Engaged Learning: Student Travel

UM-Flint nursing student Megan Cleavenger with patients in the village of La Tumba.

um-flint's commitment to the Dominican republic

In February 2014, as part of her International Service Learning course, clinical assistant professor of nursing Maureen Tippen made her eighteenth trip with a group of students to the Dominican Republic. Over that same period, Tippen has lead similar trips to Cambodia, Kenya, and Peru in which she and her students provide healthcare and other basic services to populations in need. This year Tippen and her students provided medical care to over 500 people from both Haiti and the Dominican Republic over the course of a week.

“This is certainly the most rewarding teaching experience for me,” said Tippen. “I continue to do this for two reasons: the service for the people in need and the transformation it makes for students. They are never the same after a course like this.”

UM-Flint nursing student Tiffani Clevanger credits the experience with strengthening their passion for nursing. “This course challenged me to look at myself and contemplate what I have to offer patients in my professional nurse role,” she said. “I discovered my own weaknesses and new strengths I didn’t know I had. After taking this course I feel better attuned to who I am as a nurse and the nursing path I want to pursue.”

Nursing students presenting information on dental hygiene to a classroom of students in the village of La Tumba outside Ramon Santana in the Dominican Republic.

Nursing student Emily Gross was equally affected. She said, “This course allowed me to find my true passion for nursing, which is crazy for me to say because I did not expect this to happen. I’ve learned that it truly brings me joy to help people, and that I want to do this for the rest of my life. [The experience] has changed my outlook for my professional future for the better because I am now more excited to start practicing as a nurse.”

UM-Flint's future nurses are not the only students who made the trip to the Domincan Republic. Stephanie Chapman, an honors scholar program participant majoring in social work, went with this year's group and also found that the experience helped her grow as a professional and as a person.

"Being able to actually practice skills I have learned in the classroom and apply them to a population that really appreciated and benefitted from the work we did was a great feeling," said Stephanie. "Social justice is also a key component of social work so I felt like I was a part of that by offering services to the Dominican people and listening to their needs."

Stephanie also used her photography skills to document the trip. She took most of the images included here.

UM-Flint honors social work student Stephanie Chapman stands in front of the community center students helped build.

James MacDonald was a student majoring in Spanish and criminal justice when he first accompanied a group of nursing students to the Dominican Republic as a translator in 1999. Now a practicing attorney with the Social Security Administration in Ohio, James was happy to reprise his role for a fifth time last year. “The experience has meant the world to me,” he said. “I continue to go because the need is so great. I go because I have the time to give, and time is our most valuable resource. I go because I care.”

That's also why Becky Pettengill, a UM-Flint alumnus and the school's corporate and foundation relations officer, has gone back to the Dominican Republic to serve as a translator and student mentor for the last sixteen years. “I was influenced by my urban sociology courses taught by Wilfred Marston. He instilled in his students a desire to experience a different culture through the eyes and institutions of its people,” said Pettengill. “Working with Maureen (Tippen) in small villages, churches, schools, and public hospitals helps you understand how resourceful and resilient people are.”

UM-Flint nursing professor Maureen Tippen also helped bring baseball equipment to young men in Pajarito, Dominican Republic.

Next year, Tippen plans to return to work with a non-governmental organization to help put a well in a village with no access to clean water. “This will make a tremendous difference in the people’s health,” she said.


  • provided needed medical care to people of Haiti and the Domincan Republic
  • immersed students in the daily life of another culture
  • challeged students to perform despite language barriers and unfamiliar conditions
  • confirmed students' chosen career paths
  • kindled lifelong committment to engaged global citizenship