Automotive industry leftovers fuel Korey West’s dreams of educating third-world children.
He envisions recycling tires, seat belts and carpet from cars to make shoes from the scraps. He wants to give those shoes to children in places like South America and Africa, where children walk miles to school and risk injuring their bare feet, he said.
He presented his vision for “Junkyard Shoes” as his final project for Indiana University Kokomo’s Innovation Symposium, a class intended to make students think about global issues and what they can do to solve the world’s problems.
After a semester of reading about and researching philanthropy, the environment and technology, students traveled to England and Scotland where they met people working in those areas. They also visited museums and ecological sites.
“As they study historical and current innovators and innovations, they practice thinking outside the box and examine new ways to solve problems,” said Karla Stouse, senior lecturer in English, who leads the trip.
Student projects included plans to create a microbial fuel cell, encourage a sense of community among Frankfort’s diverse populations, develop a workshop to help caregivers promote active learning in dementia patients, build a travel table from recycled plastics and develop a program to bring Afghan refugees to IU Kokomo.
West, who completed his degree in communication arts with the class, came up with his idea based on mission trips he’s taken. He then studied the TOMS shoe company, which offers customers a chance to send a pair of shoes to someone else for each pair they purchase for themselves.
Stouse said the program’s goal is to encourage students to think beyond getting a grade in a class.
“Thinking is a skill that has somehow become lost in education,” she said. “The world needs thinkers with the courage to innovate, to try new approaches and take the risks necessary to make positive changes. If we are not going to teach and encourage students to step up and help fix the world’s problems, what will the world look like 50 years from now?”
Innovation Symposium participants are nominated by faculty and chosen through an essay application and interview process. As many as 10 students can go each year. This year, nine students participated.
In England, they discussed social entrepreneurship at celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s foundation, which offers unemployed young people the chance to train for careers in the restaurant industry. They toured Covent Garden, with homeless people as their tour guides. They also visited the London Science Museum, Isaac Newton’s home, the laboratory of Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, the Bodlein Library, the British Library, the British Museum and Westminster Abbey.
Students went to the Isles of Mull and Iona in Scotland to learn about the environment. They spent two weeks at Harlaxton Manor, meeting for class twice daily and working on their final projects.
For Anthony Rentz, a junior new media communications major, that meant preparing videos to promote scholarships and grants from the Community Foundation of Howard County.
“I want to show the importance of giving and the impact grants have in the community, to encourage more people to give,” he said. “A lot of students don’t know about the scholarships that are available to them. I just want to help more people get where they want to go.”
Sarah Ferenc, a humanities major from Kokomo, created travel packets for families to use to encourage learning on their vacations.
She said the experience “pushes you to create something amazing” and requires a lot of work. It was worth it, she said.
“You get so much more out of the trip than you put in.”
Stouse said she’s been teaching the class for six years now. In that time, about 25 percent of the projects developed have actually been launched in and around the community.
One former student used her project to develop a free eye clinic at her church in Hamilton County. She even recruited doctors to perform major eye surgeries for free. Since that time, the IU school of medicine has taken over the clinic.
“Her program has been passed along so it can grow,” Stouse said.
One education major created a project to curb childhood obesity through diet and exercise. She set up a booth at the farmer’s market to spread the word.
Jennifer Kimm’s project was a little more ambitious.
In 2009, she started work on a 15-year plan to create a self-sustaining community for previously homeless women.
“My vision was big,” she said. “It was intimidating.”
Her desire to help that population of people, though, led her to a job as case manager at the Gilead House.
It was there she realized some aspects of her plan were unrealistic.
“When the project was written, I didn’t really understand poverty,” she said.
She did take one idea from her project and turn it into a successful program at the Gilead House, though.
Kimm started a service that trains and employs previously homeless women to clean houses in the area.
Some students choose not to launch their programs. But they still come back from England changed, Stouse said.
They often become student leaders and volunteer with campus projects.
“They become more engaged,” she said. “Students come back fired up to change the world. What could be more fun for a teacher?”
Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.