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International experiences inspire students’ local service

Jun 12, 2024
A group of students pose in front of a castle

KOKOMO, Ind. — Picking up trash on an English beach inspired Gabbie Nank to consider how she could make a difference in her Indiana hometown.

“I felt I was helping the environment,” she said. “I felt that I was having a positive impact. It inspired me to come back to my own community and do positive impactful things. It makes me think about how I can be a positive person in my community.”

That’s the whole point of the Innovation Symposium, Indiana University Kokomo’s three-week program that takes students to England, where they meet with philanthropists and innovators, tour historic and environmental sites, and apply what they’ve learned to a project to solve a global problem.

Karla Stouse, teaching professor of English and humanities, developed the travel class in 2008, and has led nine expeditions. Minda Douglas, associate professor of fine arts, co-led the May 2024 Innovation Symposium, and will lead it in the future after Stouse’s retirement in December.

“It was an exceptional trip,” Stouse said. “They made friends everywhere they went, which is what we expect the Innovation Symposium to do. Everyone we met had something they wanted to share with the students or something they wanted to do for the students. That’s a trend that started with the first trip in 2008. We want to be the group everyone is glad to see coming and is sad to see going.”

While in England, students visited St. Dunstan’s and the Guildhall to see how ancient and modern can co-exist, learned about site preservation and archeological excavations, cleaned up trash on beaches in Cornwall, discussed sustainability with local fishermen, toured Restormel and Tintagel to experience the impact of tourism on the environment, took a walking tour of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset to see the effects of open access to fragile environments, and learned about horticulture at the Eden Project.

Julian Wallace especially enjoyed meeting staff at the Eden Project, a domed botanical garden and sustainability education center inside a reclaimed clay pit.

“All the workers there were super friendly and super passionate about what they do,” said Wallace, from Kokomo. “It’s how I see myself in the future. I want to have that same passion they have at the Eden Project in my job.”

He also appreciated the opportunity to build new relationships while traveling.

“From the time we landed in England to the time we left, we went from being strangers to being a big family group of friends,” he said.

Nank, Lafayette, said the Innovation Symposium provided several firsts for her, including her first time outside the United States and her first time on a beach, which ended up being one of her favorite moments.

“It really made me feel in touch with nature,” she said. “Even though it was cold and a rocky beach instead of sand, I loved it because it was the beach. I’d never seen anything like it before. It was endless.”

Tera Gotschall found inspiration at Dove Cottage, a free hospice service funded by a charity shop, and tearoom.

“Everything was donated, and all the profits go to caring for hospice patients in the area,” she said. “All the workers are volunteers. It was awesome to see everyone working together for their common goal.”

She was interested to talk to other students about their final projects, and to work on her own, planning educational activities at a nature center in Tipton County, where she lives.

“It was really inspiring to see everyone working for change, on a project unique to their own career goals and personal goals. It helps strengthen our campus community.”

Academic advisor and alumna Hannah Bourne said joining the group makes up for her missed trip in 2020. She appreciated the chance to learn and talk about global issues as part of Innovation Symposium.

“It’s awesome to have space to talk about those things,” she said. “In the stress of everyday life, it’s easy for that to get lost, or feel like you are powerless and unable to make change.

“Having these three weeks to see all these incredible things and talk to all these amazing people, and then making space for these conversations with people who are younger than me and in a different space in their lives, it gives you hope they’re going to go on and do some amazing things, and maybe I can as well.”

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