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WITC students to volunteer in Guatemala

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education New Richmond, 54017
New Richmond News
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New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

In one of the poorest districts in Guatemala, there is a small school of about 70 elementary, middle and high school students. Of the 15 computers the school owns, only 10 are operable, but five technical college students are hoping to help in the coming weeks.

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As part of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College's first international service learning project, five informational technology-network specialist students and two staff members will travel to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, where they will repair and configure the school's computers, configure donated laptops and teach computer and software skills to the students and staff. The project is in cooperation with IRFE Volunteers Abroad, and the group has received two grants to help fund the project.

"I've always been interested in service learning, and I even considered going on missionary trips with my church," said Pat McCullough, project coordinator and WITC-Ashland network technician. "I was very pleased to be able to find a project where students could use the skills and knowledge that they learned at WITC."

The group will leave the day after graduation, May 12, and will remain in Guatemala until May 21. That gives the students just weeks to raise additional funds, collect donations for the school and brush up on their Spanish language skills. They also need to build a curriculum of sorts.

"I've been practicing with all the Word applications - it's very interesting that that's what they (the school) seemed most interested in, including photo applications like PhotoShop," said WITC's Dan Schmidt, New Richmond, in anticipation of the service trip to Guatemala. "I've also done some research on the culture and country to familiarize myself. I enjoy international travel and look at this as a leadership opportunity and a way to gain experience in the field. I'm looking forward to teaching, as I may pursue that as a career."

Brian Carlson, Carl Haughn, Jacob Koval and Dan Nourse, IT students from the Ashland Campus, will join Schmidt, McCullough and WITC-Ashland instructor, Paul Gordon.

WITC introduced the international service learning initiative this year, allowing staff to compete for a grant to help fund a project that complements student learning abroad.

"This represents a new direction for us," says Lenore Knock, dean of students at WITC-New Richmond. "Now we're starting to share our students' learning and skills with countries that don't have access to the level of higher education we have in the U.S. Plus we can make a sustainable difference because we're teaching and not just fixing. In addition because of our students' ongoing commitment to service, WITC Student Senate district-wide has voted to support this initiative both financially and with materials and tools."

"Some of the students from our area have not had the opportunity to travel," McCullough said. "This will expose students to a different culture and lifestyle. And it might just cause us to look at things differently, make us more aware of people who don't have all the benefits we have in the United States."

The students are accepting donations of cash and school supplies. WITC has donated 12 used and reconfigured laptops to the school. Individuals wishing to donate should contact McCullough at 715-682-4591, ext. 3203.

WITC was recently ranked sixth best two-year college in the nation by Washington Monthly magazine. WITC serves the educational and career needs of more than 30,000 residents of northwestern Wisconsin each year.

As one of four campuses in the district, WITC-New Richmond offers career-focused associate degree programs, technical diplomas, customized training, and a wide array of courses for personal or career enrichment.

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