"I learned to have confidence in myself"

Collins.jpg My name is Liz Collins. I am a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Minnesota, and I am taking a class called Public Affairs 1401: Community Organizing for the Public Good. This is not a typical lecture class because there are only about 30 students, and we all sit in a circle each time we meet. The instructors, Dennis Donovan and Harry Boyte, encourage us to do a lot of small group work, whether it be analyzing a text or getting to know each other. They have us do a lot of fun and creative things as well, such as performing small skits and singing. A critical part of this class is learning how to build relationships with our peers and also people in the professional world. We do ‘one-to-ones’ with these people, in hopes that we can find things in common and develop a relationship over time. We have also practiced by doing one-to-ones with each other in class, and Dennis has set an example by meeting personally with each of us and asking about our lives and families and what our self-interest is in taking this class.

Another large part of our class has been getting us to focus on how to build public confidence. We have all written a public narrative, which is basically a written version of our life story and what makes us who we are. It was a good exercise, because it made me think about the things in my life I have had to overcome, and why those things have made me a stronger person today.

The hardest time in my life was definitely in middle school, when I was 13. I was a competitive Irish step dancer, and after eight years I was finally at the championship level. After completing my dances at a competition in Denver, I could not feel my legs. To make a long story short, six months later I figured out I had a stress fracture that had turned into a broken vertebra in my back. This led to quitting dance altogether and wearing a back brace off and on for a year and a half. It was hard to go to school every day with it on and to be laughed at by my friends, but I got through it because of the support of my family and my realization that my injury could have been much worse. Surprisingly, having to quit dance led me to join the show choir at my high school. It was an amazing experience where I met great people and made life long friends.

Finally, Dennis and Harry have taught us to be conscious about what is happening in our respective communities and to get more involved. In class, we are working in small groups to gather information and conduct interviews with a business or organization in the Twin Cities that we feel is doing public work. My group chose the Warrior to Citizen Campaign, which is a grassroots effort to reintegrate veterans back into their communities after returning home from war. Another part of our assignment is to give a presentation to a group of people we think would be interested in our topic. My group is going to present to the Center for Civic Engagement at Minneapolis Community and Technical College in Minneapolis. This might sound easy enough, except I have a long-standing fear of public speaking. If there were optional presentations in high school, I was the person who avoided them. However, I am starting to feel a little better about it, mostly because of this class. Dennis and Harry, as well as the other students, have helped me recognize that what I have to say is important and that people will want to listen. I think it makes a huge difference when you present something and you’re confident in yourself as well as the material being presented.

This semester, I have learned many great skills from Dennis, Harry, and my fellow classmates that I will be able to use in whatever I choose to do for the rest of my life. Most importantly, I learned to have confidence in myself.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs