Athens, Ga. – University of Georgia counseling professor Gwynn Powell, who pioneered UGA’s first Study Abroad Program in Russia, was recently honored for her work by the Mari El Republic, where the summer camp program is based.
Powell, an associate professor in the College of Education’s recreation and leisure studies program, received a Diploma of Honor from Mari El’s Ministry of Education for collaboration in education through the Camp Counselors Russia Study Abroad Program.
The Mari El Ministry of Education is involved in the organization of the republic’s summer camps and greatly values the long-term collaboration with the UGA program, said Powell.
“The children of the republic are able to see that their English lessons in school allow them to communicate with people from the United States, building credibility in the curriculum and confidence in the children, while the UGA students are allowed to see another country and way of life, not as tourists, but as colleagues with Russian university students,” she said.
Powell began the program five years ago, and each summer takes students to spend a month working as counselors at children’s camps (Forest Fairytale, Dubinia, Karmenia Recha, Beroska and Cooperator) in the Mari El Republic. The UGA students teach English, lead team-building games, and learn about youth development and Russian culture. Though the language barrier is an annual challenge, the students adapt quickly and learn to laugh at themselves as they communicate with hand gestures and simple words.
Students from a variety of majors (e.g., psychology, international affairs, child and family development, social work, recreation and leisure studies, and Russian language) participate in the program and they all say their confidence in themselves as leaders and problem-solvers has increased. They are forced to expand their communication skills, step out of their comfort zones to try new things and view the world differently. Their journal entries reflect this.
“The Russian children are really open and embrace their curiosity rather than hide it. It truly is amazing to see. As a result of this trip, I am reminded of the simple beauty sheer innocence and genuine curiosity can bring. It reminded me how pure the world can be and how great meeting new people can be. The greatest gift a person can give is their genuine friendship-to see a person for what they are without faults or judgment. It has helped me to see that people really are just people and there truly is a nation that can thrive on humanity,” wrote Renee Williams, a social work graduate student.
“I learned so much about Russian culture and youth development, but even more so, I learned about myself and how to face a complex world with optimism,” wrote Ben McDonald, a recreation and leisure studies undergraduate student.
Powell and her colleague, Corey Johnson, also an associate professor in the department of counseling and human development services, received the 2009 Society for Park and Recreation Educators’ Innovation in Teaching Award for the development of a new curriculum to prepare students to become recreation and leisure services professionals.
Powell is the only SPRE member to receive the Innovation in Teaching Award twice. She previously received one in 2005 for her collaboration with the college’s instructional technology program to create a DVD and software program titled, “Ins and Outs of Public Recreation.”
She also co-directed a collaboration between the recreation and leisure services program and the learning, design and technology program to develop several online training programs for youth development professionals which received a 2009 Special Recognition Award from the American Camp Association. The project led to the development of five of the seven online courses currently available on the ACA’s e-Institute.
Powell joined the UGA faculty in 2001 after receiving her Ph.D. in park, recreation and tourism management from Clemson University.
For more information about the Russia Study Abroad Program, see www.uga.edu/russiacamps.