Humanitarian Disaster Institute Alumni Perspectives

Read what alumni who worked with Humanitarian Disaster Institute while they were students at Wheaton College still value about HDI.


Laying the Groundwork for the Future

“These opportunities provided me with very valuable insight . . .”
Joseph Kimmel M.A. ’12, M.Div. candidate at Harvard Divinity School

Joseph Kimmel M.A. ’12, Wheaton College Graduate SchoolA trip to Japan with HDI “laid the groundwork” for the future for Joseph Kimmel M.A. ’12. “One of the most beneficial opportunities I was given by HDI was the chance to work on a variety of qualitative research projects, ranging from interviews with church leaders in Japan to discussions with clergy in the Chicagoland area. These opportunities provided me with very valuable insight into the many facets of a qualitative research project: from grant proposals to creating research materials to conducting interviews and analyzing research data.” This experience also prepared him for conducting his own theological research project in Nepal in summer 2014. “I will finish my M.Div. here next year and plan to apply this fall to doctoral programs in comparative religion, where I hope to continue my engagement with comparative theological research.”

The Importance of Mentoring

“I aspire to bring that kind of humility and respect into my research and my clinical work . . .”
Melissa Smigelsky ’08, M.A. ’12, Ph.D. candidate at University of Memphis

Melissa SmigelskyA research associate with HDI, Melissa says her work with HDI, and specifically with Dr. Aten, was “very formative” in helping her choose the right Ph.D. program, reinforcing the importance of the mentor relationship. Currently at the University of Memphis under the mentorship of Robert A. Neimeyer, she says, “Under Dr. Aten’s guidance, I worked with two colleagues from the master’s program at Wheaton to conduct qualitative research examining the role of religion/spirituality in coping in the aftermath of sexual violence among Congolese refugee women. When I transitioned to Memphis, Dr. Neimeyer heartily embraced the project and supported me (and by extension, our team) in bringing the project fully to fruition. We are delighted that the first paper from this effort has been accepted for publication, and we are working on a second paper.”

Currently at work on two more projects at Memphis, Melissa’s focus remains on working with the marginalized. She notes, “It is a privilege to remain affiliated with HDI. When I attended the American Psychological Association convention in Toronto this summer, I was delighted to see Dr. Aten and Dr. Boan present on community-based work that highlighted the importance of learning from the communities themselves, rather than assuming we as academics have all the answers. I aspire to bring that kind of humility and respect into my research and my clinical work, and I am very grateful that I am currently working with a mentor who shares and models those qualities.”

Understanding Resilience

“To be able to move forward and praise God through it all—that is an incredible thing.”
Chris Wilson ’12, development and communications team member for Americorps VISTA with Housing Families in Malden, MA

Chris WilsonA former staff member of Wheaton’s Human Needs and Global Resources Program, Chris began working with HDI as an undergraduate through a collaborative research class that gives undergraduates the opportunity to participate in a graduate-level research project.

After spending six months in Haiti on a HNGR internship as a student, Chris returned to Haiti in November 2012 as a HDI volunteer, this time working for the Restavek Freedom Foundation to help staff improve their procedures, build teamwork, learn techniques for handling difficult situations, and combat burnout and work-related stress. (Restavek is a form of child slavery that persists in Haiti, affecting one in every 15 children. Born to poor, rural families, Restavek children are often given to relatives or strangers, becoming domestic slaves.)

“Each child advocate can have 50 to 70 children that they are supposed to contact at least twice a month. Many case workers were feeling overwhelmed at the sheer number of children in desperate situations, and not knowing the appropriate level of help for each situation.”

Chris says that the advocates especially appreciated the procedural support for dealing with high-risk situations.

Perhaps as rewarding as providing needed support, Chris says that through his work in Haiti he has gained an appreciation for the resiliency of those who trust in the Lord in the face of “what really feels like an unending stream of catastrophes. To be able to move forward and praise God through it all—that is an incredible thing.”

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