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A Fair Idea 

Associate Professor Eric Hardiman and second-year MSW student Sean Cochrane are promoting Sunday's Schenectady County Multicultural Fair.   

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 26, 2018) – When Sean Cochrane was growing up in Walla Walla, Washington, he went to a fair in a nearby town that introduced him to foods, music and cultures that were new to him. He has never forgotten it.

Cochrane, now a second-year MSW student at UAlbany's School of Social Welfare, has joined with three of his classmates in Eric Hardiman’s Community Engagement and Social Change course to produce the inaugural Schenectady County Multicultural Fair, which will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday at Schenectady’s Central Park.

Admission is free to the fair, which will offer food, performances and crafts from many different cultures in the Music Haven & Pavilion Area.

Cochrane talked about the fair last week with Hardiman and Alyssa Lotmore, co-hosts of The Social Workers Radio Talk Show on UAlbany’s radio station WCDB 90.9 FM. “People don’t experience other cultures. When you have no exposure to other cultures, you are almost afraid. Once you are exposed, your mind opens up, especially for children.”

Studies have found showcasing culture to the community is essential to promoting acceptance among cultures, Cochrane said.

After reading the research on the topic, Cochrane and his classmates Jay Rodriguez, Amy Baker and Lindsey Esposito chose organizing, promoting and producing the fair as their capstone MSW project.

“I live in Schenectady, I interact with people from many cultures,” said Cochrane, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. at UAlbany after graduation. While there is much diversity in Schenectady, he said often people “pocket up” in groups. The goal of the multicultural fair, then, is to bridge the gap between culture and the community through exposure, and to generate an atmosphere that displays and celebrates this diversity of culture through food, performances and crafts.

All of the money needed to rent the pavilion, organize and produce the event came through fund-raising. “We had several bake sales and auctions of items we acquired through donations from the community,” Cochrane said. They also created a website and Facebook page.

poster for April 29 Multicultural Fair

The fair is part of a capstone project for four MSW students.

“The students in this capstone course have shown incredible initiative and creativity in the design and implementation of a range of community engagement and social change projects,” Hardiman said. “The central goal was to have them learn about social work through the process of community engagement. They have integrated their own academic knowledge with direct experience starting a community-based project of their design. Through the process they have honed skills in communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, small group work, research, planning, self-awareness/critical reflexivity, and goal-setting.”

The students grounded their projects in community-based data gathering, and a deep analysis of community context. Through the projects, they learned about the intersections among the various levels of professional practice (individual, family, group, organizational, and community).

“They have highlighted issues related to community need and cultural diversity, and utilized strategies of community organization and social change. The course provides them with the chance to extend their learning beyond the classroom and to make a difference in their local community,” he said.

Other capstone projects in Hardiman’s class are listed below:

  • GroundBreaking, a program to combat gentrification and the disproportionately prominent voice of the wealthy in the affairs of minority communities in Albany, N.Y.

Team: Mallory Hallstead, Matresa Flowers, Brian Denepetiya, Eileen Ploetz.

  • Metallic Motivators, in which students partnered with community members to help Spanish speaking populations in the Capital Region by translating social services forms into Spanish to improve accessibility.

Team: Natalie Turner, Duwayne Engram, Joe Farrell, Dana Crannage.

  • Pug Squad: A project implementing a short-term yoga and mindfulness meditation into an afterschool program to reduce stress for underserved youth.

Team: Christine Corral, Michaela Murphy, Rachel Hanselman.

  • Improving Alzheimer’s care for Asian Americans: Barriers such as language and cultural beliefs delay efforts to prevent, diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease in the Asian American community.

Team: Miranda Menard, Jennifer Perry, Tamara Taylor.

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