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Community Engaged Learning progresses

Nora G. Hertel

Through the series on Community Engaged Learning, The Lawrentian has covered academic projects that allow Lawrence students and faculty to aid, educate and involve the local community.
This outreach education provides a place for students to apply their classroom studies to “real-world” situations where they are forced to problem-solve and cooperate with peers and community members. Lawrence has recently started an initiative to encourage and facilitate more connections with the community.
The outreach work from the geology department – monitoring heavy metal contamination in regional water bodies and establishing Lawrence’s garden, among other projects – grew out of the interests and efforts of students and faculty, and has since come to suit the general goals of Community Engaged Learning.
The anthropology department’s nutrition project began as a response to a community need to assess and improve eating habits of area students and has forged an ongoing link between the university and the city.
The projects that are currently in progress were not necessarily born out of the new, formalized movement to expand service learning at Lawrence, but they certainly support the trend.
The choice to expand service learning at Lawrence was a conscious one involving President Jill Beck, a faculty task force, and outside funding. Mathematics professor Alan Parks received an endowed professorship to “foster and promote the concept of altruistic leadership at the college.”
The $1 million Pieper Family Servant-Leader Professorship is officially active beginning July of this year, but Parks is already involved in research and preparations within and beyond the university.
At this time Parks is hoping to provide better administrative support for existing projects, like those of the geology and anthropology departments.
In efforts to expand Lawrence’s concept of Community Engaged Learning, he is “working on outreach that will proceed from the curriculum – for the most part from courses [Lawrence] already offers.”
Additionally, these preparations include interviewing faculty to discuss ideas, course projects, and community ties, networking in local schools and other institutions involved with Community Engaged Learning, and seeking needs in the community that may benefit from contributions of Lawrence students and faculty.
Parks hesitated to disclose details for fear of “endorsing particular projects,” but there is definitely collaboration throughout the university and the community at large.
In the coming years, students can look forward to academic studies that bring them out of the classroom in order to apply their knowledge for the benefit of others. This kind of learning provides meaning to education and promotes a symbiosis between the Lawrence community and the world beyond.