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Faculty inspiration leads BW student to service in Ecuador

Ask Kaylee McKee '23 about her affinity for Ecuador, and she'll smile broadly, hold up four fingers and say "cuatro" to reflect the four times she's visited the country in 18 months.

photo of BW student Kaylee McGee with school director

The North Canton, Ohio, native has made the Latin American country her second home ever since learning about it from her mentor Dr. Karen Barahona, BW associate professor of Spanish. McKee made her first trip there during winter break of 2020, when she and BW classmate Grant Cordle '23 visited a Chilcatotora indigenous community located near Cuenca. McKee learned about the community from Barahona, who herself had visited it the year before.

The incredible experience left Spanish and public health major McKee wanting more. Last summer, she and Cordle volunteered for two months at a school called Fundación el Arenal in Cuenca. The experience was personally and professionally fulfilling.

She improved her Spanish skills and understanding of the culture. In addition, McKee created meaningful relationships with the school's children, teachers and directors, as well as local Rotaractors and community members. It set her up for the next step - a service project that would link Baldwin Wallace's Rotaract Club with the school.

photo of BW student Kaylee McGee with school children

Using Humor, High Heels and Pie to Fundraise

"I am the president of the Rotaract Club on campus," noted McKee. "Outside of campus, I am currently serving as Rotary District 6630 Rotaract Chair and a charter member of E-Club NEO. Last summer, when Grant, who serves as our Rotary Club service chair, and I were volunteering, we noticed certain things at the school we felt we could address. When we pitched the idea to our BW Rotary Club exec board to make the school the recipient of our annual international fundraiser, everyone liked the personal connection and that we would be able to see the impact.

"I already had plans to go back and volunteer over winter break, so we decided we would host a telethon, and I would deliver the supplies in December 2021. The telethon was a completely virtual event via zoom. Our club members signed up for different activities and segments, which were pre-recorded. People were encouraged to donate whenever they saw something interesting or funny. As the donations increased, different segments and activities were shown. Some popular segments were the high heel contest, lip sync battle, cake decorating contest and our advisor getting pied," she explained.

photo of BW student Kaylee McGee in Ecuador

"We raised more than $2,100, and we were able to send supplies twice, once in December and again this May. We donated a laptop computer, a desktop computer, teaching supplies, educational supplies and educational games - all of which I was able to personally deliver. That moment was so rewarding and reminded me how everything I learned at BW had brought me to it," she reflected.

"I am back volunteering at the school this summer," she went on to say. "BW has inspired, motivated and prepared me for success. I gained the confidence to go outside my comfort zone.

"I was inspired by Dr. Barahona to immerse myself in new cultures and encouraged to follow my passions. These experiences will help me in my future, as I aspire to attend graduate school for Spanish with the goal of becoming a professor or starting a translation company," she added.

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