Feature Stories

Faculty Fellow Dr. Iraida Carrion Engages the Community Locally and Overseas

Upon entering the Bangla Saheb Sikh temple in Delhi, India, Dr. Iraida Carrion, watched as people from all walks of life sat together on the floor sharing a meal, which is provided daily for free to anyone who wishes to join. "I felt a pang in my stomach—I need to add a service component to this course," Carrion, Associate Professor of Social Work, said of her study abroad course, which she co-taught earlier this summer with Dr. Manisha Joshi, Assistant Professor of Social Work. 

Dr. Iraida Carrion, Associate Professor of Social Work

                                                 Dr. Iraida Carrion, Associate Professor of Social Work

Following this epiphany, Carrion and Joshi with RIWATCH and other community partners in Arunachal Pradesh coordinated a day of tree planting at a local school and cleaned the maternity ward at a local hospital alongside members of Enjalu Menda Women's Empowerment Forum.

Joshi, a native of India, whose two-month old daughter accompanied the fifteen students on the trip (and, as the students joked, earned her six credits), said that the partners in India found the chance to host the visiting students to be remarkable for them as well. Joshi said of her and Carrion's study abroad class, "Oh my God, it was a big deal!"

(from left to right) Carrion, Dr. Manisha Joshi, Jennifer Grau, Amanda Porter, Barry Melton, Samantha Hafner, Alexandra Cario and Christopher Koester

(from left to right) Carrion, Dr. Manisha Joshi, Jennifer Grau, Amanda Porter, Barry Melton, Samantha Hafner, Alexandra Cario and Christopher Koester

In fact, Carrion was so excited about visiting India for the first time, Joshi shared that she had to hold onto her colleague as she stood in the bus eagerly snapping photos along their journey, a four-hour ride which turned into fourteen. Several of the students were moved to create videos of their experiences in India, which clearly had been transformative for all of them.

Joshi said they all shared a "collective memory" of this trip, and during their final presentations they each reflected on the richness of the experience for the faculty, students, and the partners in India, who also benefited from the cultural exchange, particularly focused on the respective country's perceptions of the practice of social work. The students were unanimous in their praise for the experience, especially their opportunity to raise their own cultural competency level. As budding social workers, they are well aware that they will work with patients and clients from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences; therefore having a cultural immersion such as this one is something they can surely draw upon during their careers.

Additionally, the USF students learned from their counterparts that the Indian social work program focuses largely on community intervention and less on one-on-one client relationships as is typical in the US. This raised a number of interesting questions for both groups of students to consider. One USF student said that when their contemporaries in India learned of the model where clients make appointments and actively seek out counseling, "they thought it was strange."

Another significant take-away for the students was the chance to visit the maternity wing in a local hospital in northeast India, which to American eyes did not appear to be as modern nor did it have state-of-the-art technology to offer patients. Amanda Porter, one of the students, said, "They do so much with so little, which was so powerful for me to see."

Samantha Hafner shared that she was struck upon arriving in India that she was immediately "enveloped in their culture" and noted that the cameras were turned on them: they became a tourist attraction, which she found surprising and remarkable. She relished the chance to play with the children and found that the lack of ability to communicate with one another seemed to make their bond more intimate and special, because they had to communicate through emotions rather than words. She also wisely noted that many of the problems she researched in India regarding migrant workers who often go unprotected by the country's labor laws are shared by migrant children in the US working on tobacco farms.

USF students helping plant trees with RIWATCH and other community partners in Arunachal Pradesh.

              USF students helping plant trees with RIWATCH and other community partners in Arunachal Pradesh.

Another student, Alex Cario, in summing up her experience in Carrion and Joshi's study abroad class, cited the following passage from Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach: "Travel isn't always pretty. It isn't always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that's okay. The journey changes you; it should change you.... You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind."

By engaging in a cultural exchange that included an important service component, the students and their professors experienced a change for the better. Clearly they brought back something with them: a fresh perspective and a better understanding of another culture as well as their own in comparison. They also left behind a part of themselves with their kindness and willingness to reach out and help another community in a meaningful way.

Carrion commented, "If five of them got it, then I'm fine," but based on the class presentations, the cultural shift and global perspective was not lost on anyone. She said her students wished even more opportunity for service had been built into the curriculum, so Carrion and Joshi plan to do just that when they teach the course again. In addition, they have already begun to coordinate an exchange program to engage graduate students from India to the diverse communities in the Tampa Bay Area.

Back in the states, Carrion, who also serves as the Master's of Social Work Program Chair, has already been widely recognized for her community engaged teaching. She was selected by the Vice Provost to serve as a Faculty Fellow for the Academy of Teaching and Learning Excellence (ATLE), precisely because of her "commitment to teaching and to USF," said Dr. Kevin Yee, Director of ATLE. She has been sharing her teaching tips and strategies for engaged learning during her two-year fellowship, which continues during the upcoming school year.

During her workshop "Learning How to Integrate Community Engagement in Students' Classroom Skills Development," Carrion shared with other faculty her techniques for bringing working professionals into her Individual Treatment course. The guest professionals role play real scenarios they have encountered in their practices, and the students experiment with a therapeutic role, applying the theories they have studied in class. Then, Carrion, the professional social worker, and later their fellow students provide constructive critiques after observing the students in action during the role play. Carrion also video tapes the sessions and sends them to the individual students so they can learn from watching their own performance in working with a client.

It is quite a reality check for a student to engage in a role-playing technique, particularly in the hands of a professional social worker, and many lament how much more difficult it is to deal with an actual scenario. It makes them more aware, she said, "of the reality of people suffering."

Merry Schoch, a practitioner who participates in Carrion's class said, "Since my scenario is a real life scenario the feedback I provide from the interaction stems not only from my professional and educational experiences but also from the emotional side as well."

Although preparing with a team of outside social workers is a "lot more work on the front end," Carrion observed, "it is worth it." A former clinical social worker herself, Carrion also thinks it is important to stay intimately connected with the community and with what is happening in the field. "I'll be totally out-of-touch if I don't do that," she noted.

Brandice Corriveau, a former student of Carrion's and a guest practitioner said, "Dr. Carrion is simply an amazing professor. She always thinks of what the students will most benefit from and strives to fulfill that. When you are a student sweating and freaking out, it's helpful to know that the person across from you has been in your shoes. As the professional, it makes you realize how much you have grown from that place of fear to the place of confidence."

Up next, Carrion plans to continue her engagement in community participatory research in Wimauma, FL a rural impoverished area with many migrant families, in conjunction with the Hispanic Services Council, where she serves on the board.