Psychology professor receives first Selkregg award

The very first Selkregg Community Engagement and Service Learning Award was granted to Mari Ippolito, a psychology professor at UAA. She will use the award to pay for a program in which undergraduate students from her classes will team up with troubled children in the Anchorage School District. Ippolito’s program will work in cooperation Anchorage’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a nationwide service that gives one-on-one attention to grade-school students with family problems.

Ippolito said she was very excited when she received the call at the end of the fall 2004 semester letting her know she had been chosen to receive the award. Ippolito said after applying for several grants and being rejected 90 percent of the time, she never expected to receive this award.

“I started crying because I was very surprised,” Ippolito said.

The money for the award was provided by the Iden and Selkregg families in honor of their parents and longtime Alaskans Fred Selkregg Jr., a civil rights activist, community leader and spiritual teacher, and Lidia Selkregg, a UAA professor and city planner. The Iden and Selkregg families wanted the same “intellectual courage” they saw in their parents to be encouraged in others, said Nancy Andes, director of UAA’s Center for Community Engagement and Learning.

“They believe that this fund will ultimately support academic freedom towards the goal of a civil, just and sustainable society while creating contexts in which to consider ideas, beliefs or viewpoints which have not been given a serious hearing in contemporary society,” Andes said.

Ippolito serves as secretary of Anchorage’s 21st CCLC and wants the relationship between UAA and 21st CCLC to grow. It’s important to her that the program gets the attention it deserves so more money will be donated to the program in the future.

“This award helps me do something for this program,” Ippolito said.

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She said she was touched to receive the first Selkregg award, but it’s just a drop in the bucket. She began working with 21st CCLC three years ago when a student came in to her class to talk about the organization. Ippolito discovered the program was looking for volunteers, and suggested her students consider working for 21st CCLC to complete the 25 hours of work required to pass their child development lab.

The students who participate in the program are mostly elementary education or psychology majors. Every year students work for a combined few thousand hours at various locations, completing research and helping teach children under stress how to handle difficult situations. The program gives university students professional experience in real-world settings and gives children role models, Ippolito said. Some students continue to volunteer after their lab hours are completed and others are hired by 21st CCLC.

“Everybody who participates gets something from it,” Ippolito said. “Working on this project has been truly a treasure for me.”

An initial $2,500 award will help keep the program running in Anchorage and hopefully open up some sites that were closed recently due to lack of money.

“There are more kids that need this then 21st Century is helping right now,” Ippolito said. To make sure the program is helping children who are most in need, children have to be recommended to 21st CCLC by teachers or other school staff.

A second $2,500 will be awarded when a university-community partnership is developed, said Andes, who helped in the selection process.

Andes said all of the applicants embodied intellectual courage, but Ippolito’s scholarly publication record and experience with the I Can Do program impressed the review committee enough to honor her with the award.

The I Can Do program is the project 21st CCLC wants to use to receive the second $2,500 from the Selkregg award.

About 1,300 children are currently benefiting from I Can Do, a psychological resilience project. Ippolito said some people naturally handle the stresses of life, while others have difficulty. If a parent becomes ill, loses a job or a child is struggling with a death or divorce in the family, children can take their frustrations out on other people, making things spiral out of control. They may get in a fight at school, then get sent to the principal’s office and miss class, which results in low grades.

“It is a vicious circle,” Ippolito said. Difficulties such as these cause many of the kids going into the program to have a bad attitude towards school.

Ippolito said she relates to the stress these children go through. She grew up in a large family with financial struggles. When her father became ill and could no longer work, it put a strain on all of them. A lot of her siblings’ grades dropped and one of her brothers didn’t graduate from high school.

Ippolito said she wants to give children hope through this program and help them finish school; she would love to see one of them in her college class one day. She said she wants to give them a life and a future.

“A future they can be proud of, not just one they have to get through,” Ippolito said.