Grads become community partners

By Douglas Esser
University of Washington Bothell graduates always will have a connection as alumni, but some do more and become community partners who reach back to engage current students.

One is Nora Karena, master’s in cultural studies (MACS ’14), who is now director of housing services for YWCA in Snohomish County, helping women come out of poverty and homelessness. From her office in Lynnwood, she works with Maureen “Mo” West, a lecturer in the school of Nursing and Health Studies, and her students.

Another is Mike Irons, master’s in public policy program (MAPS ’13), who is programs manager for Snohomish County Juvenile Court in Everett. He now works with one of his former professors, Keith Nitta, in providing policy study opportunities for current MAPS students.

Both Karena and Irons say the experience benefits their organizations, helps UW Bothell students and brings them the personal satisfaction of giving back. They were among the community partners honored at a recognition celebration led by Kara Adams who heads the Office of Community-Based Learning and Research.

This past school year, Irons involved policy students in evaluating two programs run by the juvenile court: a two-week jobs readiness program called Trails to Success, and a new after-school program called Step, which helps kids on probation build community connections.

UW Bothell students observed the programs in person, conducted surveys and focus groups, interviewed staff, reported their findings and offered suggestions.

“It was just a great opportunity to have someone from outside our organization look at our data and let us know if we were meeting our intended goals,” Irons says.

Another benefit was to have the evaluation provided at no cost, except staff time. “We wouldn’t have been able to do the evaluation without UW Bothell,” he says.

Irons could see students also value the work.

“When it’s real, you have a sense you’re helping. It raises the educational experience,” he says. “It’s not abstract. It’s real.”

Irons plans to continue the partnership to keep connected with policy studies and the University.

“I owe them so much,” he says. “Whatever I can do for the program and professors that helped me, I’m willing,” he says. “I enjoy it.”

Nitta says Snohomish County Juvenile Court has been a fantastic partner, and the diversion programs fit well with values of equity, inclusion and critical engagement.

"We do these projects because students learn better through applying the concepts and skills they learn in class,” he says.

Meanwhile each quarter, UW Bothell nursing students work with Karena for their public health practicum – practical experience – at a couple of sites: the Pathways for Women domestic shelter in Lynnwood and Project Reunite at Trinity Place in Lynnwood, for homeless women in recovery, working on reuniting with children who have been removed from the home.

“I really firmly believe education is one of the best ways, surest ways, to advance economically and move yourself along,” says Karena. “Anything I can do to help another student, especially from Bothell, I’m happy to do that.”

UW Bothell students provide what the clients want, based on their needs and interests: nutrition, exercise, child safety, reproductive health and even cooking classes.

“They’re wonderful. They bring terrific energy,” says Karena.

Another reason she loves to introduce her clients to nursing students is the example the UW Bothell students provide for the women.

“My hope in exposing my clients to these student is to whet their appetites for the opportunity of education in health field. A lot already are working as nursing or medical assistants,” Karena says. “I just want them to think about advancing their education.”

Whenever she can encourage anyone to move forward – students or clients – “I love that.”