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Cornell University

CLASP celebrates courage of students, staff learners

Steve Develn

Steve Devlen, assistant director, Facilities Management, shared the words that come to his mind when he thinks of CLASP, including courage, appreciation, friendships and confidence.

Through an innovative program where staff members achieve learning goals by working with student mentors, Mark Robinson shared his narratives of local history through the creation of a blog. Leila Ellis, a certified arborist hoping to use that certification in future jobs, learned how to create a resume and cover letter. Neil Aiken worked on a science fiction creative writing piece.

Whether they honed their writing, math or computer skills or increased their typing or note taking abilities, the Cornell employees who participated in this year’s Community Learning and Service Partnership (CLASP) program all had one thing in common, said Steve Devlen, assistant director, Facilities Management: courage. Other words come to mind when he thinks of CLASP, he said, including appreciation, friendships and confidence.

Speaking to about 80 CLASP participants May 11 at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Devlen noted that the student mentors also demonstrated courage, as many of them had never taught or mentored an adult before. “Taking on new learning, new challenges: it takes a lot of courage to go into something like this,” he said. “Life begins outside … outside of your comfort zone.”

Many staff who sign up for CLASP are custodial, dining and hospitality staff. Some are beginning to learn English; others have completed their high school or college education and hope to branch out in their careers. A majority joined CLASP to improve their computer skills in Word, Excel or PowerPoint or to create or revise their cover letters and resumes. Most voiced some trepidation before meeting their student mentors, and many thanked their mentors for their patience while they learned new skills.

The students thanked their learning partners for teaching them as well. While some students have spent several semesters mentoring with CLASP, for others this was their first time, and at first they were concerned they would not have anything in common with the staff member with whom they were paired.

They learned differently. “I’ve learned more in this partnership than in any other classes – high school or college,” said Asher Zelson ’21. Several mentioned life lessons: learning patience, to be positive during hard times, to never stop learning. Both staff learners and students highlighted the friendships that grew out of their mentoring relationships.

CLASP “promotes education through all stages of life, through all people,” said Dave Nelson, CLASP program liaison.

Annalisa Raymer, Development Sociology, director of CLASP, noted that participation in CLASP is dependent on the support of the employees’ supervisors and managers. She and her colleagues recognized Anne Delong, whose encouragement and support have made a difference in the lives of those staff members reporting to her, and Rebecca Rypkema from the Statler Hotel, who encouraged increased participation of hospitality employees and gave up her office once a week for a CLASP learning partnership.

(Nancy Doolittle; Cornell Chronicle)