Skip To Main Content

Find It Fast

Student finds Culver mentors as passionate as her about water insecurity

Tom Coyne

Alexandrine Harig '25 talks with humanities master instructors John Buggeln, Ph.D., and Josh Danforth, her mentors for her Honors Seminar in World Languages and Culture project. (Photo by Andrew Crowell)


Alexandrine Harig ’25 was impressed by the special attention she received from two Culver Academies instructors she had never met after she asked them to be mentors for her project about access to safe drinking water in Guatemala for her Honors Seminar in World Languages and Cultures class.

Harig said the humanities master instructors John Buggeln, Ph.D., and Josh Danforth, graciously gave of their time while pushing her to “stretch her thinking.” She also was assigned a language mentor, Carolina Sanchez, another teacher Harig had never met.

“They helped me sharpen my thinking. They also helped me realize, ‘I know a lot about this topic. But I also don’t know a lot about this. There’s a lot that I have to learn and keep looking into,’ ” she said.

Harig is passionate about helping people in developing countries gain access to clean drinking water. Her interest in water insecurity started in fifth grade when her class was given the assignment of removing salt from water to make it safe to drink.

Working with “Water for Life Charityshe has raised more than $12,000 on her own and $30,000 overall for two water wells in Kenya and to provide numerous water filters to families in countries in Central and South America and Africa. She traveled to Guatemala this past summer with Water for Life Charity to distribute filters and to show people how to use the filters. 

When she started working on the paper about providing safe drinking waters for communities in Guatemala, she thought she would be looking for a solution using filters.

She chose Buggeln, who has a doctorate in history, as one mentor because of his experience directing Culver’s Global Studies Institute, leading trips to China, Belize, and Europe, and his experience advising students participating in the World Food Prize Youth Institute, which seeks to explore and solve local, national and global hunger and food security issues. He’s also supported students conducting research projects and service projects.

She chose Danforth because he grew up in the Congo and Central African Republic, where his father taught agricultural development, describing his father as the “Johnny Appleseed” of Central Africa. After earning a master’s degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin, Danforth and his wife returned to central Africa for two years where he taught agricultural development and helped build water wells. He’s also helped with the Global Studies Institute and advised students on World Food Prize Youth Institute projects.

Both Buggeln and Danforth suggested she focus on possible solutions that were sustainable, meaning that the locals could fix things when something goes wrong. But they also told her she needed to understand that each country and each community poses different political and economic challenges and the tradeoffs she would have to consider with anything she proposed.


Alexandrine Harig '25 gives her honors presentation. (Photo provided)


They also suggested she consider microfinancing as an option.

“I didn’t know what microfinances were when I started the project, so I learned a lot about it as I was going,” Harig said.

Danforth suggested she particularly look at the Grameen Bank, a Nobel Prize-winning project where a bank gave loans to poor people.

The idea behind microfinances is that bankers would bicycle into poor communities and have people form groups of about five where one person would take a loan and the others in the group would be guarantors. The person getting the loan would use it to buy tools they needed for their work or to buy a shop to sell their wares. They could then make money to earn a living.

Once that person pays back their loan, the next person could receive a loan. It creates peer pressure to repay the loan as quickly as possible.

“When I mentioned that, I could see her eyes light up,” Danforth said.

Harig’s proposal includes creating a new government agency to administer the loans. That agency also would make money off the loans and use that money to build a water treatment facility for that community and to pay for its upkeep.

“The reason why I wanted to create a new section of government is because I want it to be sustainable,” Harig said.

Harig said Buggeln, Danforth and Sanchez helped her to look at issues from different perspectives. Sanchez asked Harig what would prevent this new government agency from taking advantage of people.

Danforth suggested the idea of creating a watchdog organization to oversee the agency. She said Danforth also would poke holes in her arguments.

He would ask, “How are you going to do that,” or “How is that going to help?”

He also told her about his experience installing wells in Africa. She said people need to be taught how the wells work so that when they break, someone knows how to fix it.

Harig said the class and mentors are examples of what makes Culver special.

“I just think the fact we have the honor courses is huge at Culver because it was such a growing experience for me. It was a heavy load and it’s self-led. But it showed me I can do more than I thought I could. And there’s also so much support that I don’t think you’d get at another school,” she said.

Danforth said the project exemplifies what Culver is about.

“We’re training up kids we hope will make the world a better place,” Danforth said. “We want to give them the tools they need whether it’s reading, writing, argument, rhetoric persuasion or knowing what the Grameen Bank is.”

Harig said her mentors were always eager to help.

“They were giving me their time out of the kindness of their hearts, when they had no stakes in it,” she said.

Buggeln said he’s mentored other students that he didn’t know for other honors classes.

“That’s part of our being collegial with our colleagues and helping students,” he said. “It’s that team approach of our teachers across disciplines in the classroom and in co-curricular activities that I think is distinctive to Culver because of our goal of teaching character, leadership and responsible citizenship through our integrated programs.”

He said the language honors program not only requires students to do research in another language, but the class also has them look for ways they can make a difference in the world.

Alexandrine Harig '25 showing a mother in Guatemala how to use and clean a water filter last summer. (Photo provided)


The class was taught by Cory Barnes, who is the chairperson for World Languages and Cultures and a master instructor in French. But her seminar class has students studying French, Spanish, Mandarin and Italian so students who aren’t studying French are assigned language mentors.

Barnes said one of the great things about Culver is that it has instructors who are experts in a wide range of issues and are willing to volunteer time helping students they don’t know. She said she had two other students in this year’s Honors Seminar in World Languages and Cultures who found mentors in instructors from The

Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur.

Students in the class are required to write an academic research paper of at least 3,000 words that is expected to be on par with a sophomore-level college paper. They then must defend their project in their target language before a committee of instructors from the Department of World Languages and Cultures.

Because the class is self-directed, Barnes’ role is to be a guide and set deadlines and remind students about key things they need to accomplish and help them to refine their theses and narrow their scopes.

“The idea is to give them this guidance now in high school so that when they go to college they’ll be a little more independent and know how to go through this process,” Barnes said.

Harig said she met weekly with Sanchez to talk in Spanish about her project. Sanchez also helped her with her grammar and to review what she was writing.

“She helped me so much. She gave me sources to look at. She gave me ideas,” Harig said.

Harig said sometimes when she was reading a particularly complex source, Sanchez would help her to understand.

“Because a lot of the language is really niche to your topic, she would explain what it meant. She would give me sources to help me learn more about it,” she said.

Harig said she gained three mentors because of the project.

“I feel like I can go to them for anything now,” she said.


Subscribe to our Newsletter


The Culver Cannon Newsletter is sent out weekly on Fridays.

More Recent News