Connecting Classroom and Community
Until this year, Maria Todd, an associate professor of biology at Southwestern, would never have thought about incorporating civic engagement into her classes.
But now she says she cannot imagine teaching a class without it.
Todd is one of the first faculty members at Southwestern who were selected to be Community-Engaged Learning Fellows. The new program, which is run by the Office of Civic Engagement, provides faculty members with special mentoring on how to integrate community-engaged learning into their classes.
Five faculty members were selected to be the first Community-Engaged Learning (CEL) Fellows in 2013-2014. Faculty members who were selected in addition to Todd were Sherry Adrian, professor of education; Barbara Anthony, assistant professor of computer science; Kathleen Juhl, professor of theatre; and Josh Long, assistant professor of environmental studies.
Sarah Brackmann, director of civic engagement, met monthly with the group to discuss topics such as how to develop partnerships in the community and how to address risk management issues.
Todd asked all the students in her Cancer Biology class this year to do some sort of civic engagement project that supported the local breast cancer community. Students in the class responded by doing a variety of things such as shadowing oncologists, knitting scarves and hats for cancer patients, meeting breast cancer survivors, or doing fundraising events for a local breast cancer organization.
Junior biochemistry major Katie McCance was among the students in the class.
“I learned so much during the entire process, including the obstacles,” McCance said. “And I realized that you can do so many different things to help in the fight against breast cancer, besides the normal fundraising efforts that are generally the most publicized. Through the whole process, I became even more motivated to continue involving myself in civic engagement and to always remember to think of others.”
Anthony had students in her Operations Research class do projects for several clients in the community, including the Leander Chamber of Commerce and R.O.C.K., Ride On Center for Kids. The students who worked with the Chamber of Commerce helped its president, Bridget Brandt, see if she might be able to get more members and increase profits by varying the benefits and changing the costs of the organization’s different membership options. They left Brandt with a spreadsheet tool that can easily be modified in the future if she wants to change the variables.
After presenting their project, students in the group said they benefitted from the community engagement aspect of the course.
“It was really neat to think we might influence a real problem in our community,” said senior computer science major Garhett Bonneaux.
At R.O.C.K., students worked with Business Operations Manager Jerry Fye to help determine the maximum number of clients the organization can serve without sacrificing quality. The organization currently has a waiting list and is considering purchasing land to build another arena.
Students in Anthony’s class determined that it would be worthwhile to consider adjusting schedules and perhaps closing during certain hours when they are currently serving only a few clients. They also provided information about how the numbers of horses and instructors are impacting the possible schedules.
Anthony said she had planned to try and incorporate community engagement into her class anyways, but having support from the Office of Civic Engagement helped a lot. Sarah Brackmann, director of civic engagement, helped her solicit projects in the fall and students were able to pick the ones that interested them. Anthony said if she ever teaches her department’s software engineering capstone, she will look into opportunities for students in that class to engage with the community. She plans to write a paper for a professional journal about her experience.
Juhl incorporated community engaged learning into two of her classes this year. Her Feminism and Performance class partnered with the local chapter of the American Association for University Women to do a play about feminism across generations and her Theatre and Social Change class partnered with students at Tippet Middle School to do a play about bullying.
“I have found that these collaborations are incredibly rewarding and fabulously useful pedagogically for students and for me,” Juhl said. “We get out of the Southwestern bubble and discover and explore people, ideas and dreams through interacting with folks whose lives are very different from ours.”
Adrian has been incorporating civic engagement into her Programs and Services class for more than 20 years. She gives all the students in the class a scenario in which they need to help a family find a variety of services in the community. The class has recently been included in the course offerings for the Paideia cluster on Global Health and Adrian plans to have students tackle a similar scenario but in a different country. She also plans to have students in the class engage with one of three local community organizations – The Boys & Girls Club of Georgetown, the Williamson County Juvenile Justice Center or Brookwood in Georgetown (BiG).
Long has civic engagement components in his Food and Sustainable Agriculture course and his Environmental Studies capstone course, but didn’t have any formal training in civic engagement.
“I wanted to be able to improve on what I am already doing,” he said.
Long said the program had been especially helpful in training him on how to assess what students get out of civic engagement projects and how to improve them for future classes.
The first Community-Engaged Learning Fellows shared what their classes did this year at an April 30 symposium. A new group of CEL Fellows will be selected for next year.