UI Graduate Profile: Grad travels the world to help children


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Diving into the warm pool, Jenna Harshbarger begins her lesson with a group of students eager to learn how to tackle the challenge of swimming.

This job may seem typical for any college student, except for one difference — at the time, Harshbarger was in Japan.

For the past two summers, Harshbarger has traveled to military bases in Japan and Italy to work at Camp Adventure, a summer camp for children with parents in the military.

“I’d never been abroad alone before, just like for family vacations,” she said. “My cousin had done it before, and I got one of those mass emails and from there went to an informational meeting.”

Harshbarger liked what she heard, especially because she could earn 12 credits over the course of the summer that would go toward her college degree. Two summers later, she is graduating a semester early this weekend as a senior from the UI with a degree in speech and hearing sciences, and she plans to attend graduate school next fall to become a speech pathologist.

Visiting different countries helped give Harshbarger a new perspective on language, although the military bases on which she worked all spoke English.

“I picked up a few phrases just working with the locals,” she said. “I’m thinking about going back to Japan or maybe somewhere else [next summer for Camp Adventure]. We’ll see.”

Harshbarger’s experience in Japan went beyond the pool. She and her coworkers had the chance to travel, including climbing Mount Fuji.

“[Jenna and I] climbed Mt. Fuji together,” said Sarah Sitzmann, Harshbuger’s coworker and friend. “It was one of the hardest and most intense experiences of my life, and it probably was for her, too. We had to rely a lot on friends, and she definitely helped.”

While being a counselor at Camp Adventure, Harshbarger said she improved many skills, such as becoming more disciplined.

“I learned that I can be independent, and it’s also interesting to see how other way people live,” she said. “I also learned to be really organized.  When you have to plan lessons every day, you have to be organized.”

Working with children during the past few summers has helped Harshbarger gain experience for her job as a speech pathologist, even if it is not directly applicable to helping children with their speech.

She hopes to work in a hospital or one-on-one with children in a school setting when she graduates from graduate school.

The career of Harshbarger’s mother, Kim Harshbarger, planted ideas in Harshbarger’s mind at an early age.

“My mom was a speech pathologist, and once I had to pick something to do, it seemed to fit,” Harshbarger said.

Kim Harshbarger was pleased with her daughter’s decision, and believes she has many traits to become a good speech pathologist.

“I’m very proud, I think she sees that I still enjoy my job, and that it’s a great profession,” she said. “I think she will do well. She is well aware of what other people need and she has a good personality for it.”

Jenna Harshbarger’s vibrant personality has been enhanced by the Camp Adventure experience, and she has learned many things from the children with whom she worked.

“[I’m impressed by] how strong [the kids] are,” she said. “They’re in a unique situation where they’re in a different place every few years, and they’ve taught me that you can get through a lot.”

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