Stevenson Center Podcast: Lauren Troxtel (Peace Corps Fellow, Kinesiology and Recreation)

Stevenson Center Podcast: Lauren Troxtel (Peace Corps Fellow, Kinesiology and Recreation)


Hi everyone, my name is Lauren Troxtel
and today I want to provide you with a brief overview of my Peace Corps
experience, of why I joined the Stevenson Center at Illinois State University to
get my master’s degree, and then a little bit about my fellowship through my
master’s program. So to give you a little background information,
I’m from Wixom, Michigan and I have a bachelor’s degree in public health
education and health promotion with a minor in nutrition. Right after my
undergrad, I signed up to the Peace Corps where I went to Ethiopia and I served
for 27 months. Then I came back for a year, I took some time off and then I
applied to some grad schools. I got into Illinois State University where I’m
currently working on my master’s degree through the school of Kinesiology and
Recreation, focusing on Community and Economic Development.
I also added in a Women and Gender Studies certificate. It’s kind of a
mouthful to say so a lot of people have been asking me, “What exactly do you do
with this degree in Kinesiology and Recreation and community development?”
I look at it from a couple different ways. So the first way is from a global
perspective. I look at the Paralympics and the Olympics, and I look how
countries come together to have a healthy competition over sports. It creates
camaraderie among the citizens in each country and it just brings communities
together. And then at a more local level, I think of it as, how healthy is a
community? Does the community have a lot of people with high risk of diabetes or
obesity? Or, what kind of health problems are there? And then what’s the reason for
these health problems; is it a low-income area? Is it a food desert? Do they not
have access to recreational facilities? So, what’s the reason for these health
complications? And then from there, I see what kind of resources are available
within that community and how we can hone in on those resources and make
people more aware of those or if we need to
get other people from other communities to come in and train people on
how to do certain things in their communities.
So that’s kind of my degree in a nutshell. I want to go back to my
Peace Corps experience now. So as I said, I served in Peace Corps Ethiopia. I was
there for 27 months. Fun fact: I never left the country until Ethiopia, so it
was a very, very new experience for me and I embraced it fully. I didn’t
really know what to expect when I got there. One of the hard things was
definitely leaving my family and my friends, and just everything I knew about
America for a whole new country where I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t know
anybody, and I just had to work and live there for 27 months. So that was
definitely one of the hardest things about leaving for Peace Corps, but some
of the other challenges that I experienced while there was just trying
to work with different counterparts and make projects successful and implement
projects. The first year started out kind of slow but after a while I found a great
counterpart named Ruth and together we worked on a permagarden project for
the elderly seniors and then a permagarden projects for people with
disabilities. Basically we taught them how to garden on a small scale so
that they can take it to their homes, and they can do these gardens at home and
have fresh fruits and vegetables there. So, I incorporated my health
background into the garden trainings and whatnot, which is a great experience.
Another quick, fun story: while there a lot of people thought since I
was a foreigner, I had a lot of money. So at first it was hard to work through,
to try to explain to people that I don’t have a lot of money and that’s not what
I’m here for. But people are giving me these grant
proposals asking for millions of dollars, and it all being on
a half page of paper, and I was like, what?! How can you submit a grant that’s only a
half page asking for that kind of money? And that’s when I realized that we
should do some project design and management training, which I recently
just got trained on while I was there. So I ended up doing a couple of trainings
and from there I was working with people to set up goals and objectives and just
some different strategic plans so that they can make their dreams a reality
and that they can submit these proposals to organizations that are offering
grants, and that they can be self- sustainable. So that was a really cool
project. There are about four or five projects that came from that, which was
just an awesome experience. So my Peace Corps experience definitely taught
me to be extremely patient, flexible, and adaptable. I just never knew what the day
was going to hold, who was going to want to work together, what kind of
experiences would come from that and those three skills have led me to where
I am today, as well. I’m still using it through my graduate program. I applied to
Illinois State University to get my master’s degree and during the summer I
was told that I’ll be teaching in the “Active for Life” program. I didn’t really
know exactly what that entailed. I knew that I’d be teaching one credit hour classes to some college students. but I didn’t understand from a full
perspective what that meant. So I got here and I realized that I was a teacher
of these four credit hour classes– each one was one credit hour– so I was
teaching indoor cycling, aerobics, weight training, and then adventure education.
I had a great supportive staff that really helped out. A lot of these classes
were taught before so there are already some sample syllabus and course outlines
and stuff like that that I could pull from, but I had to tailor it to
meet my classes needs. So every eight weeks I got
new classes that I had to teach. So it was constant learning and adapting
to every group that came in. In addition to taking my 4 classes each semester, the other thing that was interesting to work with was the
adventure education class that I taught. That class hasn’t been taught in 15
years and I was given the responsibility to, within one week, redesign
the whole curriculum and create the whole class. So I did that and the first
semester there were about 12 kids that partook in it, and then by the second
semester it jumped to 30 kids. So I doubled in participants and it was just
a really great fun experience. I just worked with the resources that I had
available to me, and I did a lot of partnering with the rec center to
make it a successful class. In addition to having a lot of great
support from the Kinesiology and Recreation Department, I had a lot of
great support from the Stevenson Center because me and another fellow classmate
were the first two individuals to participate in the Kinesiology and
Recreation track of the Community Development Program that the Stevenson
Center offers. So we’re kind of the guinea pigs, and we were constantly
giving feedback, and everyone in the Stevenson Center was extremely
helpful. They let me add things on with the Women and Gender
Studies certificate. They provided a lot of opportunities and support to make
sure that my experience was what I wanted to make of it. I was also able to
add on an inclusion recreation class and make that a graduate level class. which
was fantastic; it was right up my alley, and then like I said, the Women and Gender Studies certificate. So it was a great program and I’d highly recommend it to anybody.
Also, one of my favorite classes that I took through the Stevenson Center was
the Community and Economic Development class. That really gave me
perspective on how a community functions at all different levels, and I’ve been
able to apply what I’ve learned from that class to my current internship
which is at the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. So I got to move to
Milwaukee which has been a fantastic experience, and I am considered to be
their Health Recreation liaison. Basically the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee was awarded a $30 million grant from HUD and they’re
working on an area within a 3-mile radius. There is some low-income housing
there and they have already demolished one side and built up to make it a
mixture of low-income housing and market rate housing, and on the other side of
the street they’re doing the same thing. So they’re relocating a bunch of
families. They have caseworkers that are strategically working with each family
to make sure that the residents are still connected with jobs, their kids are
still going to the same school and just everything that’s needed when you have to
unfortunately uproot a family. So my main goal there is to work with the different
communities in the area to come together and create some recreational resources,
some health resources. I have worked with the University of Milwaukee nursing staff and together we have come up with some cooking classes which has had a
good turnout. It’s growing– there’s about eight to ten people, we do that monthly.
I’ve started some yoga classes there and then I’m currently working with the
neighborhood center that’s in that designated area to work on some grants
to get funding to improve their health and fitness center. So right now there’s
a lot of old equipment and it’ll be great if we can update that so that’s
what we’re working on currently being at this internship it
has provided me with a lot of flexibility to kind of navigate
different areas. I want a little more experience with grant writing, which I
have been getting. I’ve been able to help out with the Neighborhood Initiative
meetings which is bringing in all the neighborhood residents and some of the major stakeholders to go over what’s being done in the community, and how can residents get more involved, and what the residents want to see more of, and just
working with those groups to push out those resources that they have
been looking for and seeking. My internship has been very similar to my
Peace Corps experience where I have supervision, but I also have full range
to go make my own connections in the community and find out what
resources are already available and who’s kind of doing what so I’ve had a
lot of flexibility there to just be creative and so overall I feel like I’ve
developed an incredible amount of leadership skills from this program; the
ability to be adaptable and to navigate my way through the community
and find my niche and figure out what the community needs. Over
this next six months I’ll be working on a bunch of different projects
that are in the making right now, so hopefully some good things will come
from that. Then I plan on graduating in May and after that
hopefully finding a job. I’m still pretty open because of that flexibility as to
where I move to and the kind of work I do. I really enjoy community organizing,
and directing and guiding people, and supervising people as
to what kind of things they can do. So overall the Stevenson Center program
has been a huge help in shaping my future and I
look forward to seeing where it goes. I highly recommend taking advantage of
the Stevenson Center if you are either looking at partnering for having Fellows
come to work for you or if you are applying to be a graduate student.
Everyone is incredibly supportive and I have learned a tremendous amount from
there. Thank you for listening to me today and if you have any questions or
concerns, feel free to contact the Stevenson Center and they could put you
in touch with me. Thank you and have a good day.

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