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Crawford thrived during semester in Mexico

Barry McNamara
Corrindia Crawford (in pink in front row) is pictured in Mérida, Mexico, with other members of the Monmouth group that spent the spring semester there.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Corrindia Crawford was known as a “silent leader” among her Monmouth College peers.

The 2018 graduate didn’t make an acceptance speech when she was named this year’s Student Leader of the Year at the College, but that wasn’t because she didn’t have anything to say. Rather, it was because Crawford was off campus experiencing the College’s program in Mérida, Mexico, where she was learning to become an even stronger person.

While studying and interning in Mexico, Crawford learned she’d been named Monmouth’s 2017-18 Student Leader of the Year at the College’s Highlander Leadership Awards.

“She’s what I call a silent leader,” said Farida Mohammed, one of her classmates. “She’s not always visible on campus, but she’s always working behind the scenes to make sure people are happy and to change the lives of everyone around her.”

Crawford, who graduated with a degree in psychology, was recognized for being active in various roles in the College’s Office of Intercultural Life, helping lead the Colorful Voices of Praise gospel choir, and serving as an orientation leader for the New Beginnings program and international students.

“We get caught up in titles,” said Crawford, who is from Chicago. “I don’t care if I’m the president of this or an officer in that. Official titles aren’t important. I feel a leader is not one thing, one person. A leader is a group of people.”

Director of Multicultural Student Services Regina Johnson said it didn’t take long for people to discover Crawford’s leadership skills.

“Corrindia very quickly became an integral part of just about everything we did in the office her first year here – she also became a ‘go-to,’” said Johnson. “If there was a question about how something should be handled on campus as far as her peers, or what we could do better, Corrindia was very quick to have valid and solid and very mature input on that.”

When Crawford observed that Colorful Voices of Praise didn’t have an officer to serve as an event planner, she stepped into the role. Since then, the organization has added that office to its constitution, and two other students have followed her in the role.

“She has an old soul, but it’s a beautiful old soul,” said Director of International Student Services Erika Buckley. “She’s very dedicated, and she’s consistent. … She thinks about things in a way that’s more mature than some of her peers.”

Crawford considered Buckley to be her “surrogate mom” on campus, and she said her “surrogate dad” was Monmouth President Clarence Wyatt, in whose office she worked.

“The family feel at Monmouth is what got me through,” said Crawford. “We were a community, and I think of these people as my family.”

Crawford took a leave of absence from that family during her final semester to pursue an opportunity in Mexico that sharpened her skills in psychology and Spanish.

“I had an internship working at a school for children with special needs,” said Crawford. “It was actually perfect. It’s the type of work I requested.”

Crawford, whose personal “five-year plan” involves starting her own special needs recreation center, appreciated the opportunity to see how children were treated in Mexico.

“I was impressed by how independent the children were,” she said. “There was a mutual trust – the teachers trusted the children, and the children trusted the teachers. The school was more of a community, and that fosters growth and individual development of the child. Giving a child that space fosters trust and creativity.”

Crawford also had plenty of opportunities to improve her Spanish.

“I came in knowing ‘polite Spanish’ – the kind of phrases you need like saying ‘hello’ and ‘Where’s the bathroom?’” she said. “But now I’m able to get my point across (in Spanish) and have conversations.”

“Corrindia is an incredible student,” said Monmouth faculty member Tim Gaster, who directed the semester in Mérida. “She was met with many challenges – she confronted them with courage and determination and she overcame. Corrindia was brave, adventurous, intellectually curious, respectful and friendly. Her family should be very proud of her for all that she accomplished.”

“This trip helped me learn how strong I actually am, and how smart I am,” said Crawford.

In addition to regular classes Mondays through Thursdays and the internships on Friday, the 11 Monmouth students in Mérida took a series of weekend field trips. Two that stood out to Crawford were trips to a Mayan village and to San Cristobal in the state of Chiapas, where cacao farming is making a comeback.

“I really liked going to Chiapas,” she said. “It was so beautiful, and pictures and videos can’t do it justice. It was breathtaking. ... While we were there, they made us dinner, including hot chocolate straight from their cocoa beans. All the food we had was straight from nature. The tortillas were straight from scratch. It was perfect.”

Other Monmouth students in Mérida who graduated with Crawford were Kayla Adams, Freddy Hernandez and Diana Rubi. They were joined by MaKayla Baumgardner, Baylee Evans, Nicholas Galvan, Abigael Kuzmanich, Rebecca Wahlberg, Hunter Wollwert and Yovany Zarate, who will all return to Monmouth in the fall.

“It is a challenging experience,” said Gaster of the semester abroad. “And for the very reason that it is challenging, it can be an incredible experience, if one is willing to face the challenges and try to overcome them.”