Community Partnerships Bring Coursework to Life

Community-Based Learning courses, now supported in part by the strategic plan and a new office, are “win-win” opportunities for students and the community.

Students are immersing themselves in the real world of environmental psychology, community health and consumer behavior, among dozens of other topics. They are in neighborhoods and downtown, interacting with residents and agency leaders and getting in the weeds, sometimes literally, to serve and reflect critically as part of their courses. This academic experience, which involves students working with individuals, groups or organizations in ways structured to meet community-defined needs is Community-Based Learning (CBL).

“Our University has an obligation to engage with the community that it sits in, that it benefits from,” said Meghan AshlinRich, Ph.D., who serves as faculty coordinator for the Office of Community-Based Learning and is a faculty member in the Sociology, Criminal Justice & Criminology Department. “In my own CBL courses, I want students to engage; I want them to be able to understand not just that their service is needed but why it is needed.”

Dr. Rich said balance between what students need and what the community needs is crucial to a successful CBL course. Faculty members who teach CBL courses have different views on why this kind of experiential learning is important to their students’ education, but they all agree that it has a real possibility of having a transformative effect on the student experience.

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A Partnership with St. Joseph's Center: Joan Grossman, Ph.D. is her ninth year embedding CBL into her courses, and watching students with the patients is “such a rich and rewarding experience,” she said. “The first time I went, the students were putting bibs on these adults and wiping their mouths. Students are initially so apprehensive, but they quickly become comfortable. What St. Joseph’s has given back to our students — you can’t even put it into words.” Read more, here.

Kania School of Management professor Abhijit Roy, D.B.A. partnered with Scranton Tomorrow, a nonprofit, non-partisan community leadership and development organization, for his core marketing course on consumer behavior.“It’s a win-win situation for everybody,” said Dr. Roy. “It benefits the students because they apply what they learn in class to  a real situation, and the client benefits by getting their help.”

Thanks to seed money from the Strategic Initiatives Funding pool, the University’s Office of Community-Based Learning was created in fall 2017 to help better support faculty and more formally recognize this special academic activity. The office, which is supported by a board comprising faculty, staff and administrators representing academic, mission and community-related offices and departments, is also helping to determine more precisely the surrounding community’s needs.“We are proud to support Community-Based Learning efforts through Strategic Initiatives Funding, which at its heart is all about prioritizing and advancing innovative and impactful projects — the difference makers — like this collaborative office,” said Kate Yerkes, assistant provost for Planning and Institutional Effectiveness.

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Writing in the Real World: Several downtown businesses and students in a journalism course taught by communication professor Kim Pavlick, Ph.D., have benefited from a project partnership with the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce. Students interviewed and wrote feature articles about businesses, from a new ramen shop to Electric City Escape, for the Chamber website, giving businesses more press and visibility and the students writing and real-world interviewing experience. “You can’t teach journalism in a bubble,” Dr. Pavlick said. Read more, here.

 

According to a 2018 Economic and Community Impact Report, more than 100 Community-Based Learning classes were conducted at the University during the 2017-18 academic year alone. More than 60 faculty members from 16 academic departments engaged students in these courses in a variety of activities related to their academic study and in collaboration with community partners. Community-Based Learning is a way for students to live out the University’s Jesuit and Catholic mission, what St. Ignatius of Loyola meant when he said, “Love is shown more in deeds than in words.”

“These activities are bringing students face to face with challenges in our region, helping them to apply their skills and, most importantly, learn from community agencies long at work addressing such issues as poverty, education and economic revitalization. The collective efforts of our faculty, students and community organizations working together have a multiplier effect,” said Julie Schumacher Cohen, chair of the Community-Based Learning Board.

With an eye toward more faculty collaboration and support, the Office of Community-Based Learning ran an inaugural annual faculty workshop in summer 2018 that included cross-disciplinary conversations and presentations by community partners. Since its inception, the office has provided nine faculty mini-grants, engaged 65 faculty through seminars and events and is working on a University-wide CBL course designation that will help to spur even greater CBL activity.

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Sustainable Behavior and Storytelling: To aid The Greenhouse Project in its mission, especially in increasing awareness of programs, Professor Jessica Nolan's students first studied sustainable behavior, and then used tools associated with community-based social marketing. They were tasked with things such as designing an intervention message, setting up a booth at the Earth Day fair on campus and even selling plants. The project, said Dr. Nolan, resulted in her students’ “reflective thinking about their personal and civic responsibilities and involvements within their communities.” Read more here.

A Community Agency Workshop is planned in spring 2019, in collaboration with Campus Ministries’ Center for Service and Social Justice and the Office of Community and Government Relations, to bring area nonprofit and public sector organizations together to explore how they can work together through community-based learning and other forms of experiential learning.

Jesse Ergott, NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania president, spoke at the recent faculty workshop about the real impact a partnership between a nonprofit and The University of Scranton can have on the community.

“Working with the University has really helped us to leverage expertise in a way that has helped us to build our program,” he said. “We did not start with the organization experience we needed, so this partnership really allowed us to avoid mistakes we would have made without it.”

Wolfer Honors the Muddle: A community commitment nearly always guarantees some disarray, but Loreen Wolfer, Ph.D., professor of sociology, criminal justice and criminology, is among those who welcome and honor the muddle, now being relieved, in part, by the new office. CBL “does get challenging, complicated and messy,” Dr. Wolfer said. But the real world itself is messy, which is perhaps why it’s an ideal place in which to apply otherwise esoteric classroom concepts. Read more, here.