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Summer 2018 Wofford Today
A Year of Lessons Learned - Professors gathering

A year of lessons learned

Wofford launches Community-Engaged Faculty Fellows program

  • Partnering with a local school
    For more than 15 years Wofford Spanish 303 students have spent an hour a week learning more about language and culture, social inclusion and the public education system while tutoring and mentoring children in the Arcadia area, a predominantly Hispanic community about 10 minutes from campus.
  • Partnering with the old and the young
    Wofford psychology students have met course requirements by volunteering with both the community’s oldest and youngest citizens as a way to experience behaviors they’re learning about in the classroom while offering time and companionship in return.
  • Partnering with community stakeholders
    Environmental studies faculty build community engagement and field work into most of their courses, and the Milliken Sustainability Initiative has further enhanced community partnerships in the Northside and Glendale communities.

Additional partnerships have formed during the 2017-18 academic year thanks to the new Community-Engaged Faculty Fellows (CEFF) program, launched in the fall by the college’s Center for Community-Based Learning (CCBL) and the Center for Innovation and Learning (CIL) as a way to institutionalize support to faculty who have shown an interest in including a civic engagement component in their classes.

“Wofford and Spartanburg have shared resources since the college was founded in 1854, but increasingly the college has made civic engagement a priority,” says Dr. Mike Sosulski, provost. “Preparing students for the complex world they will contribute to after graduation means offering them real opportunities to practice, engage and explore in that world.”

During 2017-18, 15 members of the faculty across nine disciplines accepted the challenge, 11 in the fall and four this spring.

According to Jessalyn Story, director of the CCBL, 184 Wofford students took a class this past fall that incorporated community-based learning. “The end-of-term surveys showed that 89 percent of Wofford students who took a class with community-based learning said the civic engagement component of their courses challenged them to do their best work — in part because they weren’t just doing it for themselves or their professors; they felt a responsibility to the community to do their best,” Story says.

Faculty fellows reported that the civic engagement component of the class improved student understanding of self, empathy, morality, concern for the well-being of others and critical-thinking skills. Faculty recognized personal benefits as well. All of the participants said they gained new insights and understanding about the community.

“The CEFF program builds on the groundwork laid in 2016-17 with the $75,000 Arthur Vining Davis Foundations grant to strengthen civic engagement through the use of educational technology,” says Story. “This new program is designed to develop trust-based, mutually beneficial partnerships between Wofford and the community that will enhance student learning and address community-identified needs.”

Dr. Jim Neighbors, associate professor of English, says the CEFF program has been an ideal vehicle for a project within his humanities class to tell the story of the “Back of the College” neighborhood that once stood between Wofford and Spartanburg Medical Center.

“The emphasis on working with the community — and not in a way that would allow for any kind of social hierarchy, but a genuine partnership in which the people in the room are respected for who they are and what they’ve done, in which everyone can learn from each other — is a great model,” he says. “Our community partners, Brenda Lee Pryce, Mitch Kennedy with the city of Spartanburg, Brad Steinecke with the Spartanburg County Public Libraries, and Monier Abusaft ’11 with the local NAACP, helped us make connections in the community, and the college’s CEFF program provided some financial support and a lot of logistical and helpful pedagogical support.”

Part of that assistance came from Dr. Laura Barbas Rhoden, associate professor of Spanish, who began introducing community-based learning into her Spanish 303 classes not long after coming to Wofford. Now Barbas Rhoden serves as the program’s faculty consulting fellow.

“We started the partnership with Arcadia Elementary School during the 2001-02 academic year in the same way that my colleagues new to community-based learning started this semester,” she says. “Staff at Arcadia approached us with interest in collaborating, and we said, ‘let’s figure it out,’ and we did. Now there are four sections of 303 that have a community-engagement component.”

Barbas Rhoden is familiar with incorporating civic learning into the academic space, turning experience into critical reflection and building trust in the community. “It’s something I slogged through that I can now share with others.”

She admits that engaging students meaningfully in the community is not an easy thing. It means living with discomfort and uncertainty. It also means that at times success is measured in terms of lessons learned.

“My biggest takeaway would be how conscientious and generous our faculty are in participating in this program. They’ve provided great feedback and have lived with this interactive process with generosity and a commitment to improvement,” she says. “Creating some space where community stakeholders and Wofford faculty and staff are in the same space and can connect organically is the single most important thing we can do for this program going forward.”

Dr. Camille Bethea, who also teaches Spanish 303 classes, says that those new to community-based learning were not the only ones to learn from the experience.

“Those of us who have taught Spanish 303 took this as an opportunity to be more intentional about building in intercultural competence, about requiring students to think about what they experience in the community and what it teaches them about their own culture,” says Bethea. “I also found the piece of interacting with colleagues and sharing insights really helpful. It made me rethink some things.”

Bethea, who continues to enjoy her time in the Arcadia community, also has been a longtime volunteer with Habitat for Humanity of Spartanburg. She believes in both the lessons learned from community engagement and the benefits to the community, and she’s thrilled when her students begin to understand the concept as well.

“In Spanish 303 we learned a lot about culture and issues that are occurring in Hispanic/Latin countries and communities by spending time with children from that background,” says Ashton Stanfield ’20, a biology and Spanish major from Boiling Springs, S.C. “I gave friendship, hope, dedication and love. I took away new lessons, including a greater understanding of the community, the people around me and how I can make a difference.”

“It’s a perspective I can’t teach strictly in the classroom,” says Bethea.

Terril Bates, executive director of the Spartanburg Housing Authority, also has seen the benefits from a community perspective. “We are finding that our residents are connecting with a youthful perspective that brings delight,” says Bates of the Intergenerational Fellows. “Our staff is significantly impacted as the attention that the residents receive from the students assuages their anxiety, their fears and provides a very caring engagement for them. Our hope is that the students also will gain insight and information that will positively impact their professional journeys.”

Dr. Amy Telligman, assistant professor of environmental studies; Dr. Gerald Thurmond, professor of sociology and anthropology; Dr. Kara Bopp, professor of psychology; and Dr. Jeremy Henkel, assistant professor of philosophy, are all incorporating community-based learning in their classes this spring. Telligman is doing two different community engagement projects: Sustainability Science students will work with Habitat for Humanity of Spartanburg to weatherize a home, and Sustainable Food Systems students will collect data for a community food system assessment. Thurmond’s class, Sociology of the Family, is partnering with the Spartanburg Housing Authority and Victoria Gardens residents to do after-school programming for children and youth. Bopp is continuing her intergenerational work in the community with her Adult Development and Aging students.

Henkel is eager to build on the legacy of involvement with local schools. Henkel’s Wofford students taking Critical Thinking this semester will partner with local elementary school teachers and administrators looking to develop classroom materials to elicit more reasoning and critical thinking from students, and to pilot award-winning Philosophy for Children curricula.

“I hope our students see that philosophy does have practical value. It’s not just about facts or formulas or ideas. In teaching critical thinking to elementary school students, our students will be learning how to reason and argue better,” Henkel says. “I hope this will be a long-term thing, not just a semester thing, because it will be good for both our students and local elementary-aged children.”

A second class of CEFFs is in the works, and the CCBL and CIL are planning to add a “CBL” (community-based learning) course designation beginning with registration for the 2018-19 academic year so students can look for additional opportunities to learn on campus and in the community.

 

By Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89