MENOMONIE — Menomonie Middle School eighth-grader Rachael May decided to attend the intercultural leadership portion of the Summer STEAM Experience at UW-Stout because she wants to know how to stop bullying.
“A friend of mine was bullied because of her different culture,” May said. “I want that to stop. I want to know ways to stop bullying. Just because people are different doesn’t mean they should be treated differently.”
Intercultural leadership was the newest offering of STEAM Experience, a weeklong collaboration of UW-Stout’s art and design camp and its science, technology, engineering and mathematics camp for student in grades eight to 12.
STEAM Experience is thought to be one of the first times such a camp has been offered, said Leni Marshall, an intercultural development ambassador and a professor in the UW-Stout English and philosophy department. Nine students participated in the camp.
“Intercultural leadership is finding ways to connect people across cultural differences in ways that help acknowledge our differences and strengths,” Marshall said. “It’s about being aware enough of one’s own cultural beliefs and assumptions so that we can respond to differences in ways that respect other people’s values and still maintain our own. Intercultural leadership helps us work together and get things done.”
Bringing intercultural leadership to the STEAM camp made sense, given how teens nationally are showing great ability to lead, Marshall said. She noted the Parkland, Fla., teens leading the debate on gun violence after a school shooting there on Valentine’s Day that killed 17 students and teachers.
“We’ve seen teens without any leadership experience step up. It’s exciting to imagine the possibilities if they had leadership training,” Marshall said.
One activity at the camp was preflocking, a term Marshall created. Students walked, crawled or hopped in a space together, learning to follow each other and to lead.
“At first, the lag time between when one person starts and when the whole group is moving is relatively long, as is the time between when one person stops and everyone stops,” Marshall explained. “As the group of people gets to know each other better, their movements become more synchronous, and that lag time decreases.”
Research has shown that practicing synchronous movements together unites a group. “Thus, preflocking is a way to create community and a way to help students better understand the idea of synchrony and the existence of culturally-dependent use of space and pace of movement,” Marshall said.
Students also talked about nonverbal communication and how it can vary in different cultures. They donned sunglasses with different lens colors to help understand how cultures have different world views.
They also sampled diversity beans, jelly beans with a different flavor than the outside color of the bean suggests.
“This candy is just like people — you can’t determine what’s on the inside by simply looking at the outside,” the label stated on the candy. “It reminds us to experience people one at a time and enjoy their unique qualities.”
UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer and Provost Patrick Guilfoile were guest speakers at the camp. Meyer told the students he believes a leader should respect others, have integrity and be accepting. “Being a good listener is really important,” Meyer said.
He said UW-Stout is committed to being more inviting to other cultures and has a growing international student population.
“We all learn from our differences,” he said.
Setting goals is important too, he said. “I would urge you to pursue your dreams,” Meyer said. “You can accomplish pretty much anything you set your mind to.”
The camp is being evaluated by a reviewer with the National Science Foundation to see if grant funding could be applied for other such camps or educational activities, Marshall said.
“I am hoping the students will walk out of here having expanded their understanding of themselves as intercultural leaders and having the confidence and skills to bring some ideas back to their communities and have the awareness that will let them become the kind of people who can build bridges that celebrate differences,” Marshall said.
Rin Kilde, 17, of Menomonie, a high school senior, attended the intercultural leadership experience and plans to become a teacher or a social worker.
“I just thought this would be a great way to start that process,” said Kilde, who expected the camp would be about using correct diversity language and was pleased it was more about communicating with people.
‘Achieve a lot’
Marshall, UW-Stout professor Kate Thomas, social science, and interculturalists Angela Williams, of Salt Lake City, and Mafra Clark, of Nashville, Tenn., co-facilitated the camp.
It was encouraging, Williams said, to see students figure out how to understand and communicate effectively and respectively.
Thomas pointed out that intercultural leaders bring people together. “We are different, and we can tackle a lot,” she said.
Including intercultural leadership, 13 courses were part of the Summer STEAM Experience. About 200 campers also took part in such activities as interior design, studio art, video game design, 3D animation and digital film making.