LU anthropologists learn with and educate Appleton high schools

Nora G. Hertel

Appleton high schools have proven to be favorable environments for cross-community cooperation, interdisciplinary education and applicable research.
Faculty and students from Lawrence, UW-Fox Valley and the Appleton area school district worked together last year to explore the trends in nutrition and consumption at Appleton West High School.
This project, titled the Appleton Collaborative Nutrition Project, involved elements from sociology, cultural anthropology, archaeology and dietary analysis. The project was inspired by a member of the Board of Education seeking to examine and improve the health and wellbeing of the students.
The nutrition research effort is an excellent example of the growing link between the Lawrence classroom and the outside community.
The Community Engaged Learning movement at Lawrence is a concerted tool to perpetuate the cooperation exemplified in the Appleton Collaborative Nutrition Project.
Lawrence Associate Professor of Anthropology Mark Jenike holds the position of principal investigator and helps coordinate student involvement through tutorials and paid assistantships.
Jenike was also a member of Lawrence’s task force on Community Engaged Learning.
His involvement with the nutrition project began before the formation of the task force, so his early experiences are helping to shape the university’s approach to cooperative outreach, problem solving, and education.
Rather than describe these projects as community service, or “service-learning,” Professor Jenike sees them as “effective learning” that addresses practical concerns.
His particular project benefits all parties involved, which makes a strong case for education that extends beyond the classroom.
This project is particularly desirable because it allows a place for Lawrence students in anthropology to gain fieldwork experience without having to travel.
Jenike sees this research as a place for students to apply their knowledge and develop problem-solving skills that they can’t develop “until they’re involved in a project where they have to make it work, where they have to make it go right.”
Lawrence students are involved in data collection and analysis, including student interviews and garbage analysis. The interviews help give background on the social influences of student’s nutritional choices, involving sociology.
Jenike finds that college students are effective interviewers, in that they can “speak the same language” of their high school interviewees.
Lawrence students also worked side by side with UW-Fox Valley students and Appleton West students examining the contents of the trash from lunch and practicing archaeology in a useful context.
These students gain valuable experience doing fieldwork and cooperative research while at the same time addressing a concern proposed by the school board.
Lawrentians have direct interactions with the subjects of the study, they work with researchers from various institutions, and they are responding to an actual concern posed by the community.
They practice the processes they study in class, they work through the hang-ups, and they see an applicable result. Jenike claims that the strength of this project is that it came from the community, because the school board sought out help from local universities.
Jenike hopes that the future of Community Engaged Learning will involve more such interactions, with the community able to approach Lawrence to answer their needs and concerns.
The nutrition project continues this year at Appleton East High School, and Jenike sees this as a continuing opportunity to improve the Lawrence experience and contribute to the larger community.