The Montana Innocence Project

On day one of my internship at the Montana Innocence Project my supervisor asked to meet at the picnic tables outside of the Alexander Blewett III law school to review my summer assignments. I was eager to help, even though I was unsure what I would be helping with… or where the picnic tables outside the law school were at. With one hand on the handlebars and one wrestling with an americano I rolled my bike to a stop in front of my supervisor, sat down, and by the meetings end I had compiled a list of assignments in my notebook. Now, as I cross the last of those assignments from my notebook in my final week at MTIP, I have a lot to smile about and little to forget. My global theme is “inequality and human rights” and I worked with the development and communications associate at the MTIP, whose mission is to exonerate the innocent and prevent wrongful convictions. During this experience, I have made incredible connections with impressive people, and I have learned a ton including: how to better synthesize expert jargon to write a story that connects with people, how to better research on the internet using tools like google alerts, how to create engaging social media posts and I have learned the difference between journalism and writing as part of an organization’s communications team. But the most impactful and all-encompassing realization that this internship has provided me is that “justice” in our criminal legal system is more subjective than I previously had thought. And the work MTIP is doing is admirable and very closely aligned with my idea of “justice.” It has spurred me to consider law school more seriously. And it has made me more aware of the criminal legal system’s often unknown or misunderstood obstacles that are placed before somebody charged with a crime in the US. I chose this beyond the classroom experience because to entertain my own interests and to explore my global theme of “inequality and human rights” and it did just that. As I wrote in the article I have linked on the picture below: Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “It is better 100 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer.” But to MTIP legal director Caiti Carpenter, “That’s not how the system works. We are a system of efficiency, more often than not.”

Washington DC

My global theme is Inequality and Human Rights. This theme means different things to different people, but I use it to explore how the world is shaped by disparities in education, gender equality, and political power. Inequalities are woven into the institutions, norms, and language around us. When enough people find these inconsistencies unacceptable, we have a chance to change. 

This summer, I went to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. and interned in Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office. I was in the gallery while the historic infrastructure vote was passed, I saw Dr. Anthony Fauci walk down the hallway, and I listened to the Capitol Policemen’s testimonies on the January 6th insurrection. Washington D.C., itself is proof of forward motion, positive change, and history created. 

The most important thing to me was being exposed to different people from different places with different life experiences and world views. I’ve been in Montana for most of my life, often around like-minded people. The internship was in a Minnesota office, where I met with Texas delegations, ate with Maine interns and talked with people from around the United States. We got to discuss different issues, their opinions, and our preferred outcomes. This was worth the trip.

Most importantly, this experience showed me the leader I don’t want to be. Another intern and I were chosen to sign Senators and their staff into a committee meeting our first week. When we got to the meeting, it was set up differently than requested. Without missing a beat, the man in charge started yelling. He was yelling at the catering staff, his own employees, into his phone, at the interns. I had never heard someone talk to people so harshly. The other intern and I left that meeting thankful he was not our permanent boss. If there comes a day when I talk to someone like he talked to those around him, I will rescind my place as a leader. He showed no compassion, sympathy, or patience, three very important traits.

Coming away from this experience, I know that the political world is not for me, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. There are still cultures and environments I haven’t met and problems we haven’t solved.

Sustainable Food Production in Missoula

My global theme is resources and sustainability, and my global challenge is focused on sustainable food production. This theme and challenge emphasize humans’ dependency on the natural world and preserving what limited resources we have left by integrating sustainability practices into humans’ everyday activities. I believe that sustainable food production relates to resources and sustainability because by reducing the amount of resources needed for food growth it can decrease humans impact of the environment. During my Beyond the Classroom experience I participated in an internship through the UM Dining Gardens. I worked with three UM gardens that are associated with the University. I worked at the on campus Lommasson Garden as well as the Microgreens Garden within the Food Zoo. I also had the chance to work at the garden located off South Avenue, a few blocks away from campus. UM Campus Gardens work tirelessly to ensure their food is grown sustainably. In addition, the UM Campus Gardens invest in composting food waste, conserving water and energy, collaborating with other community members and businesses, and pursues the purchase of locally and sustainably produced food.

During this internship, I developed a better understanding of the diverse perspectives related to resources and sustainable food production. I had the chance to experience the hands-on hard work that sustainable food production requires from a farmer’s perspective. While working with the UM Campus Gardens, I learned that patience is not the only essential skill for a successful harvesting season. It also requires time management, and extensive planning. This is what I valued the most from this internship. I gained knowledge about the in-depth planning that garden creation requires. I also learned that what makes a garden successful is the amount of work you put into it. For example, I spent a lot of time this semester weeding the many rows at the South Ave, Garden. This was really time consuming and wasn’t necessarily rewarding at the time, however, when the plants began to grow without being disturbed by weeds it felt incredibly rewarding. This internship has opened my eyes to the hard work that is put into sustainable food growth. More importantly, it taught me that the hard work pays off when the environment around us continues to thrive. I plan to use the knowledge that I gained during this internship in any future careers that I have in environmental sustainably and use it to aid in completing my global challenge in the upcoming year.

This is me after a harvest of fresh garlic from the garden.

Beyond the Classroom: COVID Edition!

My global theme is Inequality and Human Rights. I believe that human rights are so important because it is important to understand that we are all human and deserve the same treatment no matter where a person comes from. My beyond the classroom experience was being a remote intern for CASA of Missoula. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates and it is a non-profit organization that advocates for children in court who come from abused and neglected homes. I was able to help supervisors organize paperwork, send out court emails, read through case files and so much more. With this experience, I was able to work with an organization that advocated for children’s human rights and helped these children find a safe place to live when they were not being treated well. Abused and neglected children are a group that cannot often speak for themselves, so it is amazing to work with an organization that helps these children have a voice and live a better life. 

When I first signed up for my global theme, racial injustice was the first thing that came to mind when I thought about inequality and human rights, so I did not expect to be working with an organization like CASA. This experience has helped me understand a different population that could also be a part of inequality and human rights. There are many minority groups in society that can identify with being treated unequal to others and are being restricted by their human rights. Working with CASA has opened my eyes to different perspectives of how inequality affects our society but also what other ways we can help break away from inequality in this world. Even though I did not get to work with an organization that worked on racial equality, I was able to gain so much knowledge from an organization that advocated for children’s human rights and it was such a rewarding experience. This internship allowed me to not only gain more computer skills, considering the internship was remote, but to learn about a population I never had much knowledge about and a way I could help advocate for them as well. I understand now that inequality does not just affect people by race, but many factors of society that may separate a certain population from the rest. With this experience I hope to continue to expand my mind to advocate for equality and human rights in other new ways to learn more about populations in society that are also treated unequally.

A Semester at the PEAS Farm

Hi all! My name is Sydney Lang and my global theme is Resources and Sustainability. For my Out of The Classroom Experience I spent my fall semester working at the PEAS Farm. The PEAS Farm is an educational farm nestled in the rattlesnake. The farm has 5 full time staff members and the rest of the help comes from interns on the farm who are students at the University of Montana. The food that we grow goes to many different programs in Missoula. Some of the food grown goes back to community members through a Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA) where community members invest money in the farm and in turn they get many weeks worth of fresh, sustainably grown goods! The other food we grow goes to the Missoula Food Bank.

View of the Chard and Kale crops at the PEAS Farm

View of the Chard and Kale crops at the PEAS Farm.

The PEAS Farm grows many different kinds of foods! Some of my favorites from my time there were the fresh corn, garlic and carrots. Though we got the chance to eat a lot of local foods, the farm was about a lot more than that. On the farm one of the main things we focused on was how food production is such a key component to sustainability. We learned many different sustainable practices such as cover crops, seed saving and composting.

            I spent every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at the farm doing a variety of different tasks. Some days we would harvest foods, other days we would prepare food for storage or for the CSA members. As time went on at the farm, my appreciation for local agriculture grew quickly. My eyes were opened to an avenue of sustainability that I hadn’t considered much before. I found my time at the farm to be very grounding. I felt connected to our earth in a new way. I understood food from a whole new lens. I even grew a new appreciation for manure after spending two weeks spreading it on all of the fields!

            This year I have been working on my capstone project for GLI which connects directly into my time at the farm. Our group is working on understanding how to make a local food system sustainable, resilient and accessible. It has been a wonderful experience to go straight from getting my hands dirty in the field to working on connecting with other local farmers for my capstone to understand the importance of local foods at an even deeper level. Through my time getting educated on the farm, I feel more equipped to encourage others and myself to be stewards of the earth. I feel so thankful for this experience and how it has burst open the doors in my world view of sustainability. I now know that great things can be grown with my own two hands!

Castles, Celtics and Culture

Hi! My name is Sami Sykes and I spent the last semester in Cork, Ireland! My global theme that I focused on was Public and Global Health. I took classes like Crime and Deviance, and Women’s Prison Systems. These classes took me up close and personal with the Irish prison systems and the way of life for the average Irish inmate. I found the coursework and education system in Irish very intriguing. There was little homework and classes really relied on the discussions that happened in person. I found this more engaging than standard American schooling and I absorbed more information because everything was discussion based.

School, though interesting, was such a small part of my semester abroad. I made friends with so many different individuals from all over the world and most of which I still talk to! I also traveled all across Ireland and immersed myself within the culture from day one. I think the best way to gain experience and knowledge in a new place is to dive head first into the culture. I met people from Ireland, America, Netherlands, Thailand, and more! Not only did I get to experience Irish culture, but because I met so many people from all over, I also got a taste for their cultures as well. I was lucky to become fast friends with another fellow UM student, Christian, and we were able to explore this country together. I’m lucky to have him because he pushed me to leave my comfort zone and broaden my horizons.

Studying abroad is a gift, a life-changing experience, and overall the best time. From seeing twelve different castles to experiencing the Cliffs of Moher, it was the most enlightening experience. The memories you make while abroad will last a lifetime. One blog post won’t do justice for how amazing it is. It truly is something you need to experience for yourself. I’m glad I had this experience because it made me grow as a student, person, and world traveler.

Mamma Mia! Covid Edition

City view of Arachova, Greece. The architecture is truly incomparable!

Γεια σας! I’m Makayla, a senior studying Organizational Communication with a minor in Media Arts. Through the Franke Global Leadership Initiative, I had the opportunity to spend (most of) my spring semester at the American College of Greece in Athens.

I had no idea what to expect from my abroad experience, having never been out of the country before. My time in Athens was the most rewarding, eye opening, and exhilarating experience of my life. From gyros, to so so many stray cats, I learned multitudes about myself, different cultures, and how differing societies handle environmental challenges.

Taken at the Temple of Apollo featuring one of the many feral cats I was referring to (of whom I think are magical).

My global theme is natural resources and sustainability. Although I wasn’t able to dive as deep as I would’ve liked into my theme during my shortened time there, I was able to observe both the differences and similarities of our cultural and environmental practices. Most of the food in Greece was locally sourced and grown, hence the oranges that I still have dreams about. I also took an environmental studies class at the college, which raised thoughts of how to remain sustainable amidst economic crises. As a country growing through financial decline, they still had an appreciation and value of the land they occupy which I found incredibly inspirational. My class also had a section on Yellowstone where I was able to share my experiences from Montana, which was really fun as they all thought Old Faithful was an insane structure.

The best oranges I ‘ve ever tasted.

At the start, I experienced a tad bit of culture shock. To my surprise, Greece is actually very mountainous, so I felt at home in no time. Getting off the train, which we missed twice, to Meteora felt like the whole city was a green screen. It’s home to the largest complex of Greek monasteries, many isolated on the mountain peaks.

The breathtaking inspiration behind ‘Game of Thrones Eyrie’

Studying abroad was absolutely the best decision I ever made for myself. By being out of my comfort zone, I saw the most incredible views, made the best friends ever, and learned more about myself than I thought was possible in a few short months. The people of Greece are loud, bold, and incredibly friendly which rubbed off on me in the end. The enriching intercultural exchanges I had made me feel better equipped to be a leader and study Communication from a global lens. Overall, the experience not only gave me a greater sense of tenacity and confidence in regard to my studies, but in myself as well.

The girl gang!

Although this was an interesting semester to have an out of classroom experience, I feel so grateful to have lived every second of it. I wholeheartedly believe that seeing unfamiliar sites, being surrounded in a cafe with a completely unfamiliar language, and meeting those who are different than us has immeasurable value that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

OPA! Off to Greece I Go!

The Seaport town of Nafplion. Greece’s water is absolutely stunning!

Hi, my name is Kat and I studied abroad this past semester in Greece. My theme is technology and society. I took a consumer behavior class while I was there that discussed how technology effects consumers in different markets. It was really interesting to see the differences as well as similarities between Greek and American cultures. I was the only one in my class that wasn’t Greek, so it gave me a really fascinating perspective and we all had some really good conversations. I learned a lot about Greece’s government and issues they’ve been having since their economic crisis. While this was in the media, it wasn’t portrayed exactly how they would describe it. It was really interesting to see their opinions versus what the media portrays. It was also incredibly interesting talking to them about American politics because they experience it through what they see on social media and the internet and were really interested in what it was like living there. I think social media and the internet are a great way for different societies to stay connected, but you don’t necessarily always see the full story until you personally know someone living in it or are living in it. 

Greece is also very mountainous which I didn’t really realize. This is Meteora which is home to the largest complex of Orthodox Monasteries.

Going to Greece was hands down the best decision I have ever made. I connected with so many people I would have never been able to connect with. I learned so much about the world and about myself in such a short amount of time. I definitely gained a whole new perspective on life. There are so many places and people to see and cultures to experience. I learned to be more confident in myself and as a leader. In Missoula I am very comfortable, and this really pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I feel like I can do anything now that I set my mind to. Even though this experience didn’t end the way we all wanted it to, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I grew so much as a person in just a few short months. 

My roommate Marissa and me in Budapest, Hungary

I met some of the best people while I was in Greece. My roommate Marissa actually packed up her suitcase and moved across the country from Boston to Montana for the Summer. I wholeheartedly believe soulmates are best friends and I truly met my soulmates during this experience. We had the best girl gang and I know I am going to be friends with them forever.

The best girl gang ever in Delphi!
Until I can go back I will be dreaming of MILF (Meat I Live For) Gyros

From Elephants to The Alps

I have been fortunate enough to experience two completely different countries with the GLI program. I spent a semester in Bangkok, Thailand, and a second semester in Linz, Austria. My goal for studying in these two countries was to learn more about the broad cultural and political differences of other countries and how that ties to my double major in economics and finance. 

My first semester in Bangkok taught me a lot about myself. I learned how to communicate more effectively given the language barriers. I learned about the different levels of communication. Thai people are a great example of a culture with undercurrent communication cues. Watching how someone’s body is reacting and positioned in a conversation, you can gain an understanding of what is being communicated despite what’s being said.  “Watch what people do, not what they say,” is a great lesson for being successful in life.

Krabi, Thailand

Another interesting aspect of my experience in Thailand was learning the art of tactful political inquiries and conversations. Thailand is controlled by the military and has a constitutional monarchy with the first constitutional rule of the country forbidding disparaging the king. Political conversations are monitored, and a misstep could get a person deported or jailed. An interesting aspect to experience. 

My next semester was spent in the smaller city of Linz, Austria, which was a completely different world in some sense from Thailand. I experienced a very different outlook on the Austrian government and political institutions. I went from a somewhat absolute Monarchy to a very democratic country. 

Kanchanaburi, Thailand

While studying in Austria, I learned a great amount about the history of Europe and its role in the world wars. This included information about concentration camps and the era of Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, my time in Austria was cut short due to COVID-19. I had traveled to Poland to meet my friend I had met in Thailand, who was studying abroad in Morocco. This would be a perfect example of the kinds of connections studying abroad can create. But while in Krakow, public transportation was ceased due to the virus and we were not able to return to our universities. 

Maneuvering the last-minute arrangements to leave Europe abruptly and dealing with difficult situations in the airports, taught me many things about myself. I developed crisis management, self-resiliency, and inner peace management skills. Despite that strife and having to return back to the U.S. from Europe, my education of Europe’s political institutes continued.

Although these two countries were very different, there were similarities. Through these experiences, I have realized that many people living in the U.S. seem overly busy with work being a primary focus.  In Thailand, breaks are revered, and being late, even an hour, is common. Austria is similar in some sense. All stores are generally closed at seven on weekdays. On Sundays, most stores are completely closed, so there is no place to shop unless you want bread as bakeries seem to always be open.

My diverse experience gave me an understanding of different political spheres and cultures. It taught me that sometimes it’s better to just slow down and enjoy the walk. But no matter what country a person travel to, they will find similarities to their own culture and country. There’s something interesting in seeing how those similarities play out in the differences. No matter what country you find yourself in, people are much the same. We all want love, happiness, and fulfillment in our lives. 

My Time with a Local Advocacy Group

When I originally joined the Franke Global Leadership Initiative, one of my main intentions was to study abroad.  That was until I opted out last minute and settled for a local internship instead.  This internship was with MontPIRG, an advocacy group that promotes civic leadership and specializes in several social activities like engaging young voters, lobbying in the state legislature, protecting consumer rights, etc.  MontPIRG’s goals situated well with my global theme of culture and politics, and more specifically revolving around elections.  Even though uncontrollable events heavily altered the internship mid-semester, I still was able to draw plenty of skills and experiences relating to my global theme.

To explain what I have learned during my internship, here is a brief synopsis of my tumultuous time with MontPIRG.  Aside from standing outside and registering voters on campus and in downtown, I was originally tasked with event planning.  More specifically, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Festival and the Ballot Initiative Event.  Up until that turbulent week prior to spring break, I assumed the role of leader in both of those project; having to organize location, promotion, volunteers/staff, entertainment, food, and beverages.  The week after spring break saw my role change.  Because of COVID-19 concerns, both events were cancelled, and I was then put in charge of letters-to-the-editor editing and submissions.  Both responsibilities required me to step up as a leader, for which I learned that communication is key.  I needed to cooperate with members of MontPIRG to setup the events and had to respond with feedback to interns and volunteers on their letters on a consistent basis.

In terms of my global theme and challenge, I was able to grasp a better understanding on our electoral system and how to properly campaign for certain issues.  I got to work with influential state senators and representatives to make effective change in the community of Montana.  Along with that, I gained more knowledge on differing political opinions from both inside and outside the organization, which have also influenced my own personal political ideology. 

All in all, while this internship did not turn out the way I expected, I still learned plenty from this opportunity.  These skills and experiences will not only assist me for my Capstone project, but in my future endeavors in law and politics.