Endowed professorship encourages community service

Mike Toycen

Professor of Mathematics and Computer Sciences Alan Parks has been named to an endowed professorship, the Pieper Family Professor of Servant Leadership. Through this professorship, Parks is starting the Office for Engaged Learning (OEL).This office, according to Parks, is “going to allow people to take their curricular interests and coursework to the outside community and have an impact on community needs and problems.”
“There is an awful lot of faculty and student interest in this,” Parks said. “Our students at Lawrence have a high value of outreach and volunteerism.” The OEL will help to boost this effort and turn it into “super-volunteerism.”

By doing this, the OEL would develop programs where students take what they’ve learned in the classroom and use it for volunteering in the community. For example, the Web site for the OEL is planning to have programs like foreign language majors instructing students at Edison Elementary School, to give the students “a taste of studying a foreign language and culture.”

Parks also cited the Sustainable Lawrence University Garden (SLUG) as something that has a lot of potential. With education about sustainable agriculture “all kinds of things can be done [with it.]” The Volunteer and Career Centers are also important. “Both of these entities have felt isolated. They appreciate having more contact,” said Parks.

The $1 million start-up for this endeavor came from the Suzanne & Richard Pieper Family Foundation of Milwaukee. According to Parks, “They were electrical contractors that developed a non-profit subsidiary to fund initiatives in education, a lot of character education.”

Though the foundation originally dealt with lower level education, it has begun to dabble in higher education. The Milwaukee School of Engineering has had a grant for a few years, and UW-Madison is just starting up.

Lawrence was chosen because “grants were offered competitively” to a number of schools around Wisconsin, and the Pieper Foundation chose Lawrence’s proposal over several other schools’.

Parks said he was chosen for the professorship because of his interest in outreach activities, especially activities that have an academic side to them. Among his other achievements, he was also the recipient of the 2006-2007 Freshman Studies Teaching Award.

“Overall,” he said, “this has been a very encouraging thing to start with. There’s been a lot of enthusiasm. There are many faculty members already who have been doing these kinds of projects. We’re trying to help and improve.” He also made it clear that the OEL is for both the conservatory and the college.

Though this is the first school year that Parks is acting under the named professorship (since July), the OEL is currently active. If you are interested in volunteering for the office, contact Professor Alan Parks by e-mail or visit the website, http://www.lawrence.edu/dept/engaged_learning.