Milstein program juniors work on community engaged projects throughout pandemic

As a child of immigrants and a student in the Milstein Program in Technology & Humanity, I am glad that my Milstein community project allows me to work with a local organization dedicated to helping immigrants learn English.

Open Doors English (ODE) is an organization in downtown Ithaca that provides English as a second language courses to immigrant students. My team and I were able to collect stories and essays written by ODE’s students, showcasing them on a website created just for this organization. This website details the work that Open Doors English provides, in addition to serving as a sort of scrapbook for the students, detailing their experiences and journeys. 

My parents have always talked to me about how scary it was moving from Ghana to the United States, a new country with a completely different culture, with an ocean separating them from the rest of their family. 

That feeling was echoed throughout the ODE students I interviewed. The one thing these students were grateful for, however, was the fact that Open Doors English, its students and the teachers, is a supportive community that helps make settling into Ithaca easier. The ODE project was one of several that juniors in the Milstein program worked on during the Spring 2021 semester. Other projects focused on sustainability, and using music to help students learn classroom material. This past semester saw challenges due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the Milstein juniors continued to push through and collaborate with their local non-profits, and community partners. 

The juniors utilized online meetings, video-conferences and other social distancing measures in order to make progress on their projects. Amanda Domingues, PhD student and teaching assistant for these projects, told us that she was impressed by our dedication and effort despite the restrictions the pandemic has caused. Having Amanda as a TA was a great help, as she often asked the questions that addressed problems in our projects that we weren’t even thinking about and pushed us to think more critically about what we were trying to deliver.

“Working with this young group was very rewarding for me as I saw them develop their ideas; but it was also a learning opportunity,” Domingues said. “I hope they continue the good work during their time at Milstein.”

Working with community partners has allowed the juniors to get to know the Ithaca community on a deeper level and also prepared them for future community-engaged learning. The ODE project has changed a lot since its inception almost two years ago, in the fall of my sophomore year. 

What drew me to this project was Open Door’s English commitment to welcoming all who were looking to improve their English language skills, especially immigrants who had just moved to Ithaca, and their emphasis on community. 

Working remotely to make this website for Open Doors English definitely presented some challenges due to people’s differing schedules, with most communication being done over Slack and Zoom as opposed to our usual weekly in-person meetings, where it seemed like it was easier to bounce ideas off of one another and get things completed. Despite these challenges, we were still successful in completing one goal of this project, to get the entire website live and running properly. We hope to continue working with ODE in the future to help them with any tech related needs.
I asked my project team member, Emily Kam ‘22, to reflect on her experience working on the project this semester. 

"It was wonderful to be able to interact directly with the Open Doors English students and have a personal conversation with them over Zoom,” she said. “Thinking of their inspiring and heart-warming stories encouraged us as we continued to work on our project." 

To learn more about our project, visit the Student Stories page on the Open Doors English website. 

Launched in 2017, the Milstein Program offers a unique multidisciplinary curriculum to students in the College of Arts & Sciences, with workshops in design thinking, community engagement and technology topics, and two summers spent at Cornell Tech in New York City.

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Open Doors English website