Growing up in nearby Monticello, Purdue senior David Rubio Jr. (middle, first row, in above picture) enjoyed a childhood similar to many in America's heartland, attending Twin Lakes High School and working summers at Indiana Beach Amusement Resort.
As immigrants from El Salvador, however, Rubio's parents had experienced very different childhoods. "They told me stories about growing up in Latin America, but it's a different world here in the United States," Rubio says. "I really had no idea what they went through. I wanted to get a sense of the culture and the people of the region."
Rubio, who majors in both psychological sciences and developmental and family science, earned that opportunity thanks to the Charles V. and Audrey Palm Riker Fund, which supports programming and scholarships for students in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS).
The fund was established to honor the teaching and counseling career of the late Charles V. Riker, who served Purdue from 1959 to 1983 as a professor of child development and family studies, and his spouse, Audrey Riker Vizzard, a registered nurse, clinical psychologist and adjunct faculty member at Purdue who worked in Greater Lafayette.
The fund gives specific emphasis to study abroad programs that incorporate activities relating to economically disadvantaged children, says Riker Vizzard. "My husband's dream was to establish a foundation for the most needy in the world," she says. "What better place to begin to fulfill that dream than at home, at Purdue University?"
The Riker Fund first provided financial support to graduate students from India, Taiwan, Brazil and other developing nations. In 2007, the focus shifted to undergraduates through study abroad programs in Mexico, and more recently through "Latin American Children and Families: The Costa Rican Experience," a 12-day visit led by Germán Posada, associate professor of human development and family studies, each May after final exams.
This year's attendees included Rubio and three other Riker scholarship winners, all from HDFS: seniors Kaitlin Cannon and Alicia Vega and junior Megan Neher.
The group toured San José and EARTH University at Limón; visited family homes; experienced urban and rural communities in need; engaged in service learning in schools that serve disadvantaged children; visited institutions that assist children and their families; and learned about children's education and Latino-American values.
"Growing up in America, you always hear about people in need, but it's a very different thing to see them firsthand," Rubio says. "I learned that those in a position to help others have a responsibility. I plan to use my education to help others. I want to work in a children's hospital as a psychologist and help families."
Neher also returned from the trip with a renewed sense of purpose. "My time in Costa Rica was one of the greatest experiences of my life," she says. "I learned so much about the people and culture and I had a great time doing it."
Riker Vizzard says these experiences are what she and her husband envisioned when the fund was established. "This year's scholarship winners personify what we hope to achieve: exposing young people to a wider world, different cultures and the impact of poverty, and inspiring them to make a difference in that world."