At 19, Katrina continues a trajectory for meeting her personal and professional goals. With only 12 more credits left to complete her Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science, her competency dashboard and electronic portfolio reflect a committed learner that acts with agency, a clear sense of self and is armed with a core set of competencies that will serve her in her future career and beyond. It is clear that her early learning experiences set a clear pathway in the sciences. Her work in community gardens, internships with the county health department and a team of mentors that supported her at various stages of learning were foundational to today’s success.
Katrina’s journey was not without challenge, however. Beginning around age 14, Katrina struggled significantly to find her place socially and academically. She had spent years at the learning center, supported by her learner advocate Sam, surrounded by peers and adults that she trusted and knew deeply; she had built a set of skills to choose learning experiences that aligned to her needs and aspirations, and reflected different formats to ensure she could meet the rigor of more advanced learning outcomes; and she had transitioned beyond a formal academic setting, beginning to engage more frequently with community-based opportunities. However, these transitions to a more open environment presented opportunity for Katrina to make choices that weren’t healthy. As with many adolescents, Katrina began to experiment across multiple social situations and with a variety of drugs and alcohol. Social pressures took priority over academics and her family and Sam lost their influence on Katrina’s choices.
The flexibility of the learning system enabled her family and her learner advocate to respond to Katrina’s challenges in unique ways. This not only included changing learner advocates to one who was more experienced with adolescence and the requirements and demands of higher education, but allocating learning dollars to services that supported Katrina’s social and emotional development needs as well.
Over time, and with targeted support, Katrina’s learning playlists reflected greater and greater academic rigor, community-based engagement and interdisciplinary study. By 16, most of her coursework was through internships and at the community college enabling her to transfer her credits to university, where she studies today.
Every morning Katrina works as an administrative assistant in the Division of Laboratory Sciences. At 17, her learning advocate David introduced her to a mentor in the field of environmental health. Her mentor has been instrumental in helping her chart an academic pathway as well as make connections in the field, including at the National Center where she landed her first job. With the help of David and her mentor, Katrina not only identified Georgia State University as the right match for her studies, but was able to take online courses in Colorado using her educational dollars to meet core competencies and basic courses in the field. By getting a head start on university courses, college became an option for Katrina.
One of four remaining required classes, this seminar explores a diversity of medical systems and forms of healing around the world. It is one of Katrina’s favorites as it has the greatest connect to learning experiences she had back in Colorado. She always loved seminar format and the exploring and questioning of each other's ideas. Before moving to Georgia, Katrina launched a community book club, creating a cross-generational monthly meeting at the local the library. This book club was picked up by a learning provider, who uses this opportunity to support other learners in meeting literacy competencies through preparing and leading book talks with members of the community.
Once a month, Katrina Skypes with the self-selected and self-facilitated triad that she had when she was eleven. Her relationship with Kate and Andre resurfaced during her late adolescence at the peak of her struggles. Although they traveled very different learning pathways, they remain an important component to each other's success. They still talk about learning goals but their conversations have grown to include professional aspirations and general personal check-ins. This now informal support network is an important part of her life.
As the description reads, this course introduces the key health effects of environmental exposures and the epidemiologic methods used to identify and estimate those effects. The course is not only significant since it represents one of the final degree requirements, but is in preparation for a global internship that Katrina was chosen for next year. Sponsored by the Global Health Institute, she will head to the Guatemalan site for Behrhorst Partners for Development and focus on chronic childhood malnutrition.
Sugata Mitra, The School in the Cloud