St. Norbert College's Gap Experience Program

By: Diana Delbecchi  

The Gap Experience is a semester-long, experientially based service-learning program designed for incoming first-year students at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. During the semester this program seeks to deepen the students' understanding of community via a transformative curriculum which first targets the students' own raw leadership and communication skills to set a foundation they can then build upon. This course is set in the backdrop of bonafide wilderness where students must learn to rely on one another and trust themselves to succeed. Students move to begin addressing real community needs, build relationships of mutuality with community partners, and study what it means to work for the common good. This is completed in both Chicago and on the US/Mexico border with a focus on urban poverty, gentrification, racism, immigration, indigenous populations and is underpinned by a robust discussion and analysis of the myth of the "American Dream". The experience ends with a four-week international immersion where the students see themselves as part of a globally connected world. In Guatemala, they study human rights by engaging with people on the ground and partnering with a local coffee co-op. It is through a unique combination of outdoor challenges, demanding study, and travel abroad that students are emboldened to confront complex social-justice issues and engage in real-world solutions to these problems. We will share our programs challenges and successes with attendees and discuss our approach to help students gain intercultural understanding and grow into global citizens via an inclusive educational environment.

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Diana Delbecchi

Assistant Director, Gap Experience Program, St Norbert College, United States
WI, United States

I am a passionate social justice advocate with a key interest in immigration policies, migrant and refugee rights and issues around education. After graduating with an MA in Gender, Globalisation and Rights I spent six months working in a refugee camp in Greece for the organization, I AM YOU. In this role I provided educational programming for out-of-school refugee youth. I am now the Assistant Director for the Gap Experience Program at St. Norbert College. In my role I manage the academic and service components of this unique experiential learning program. I coordinate with various partner organizations to orchestrate a smooth semester. My role centers on bridging the academic to the service being performed on the ground. Human rights are central to this program with the goal of exposing students to a number of social justice issues facing populations both here and abroad. In addition to my job duties, I use my experience volunteering in camps to give presentations and educate my community on refugee rights. In my spare time I founded a female empowerment group for young Somali teens focusing on building a better community for immigrants in Green Bay.