Work Skills Gained Through Work Study

Alexa Robinson prepares for a semi-professional production of Oklahoma.

September 12, 2018

“I’ve been a dancer my whole life, and I was dancing away in high school when my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. The year after his diagnosis we had Love Your Body Week, my second, and I saw how completely my attitude changed about everything—how it made me love my body for all the privileges it gives me as an able person and a person who can express myself through movement so easily and so comfortably.”

Gonzaga’s Dance for Parkinson’s program is what brought Helen Schantz (’20) to Gonzaga, and with her she brought Love Your Body Week, a national campaign that challenges conventional beauty standards. Schantz’s unique perspective synthesized the two, and it was that vision that inspired Suzanne Ostersmith to seek out a McDonald Work Award that would afford Schantz the opportunity to explore the possibilities while helping build the Gonzaga dance program.

Over the two-semester award, Schantz learned the Dance for Parkinson’s pedagogy (gaining teaching skills); helped conceive and execute a week of events for Love Your Body Week, culminating in a fundraising event (organization and planning); and presented at the Hope Conference of the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation (public speaking skills)—all as a sophomore. Not too bad.

Robert and Claire McDonald conceived and funded these awards to give students the opportunity to develop career proficiencies while making meaningful contributions to the Gonzaga and Spokane communities. Unlike federal work study opportunities, faculty members apply for them on behalf of specific students for specific projects, and they’re born out of a recognition of potential and a desire to build skillsets in students in a way that the classroom typically doesn’t. 

Not to be discounted, federal work study opportunities can often translate into ideal resume builders, too. Over winter break, Alexa Robinson (’20) offered to work with Ostersmith over the summer, and Ostersmith jumped at the opportunity. In June, Robinson stepped in at the Libby School’s anti-bullying campaign while Ostersmith was traveling for work, and throughout the summer as a substitute dance captain at the Wheatland Theatre Co. in Davenport as they prepared for their semi-professional production of Oklahoma

Of her summer’s experiences, Robinson reflects that, “It was a really big leadership role, and it was a big contrast between working with kids than adults. With kids, they have this innate respect for you because you’re older than they are, but with Oklahoma, I was the youngest person in the room working with all these adults.”

“To see her in that setting was wonderful,” says Ostersmith. “I set up the model of Alexa learning from assisting and watching me teach, to side-by-side teaching, and eventually she taught and I served as mentor; it’s the perfect way to develop. Learning—and not the kind you can get from a book.”

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