by Juliana Reyes
Don Carroll and Emily Levine pore over a table in the Lusty Cup. Usually a place for students to meet with French tutors or discuss problem sets, the spot has become Carroll’s writing studio for the next two hours. Carroll sifts through a green folder as Levine examines the sea of papers, both handwritten and typed, that steadily begin to overwhelm the tabletop. They’re choosing a few of Carroll’s pieces to show at the end-of-semester TLI celebration.
Carroll, 56, works in Erdman. His chuckle is warm, full, and comforting, and his whole body shakes when he laughs, which is often. Carroll, who has worked at Bryn Mawr for 15 years, is compiling writing pieces for an autobiography. He describes the whole process as a journey.
“I’ve been helping Don get his thoughts out,” says Levine, a sophomore at Bryn Mawr.
And in turn, Carroll has been teaching Levine how to cook “different, simple meals,” he says.
Levine corrects him. “Soul food.” And Carroll ‘s joyous laugh fills their corner of the café again.
Levine and Carroll are part of the Empowering Learners Partnership Program (ELP), one branch of the TLI, short for Teaching and Learning Initiative. Students and staff members involved in the ELP meet for two hours a week and play the roles of both teacher and student. A student might help a staff member with his English or typing, and in return, the staff member would teach the student his native language. Education Professor Alice Lesnick, who is also the Coordinator of Empowering Learners Partnership Program, calls it a “co-study.” Partners end up inspiring each other, she says.
But this is only one sort of partnership offered by the TLI. The program, founded in the spring of 2006 by Education professor Alison Cook-Sather along with Bryn Mawr’s Chief Administrative Officer Jerry Berenson, Chief Information Officer Elliott Shore and Lesnick, involves the whole college community: staff, students, faculty. Each program has the goal of co-learning and breaking down boundaries between members of the community who don’t normally interact.
The TLI is a unique program not found at many other colleges in the country. Cook-Sather says that while some schools have programs for faculty development, she doesn’t know of any Staff/Student programs at other schools that are like Bryn Mawr’s.
From Observer to Educator
In September, Levine found herself in the Erdman meeting room, boning a fish. Carroll had a whole setup prepared for the lesson, Levine says.
“I didn’t think she was going to be able to do it,” Carroll says, smiling. “Women don’t like to touch the fish. But she had the boldness.”
Levine, a Biology major, says it was kind of like a dissection so she was used to it. After boning the fish, they fried it in the Erdman kitchen.
Carroll’s wanted to teach cooking since junior high school.
“That was my joint,” he says.
He learned to cook by watching his mother when he was a child. He calls himself an observer.
Though he’s working towards writing a book, he says his main goal right now is to continue to learn.
“I remember, as a kid, I shut down,” he says. “I didn’t think I’d learn again.”
Carroll, who has been involved in the TLI for three years now, has since been proven wrong.
Friend Request, Accepted
Thanks to the Computing III class offered by the TLI, Cynthia Njie can now smoothly navigate through iMovie, Skype, and Facebook. But she still has one problem. Her son, like most crafty teenagers, won’t accept her friend request.
“I can’t believe I’m not a friend,” she says.
“But you can still message him,” says Fabiola Decius, Njie’s student partner from computing class, “that’s what you wanted, right?”
Njie, who has worked in Haffner for three years, is vibrant and polished at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. Large gold hoop earrings glint through her black bob. She explains that sometimes her son, a freshman at Penn State, doesn’t answer her calls, so the best way to communicate with him is Facebook.
This resonates with Decius, a senior at Bryn Mawr, who says that she likes the TLI because it helps her understand her mom better.
“This is stuff she can relate to,” she says.
Decius, who has been involved with the TLI ever since her freshman year, says that the program is the only thing that keeps her motivated at Bryn Mawr. She recalls freshman year when she considered transferring – “I’m so glad you didn’t,” Njie says.
“I didn’t feel like I was needed here,” Decius says. “I didn’t feel like I was making a difference.” But after she discovered the TLI, she changed her mind. I realized this campus was for me, she says.
She loves TLI partnerships because she knows she’s going to gain “a relationship that will swerve into a friendship,” as Decius puts it.
Watching the pair, it’s obvious that their partnership has already made that jump. Decius teases Njie like an old friend, and they laugh animatedly with each other, Decius falling onto Njie’s shoulder.
Njie hopes to take a Spanish class next semester. But she is most excited for winter break, when she can show her son everything she’s learned in her class.
“He’s probably going to be looking for you,” she warns Decius. “He’s gonna be like, ‘Who is the person who taught her all of this?’”