The Summer Institute began as an idea regarding reciprocity—faculty, students and community partners all “win” by having a course that fulfills the needs and academic desires of each party.
The Office of Community-Based Learning at Stonehill wanted to invent a new way of creating and re-vamping service learning & community-based research courses that would take the community’s impact and perspective into consideration from initial concept to execution. It is very important to our office that when our communities of Brockton and Easton tell us what they need from our school, we listen and try our hardest to provide.
Of course, a faculty member may see this as a challenge—how does one create a course that will help serve the community while still adhering to the fundamentals of course objectives and learning outcomes for students? We cannot simply ignore academia’s call for training and teaching our future leaders and citizens but must also make sure they have an understanding of the world in which they are now a part of—the community both on and off campus.
Though Community-Based Learning is no cake-walk in terms of syllabi creation, transportation, and overall logistics, the rewards are rich with newly formed partnerships, hands-on life experience and a semester that goes beyond the idea of a letter grade.
The idea was pretty straight-forward: Create a retreat-esque space for faculty to meet with a student leader and a community partner to design a course that would have the greatest impact on the community while forcing students to think about their studies in a more realistic manner. We did not want to host another workshop on course creation but rather our main focus would be to have the community partner contribute significantly so that the results would have the greatest benefit for the community itself. In a way, the representatives from the community organizations acted as “experts in the field” so that our faculty could have a chance to consult and devise projects and volunteer work for students to do as part of their grade. The institute itself was 2.5 days. We knew it was important to have part of the institute take place at a few different community locations so that the faculty and student participants, who may never have been to Brockton, would have the chance to feel as if they were a part of the community. We also thought that if faculty are sending students to volunteer in downtown Brockton, they should have some idea of what Brockton is like.
The institute took place the first week of June. Applications were due in April and we had double the amount of applications than we had slots. This made for some unfortunate trimming, seeing how all the applications were excellent. In the end, we had six different courses to develop, all diverse in terms of strengths, subject matter and partners.
For new courses, we had a STEM (science, technology, mathematics) for Educators course. This professor picked an affordable housing complex that hosts an after-school program to be her community partner. Her college students were going to work with youth to help them understand science and maybe even create a club. We also had an Environmental Ethics course that partners with a local environmental agency and a Business Marketing course that planned on working with the Chamber of Commerce on a direct mailing campaign.
For re-vamping existing Community-Based Learning courses, we had a Communication Theory course working with a homeless shelter, a gender & religious studies course working with a local Women’s shelter, and sociology course that was going to work with certain YMCA programs.
We were delighted by how new and innovative all these courses were and that they all had such different learning outcomes. However, they were all united by the concept of community benefit.
We started our institute off at the local minor league baseball stadium for breakfast and introductions. We got to know each other through a couple ice breakers but we also put them to work right away with an exercise that contained examples of CBL courses, in which groups had to identify the community, faculty and student outcomes.
We then had a local historian lead a tour of Brockton. The participants seemed to enjoy this immensely—some saying they had never known the different things Brockton had to offer. The bus dropped us off at a local ethnic restaurant serving Peruvian food; it was delicious and gave everyone a chance to experience a new cuisine. The idea here was to try and convince all our participants (community partners, students and faculty alike) that the city of Brockton is not just a place where we “serve” but also where we spend time as it is our community, our home. Brockton should be seen as a great place for local history and delicious food. We think we got this point across through our tour and lunch in the city.
The last part of the day took place at a multi-cultural board room at a bank in Brockton. We went over the basic principles of Community-Based Learning and then had a presentation from two faculty members and their community partner that created an innovative CBL course last year. The course was a Learning Community—part American Studies and part Art History—that worked with local Cape Verdean youth to do an oral history project and create an art exhibit representing their mentorship with the youth and cultural experience.
We wrapped the day up with a debrief of the first day and a trip home on the Brockton Area Transit (BAT) bus. The best way to get to know a community is to take its public transportation and that is exactly what we did.
The second day, the Director of Community-Based Learning gave a presentation on social justice and how to move our work as educators to ensure these courses have a goal of creating more just society. We also broke the group up into interest groups—faculty, student and community partner. This was to answer any questions that the group may have about their particular role for the course or the rest of the institute. I worked with the student group and we talked about the role of the student as related to these courses as well as the notion of citizenship. We talked about what constitutes “service” versus “social justice.”
For the majority of the day, each course group (faculty, student and community partner) work on their course objectives and ideas for including the community in the course work. For the most part, these groups were quite chatty and it was hard to get them to convene at some points because they all had so much to discuss and outline. We did offer feedback throughout the day and checked in with everyone’s progress at the end of the day to see where everyone was in the course development process.
We started off the third and final day of the institute with assigning a facilitator to each course group to do a SWOC analysis of each course. SWOC stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges. Each facilitator had a minimal understanding of the course so it was the job of each group to educate their facilitator who could then point out any specific gaps they may have seen. This process was effective in that each group was able to hammer out their “to do” list for after the institute.
We then wrapped up our three days. Other than general feedback and checking in with one another, we also decided it would be a good idea to reconvene in the fall. We could talk about our progress more and also get more feedback from other groups.
Though the CBL courses are still in the development process, the results were overall very positive. Our faculty found it very helpful to engage the representatives from the community partner organizations. The student leaders were also extremely impressive in their knowledge of community work and criticisms of course materials. Their insight helped ignite new ideas and ways of looking at course material. From a coordinator’s point of view, it was excellent to see the wide range of topics and projects created through the institute.
Not only was the Stonehill College Summer Institute a success in that we have numbers to shine—3 new courses and 3 re-developed courses—it also helped get across the mission of our office. We can easily say that the work produced is in line with what we think of in terms of community impact, learning outcomes and citizenship.
Next year, I think we will run things very similarly, though with a few exceptions—if only for logistical reasons. I think we need to begin planning earlier—including having the application up in February and not March and that the student leaders need more specific training. The best part about next year is that we will have the six courses from this year to draw from as examples. We intend to monitor the progress of these six courses in hopes of seeing how effective our methods were during the institute.