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Helping Those Who Need it Most

Jennifer Cottet ’18 believes experience, connections, and education are the most important parts of succeeding when looking into future careers.

The experiences she has had so far in her Keuka College career have earned her the Upperclassman Experiential Learner of the Year Award.

Nominated by members of the faculty, the award is given to two students—one freshman and one upperclassman. The College established the award in recognition of its longstanding emphasis on experiential learning, and to celebrate individual achievements by its students.

For Jennifer’s first Field Period®, she worked with 12 students in a special education room at Chittenango High School (CHS).

“They were all very talented, but had their own personal challenges,” says Jennifer, who was nominated for the award by Dr. Koberstein, assistant professor of child and family studies. “I learned so much from not only my supervisor, but the aides and students as well.”

In Dr. Koberstein’s nomination letter, he says he could ‘go on and on’ talking about Jennifer’s experiences.

“I am proud to have nominated you for the Upperclassman Experiential Learner of the Year,” he says to Jennifer in the letter. “Reading through your portfolio I was amazed at the amount of time you have put into experiential learning. You have so many wonderful experiences, and are focused on giving back to others. I’m not sure a moment goes by in which you are not actively engaged in the support of others.”

And supporting others is just what Jennifer experienced at CHS, where she says she learned something new every day, and the end of her first week, she began working one-on-one with the students.

“I worked with one girl on her math skills, and showed her how to use money,” says Jennifer. “I also worked with another student to help her improve her spelling, reading, and writing skills. She was very talented, she just needed a little bit of extra help. I also taught every student to spell each day of the week and month of the year. By the time I left, they could do it by themselves.”

To better understand the teaching profession, particularly special education, Jennifer also wanted to learn more about the different therapeutic and teaching techniques used in a special education classroom.

“Talking to these students became my favorite part of my Field Period®, and what I wanted to do that the most,” she says. “I learned so much more from this hands-on experience about the different disorders these students have than I ever could from a textbook.”

In fact, Jennifer says she learned much about being a special education teacher, simply by talking with her supervisor, who explained various duties that came with the job.

“We would talk about state evaluations, alternative assessments, and becoming more like a manager than a teacher,” says Jennifer. “During this time, I realized how much I love working with this age because you begin making relationships with young adults, but they are also very teachable and willing to learn.” 

After the conclusion of her first Field Period®, Jennifer thinks she’d “love to work with people with special needs, but not as a special education teacher. I think I would love to work with this age group or the elderly; I think I would like to be a counselor.”

Building off of her first Field Period® experiences, Jennifer chose to explore a different area of counseling when she worked at BRiDGES and Clear Path for Veterans. BRiDGES is a non-profit substance and alcohol center that focuses on prevention and education across the surrounding counties. Clear Path for Veterans is a center for veterans and their families.

“BRiDGES exposed me to an office setting that helped me in my professional development,” says Jennifer. “My dream is to go into therapy and counseling with families, and I may be dealing with substance or alcohol abuse on a daily basis. My greatest take-away that I must remember when entering my profession is that family support is just as important as helping the client. Strengthening the client’s support system is significant in helping them improve the issues they are facing.”

Jennifer says she was able to learn something about herself through this experience.

“I learned I need to work hands-on with people—I want to be out working in the field, helping others and making a difference,” she says. “BRiDGES allowed me to be exposed to a lot of new things which will benefit my future as I enter the professional world.

The second part of Jennifer’s Field Period® was at Clear Path for Veterans, which she says was created to feel like a community for the veterans and their families.

“During my experience here, I learned so much about integrative medicine, and more about posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI),” she says. “Everyday at Clear Path was a learning experience, as I learned about the veteran culture and the things they battle after they return from duty. I also learned the importance of having an action plan when you are in counseling.”

 She was also able to work with veterans and connect with them at a personal level.

“I worked with their families, helped them on resumes, cooked with them, and tried to make their lives better,” says Jennifer. “I will never be the same after this Field Period®.”

She might also say the same thing about her experiences with Keuka College’s first group Field Period® to El Sauce, Nicaragua. The group travelled with members of the Rochester-based 4Walls Project.

“I was afraid that I was not going to be able to connect with people in Nicaragua because of the language barrier, but I learned quickly that that was the furthest thing from the truth. During our stay, we worked with three families to build their 4Walls houses, explored Nicaraguan culture, and built friendships across linguistic and cultural boundaries,” says Jennifer.

She adds that walking on the worksite the first day was eye opening, heart wrenching, and humbling for her. Before the College group started building, Jennifer says the house they worked on was made of cardboard, plastic, tree branches, nails, and bottle caps. 

“I could not imagine living in those conditions, fully exposed to bugs, animals, and the weather,” says Jennifer. “To say the least, my heart was on fire to build a house after I saw what this beautiful family was living in before. I mixed cement, carried buckets of cement and water, filled the spaces between the bricks in the wall with cement, and most importantly, I began to make connections with complete strangers who are now family.”

“This Field Period® gave me a newfound desire to continue serving others and giving fortune to those who need it more than myself,” she adds. “I have high hopes that students will continue to travel to Nicaragua and allow the trip to change them in the way it changed me.”

In addition to Jennifer’s Field Period® opportunities, she is actively involved in social responsibility. From collecting more than 300 toys for children spending Christmas in a hospital to organizing a fundraiser for a friend battling leukemia, Jennifer has a strong desire to positively impact others’ lives.

“As a result, I spend my free time volunteering wherever there may be a need,” she says. In the past, I have volunteered at blood drives for the American Red Cross, Clinton Crest Manor in Penn Yan, Maple Downs Retirement Home, Penn Yan annual StarShine event, participated in the College’s annual Angel Tree Project, and participated in One Walk, which raises suicide awareness. I also travelled to Costa Rica for the College’s Alternative Spring Break to help build a house for a revered and his family.”

On campus, Jennifer is involved in Students Helping Students and the Behavioral Science Association. She also helped organize an event to raise awareness for those with eating disorders.

“I have struggled with an eating disorder and had to enter treatment for a couple of months,” she says. “As a result, I want to encourage other people’s recovery with my own testimony. During National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I held an event to raise awareness and break some of the stigmas associated with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating. We watched a TED talk on eating disorders, followed by a discussion as to what the group learned. It was inspiring to hear the feedback from this event.”

But even with all of Jennifer’s experiential opportunities, both in-and-out of the classroom, Dr. Koberstein believes she missed some things.

“Nowhere in your portfolio does it state that instead of waiting and relying on scholarship support for your Nicaraguan trip, you held your own fundraiser and quickly raised the amount needed,” he says in his nomination letter. “Further, I didn’t see mention that once you had the necessary funding for your trip, you withdrew your application for the Judith Oliver Brown ’63 Memorial Scholarship because, ‘someone else might need it more than me.’”

Dr. Koberstein adds that ‘selfless’ is an understatement when describing Jennifer.

“My dear Jenny, you are a person by which others look up to, myself included. I am truly lucky to have you as an advisee. You shine bright and make the world a better place,” adds Dr. Koberstein. “You are a person of the strongest character, and I am proud of you, as your advisor, mentor, professor, and friend. Mark my words—someday Keuka College will name an award after you.”

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