A' and the student repeats back 'A' and the teacher gives tests and the student checks 'A,'" Shriver said. "It was like the grappling and how our emotions are involved in learning and how your whole being and your identities are involved in learning.
"That really started to shift my idea that I want to be a teacher because people supported me and I want to support others through a lens of education. Students needs to be taught 'X,' 'Y' and 'Z' but also the skills to grapple with the world around them because that's what makes productive citizens who want to engage and make change," she said.
She believes that educational research is underserved and is excited to be able to contribute to that pool of work.
"Especially with an ESL. Reciprocity's not really researched, so it's going to be cool to look at it myself … the forces of the universe just really worked with me," Shriver said.