To India and back: Schreyer senior travels abroad twice for research

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – It was during her second time in Jaipur, India, that senior Marcy Herr sat in an orphanage dining hall with its owner. Rain poured down around the open air pavilion while Herr and a dozen other Penn State students listened to the woman share stories about the orphans’ tragic pasts.

“For the students who were on the trip for the first time, this really opened their eyes. But for me, I already knew these children so it hit me like ‘Wow, that’s what they went through?’” said Herr, an education policy major. “That stands out in my mind as something I’ll never forget.”

Herr traveled to Jaipur and New Delhi on two separate occasions through Schreyer Honors College. The summer after her sophomore year, Herr and seven other Schreyer Scholars spent three weeks in India as part of a pilot study abroad program. The students began their trip in a cultural exchange program in New Delhi before moving to an orphanage for the remainder of the trip.

“There were maybe 50 children in the orphanage, but then the village children would come in who spoke no English. That’s who I worked with,” said Herr. “I knew they weren’t going to remember me or the songs I was trying to teach them. Instead, I tried to help their English teacher become a better teacher.”

Herr investigated the orphanage’s curriculum and continued this research in the months after she returned to Pennsylvania. The following year, the Honors College developed the pilot program into a for-credit experience with a class in the spring, the trip to India in the summer and a follow-up class in the fall; Herr was asked to return as a teaching assistant.

On this second trip, Herr dedicated her time to helping her fellow Penn State students and to touring orphanages for her master’s thesis research.

“I actually switched my thesis topic while I was in India the second time. I’ve now been focusing on orphanages in south Asia, looking at their structure and creating a model of best practices for staffing, finances, curriculum,” said Herr. “I found a rickshaw driver who was fun, trustworthy and spoke some English. I would meet up with him every day, and he’d call orphanages until someone agreed to see me.”

Herr’s research is being used to assist a Penn State alumna, Valerie Handunge, in her efforts to start a girls’ home in Sri Lanka through the Malini Foundation. Handunge created the Malini Foundation to reduce poverty, improve access to education and promote gender equality and environmental sustainability.

For her experiences in Jaipur, Herr was featured in a recent article by Business Insider titled “18 Incredibly Impressive Students at Penn State.” She reinforced that this was only a small sampling of the amazing students at Penn State and also urged her peers to seek out opportunities like these because they are available.

“Why not? The experiences you have here will shape your entire Penn State experience,” said Herr.

Study abroad is one example of engaged scholarship – out-of-classroom academic experiences that complement in-classroom learning. Members of the University community are working on ways to elevate the role of engaged scholarship in undergraduate education and to create more opportunities for students to have such experiences.

“Even though I don’t want to graduate, I feel so well prepared for what comes next and that’s all thanks to Penn State and my mentors and everyone I’ve met in the Honors College,” said Herr, who has been accepted into the Teach for America program following graduation in May.

Herr will be speaking about her experiences in Jaipur at the inaugural Engaged Scholarship Symposium on Tuesday, March 25, at the Nittany Lion Inn. The student panel will begin at 1:30 p.m. For more information or to register for the symposium, visit symposium.engagedscholarship.psu.edu.

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Last Updated March 25, 2014