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Lafayette has received its second federal Learn & Serve America Grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service in as many years. The grant funds, in part, the start-up of the College’s Community Based Learning and Research Initiative.

The Learn & Serve America program provides support to schools, community groups, and institutions of higher education to facilitate service-learning projects.

Lafayette’s Community Based Learning and Research Initiative began last year and works to provide the infrastructure to support academic service-learning and community-based research at the College. It enhances the efforts of faculty across all disciplines whose current teaching and research benefit the community. The group plans to provide course development grants, training workshops, and online resources to faculty who want to get involved.

“While the Community Based Learning and Research Initiative supports and encourages all forms of academic service-learning, it is important to note that this grant supports a particular kind of service-learning called ‘community-based research,’” explains Chawne Kimber, associate professor of mathematics and principal investigator on the grant. “That is, our current external funding, in particular, is geared toward supporting projects in courses or as part of a faculty member’s scholarship that attempt to answer the researchable questions that community partners have. This is not just about volunteering but really about providing a useful end-product to the partners. For instance, we support the development of a course that has a project benefiting an agency, say, one serving at-risk youth, by providing them data they’ll need for their next grant proposal or summarizing current literature on the best practices in offering their services.”

Lafayette is one of 20 institutions expanding its community-based research efforts through the Learn & Serve America Grant. The College will work with other institutions through the National Community-Based Research Networking Initiative, coordinated by Princeton University’s Community Based Learning Initiative. Together, they will generate a range of best-practice tools and resources, including websites, manuals, and data, for students, faculty, and the community.

“Using the strengths of our faculty and staff, we have a real opportunity to have a positive impact on our community and for our community to enhance the educational experience of our students,” says Kimber. “Networking with these esteemed institutions will allow us to figure out how best to support our faculty, staff, and students as they interact with our community and provide this service.”

Kimber became involved when Trisha Thorme, director of Princeton’s Community Based Learning Initiative, asked her to consider joining the network of schools she leads.

“For quite a while, there has been a group of about 20 faculty involved in service-learning, incorporating community engagement into their courses in order to enhance the learning experience,” explains Kimber. “I became involved when the group decided to seek the appropriate administrative infrastructure to support the work. Belonging to this network provides the information and support that we need to move this initiative forward.”

Lafayette’s current community partners for community-based research include Engineers Without Borders and ProJeCt of Easton. Students assist these organizations with data collection, educational materials, research on best practices, organizational capacity-building, project development, and program evaluation.

This past school year, Beth Seetch, coordinator of the College Writing Program, led a project with English graduate Kirby Waldinger ’07and equality and justice graduate Rachel Gallagher ’07, who were both writing associates. The team worked with Anna Kodama, professional development specialist for ProJeCt of Easton’s Fowler Literacy Center, to develop the curriculum for an adult writers’ workshop.

Kodama thanked “everyone involved for their patience and professionalism in really developing a scope and sequence of instruction for the writers’ workshop, helping it integrate with [ProJeCt of Easton’s] larger purposes and curriculum.”

“I think great strides were made this year, and groundwork was laid that will make next year’s workshop even more useful for students and staff,” she says.

The Learn & Serve America grant also partially supported honors thesis research conducted by A.B. engineering graduate Frank Giannelli ’07 under the guidance of Sharon Jones, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and chair of the A.B. engineering program. Giannelli presented his work this June at the 114th Annual American Society for Engineering Education Conference and Exposition in Honolulu, Hawaii. The grant also partially supported honors thesis work completed by civil engineering graduate Margaret Garcia ’07under the guidance of Kristen Sanford-Bernhardt, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Three new projects are in the works for the 2007-08 school year.

Andrea Smith, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology, is redesigning her course Social Memory for the spring semester. Students will explore the role of the past in present-day life by investigating public commemorative sites such as monuments, national historical sites and parks, and more private group memories.

David Shulman, associate professor of anthropology and sociology, and Jamila Bookwala, associate professor of psychology, are developing a health literacy project for Easton. By creating research strategies and samples for measuring health literacy useful to community partners, they are laying the groundwork for future community-based research. They plan to work with students to establish strategies for improving health literacy in the Easton community.

Javad Tavakoli, associate professor of chemical engineering, is designing a course on alternative energy. Students will work on a community-based project as they learn the technological aspects of alternative energy sources such as production, distribution, and use.

Kimber believes the Learn & Serve America Grant has the potential to enhance the learning experience of a large number of students and create a lasting connection between the College and a variety of community organizations.

“Community-based research is an excellent pedagogical tool for enhancing learning,” she says. “Students may apply the knowledge they’re gaining in a course to a real-world situation or do some of the research and reflection that community partners don’t have the time to do in order to figure out how to change and grow. Students tend to be more engaged in learning because they see the impact of their work first-hand.”

Last summer, President Daniel Weiss and Provost Anthony Cummings established the Community Based Learning and Research Advisory Committee to provide professional development to faculty interested in integrating service-learning components into their courses. The committee, co-chaired by Kimber and Bianca Falbo, associate professor of English, also had as members Smith, Tavakoli, and Bonnie Winfield, director of the Landis Community Outreach Center.

In May, Kimber, Falbo, and Winfield organized a workshop for faculty to support the committee’s goals. Participants in the workshop learned about the philosophy behind service-learning and the logistical mechanics of managing service sites. They also discussed how to modify assignments in courses to incorporate service-learning activities as a source of reflection on the concepts taught in the course.

Community partners served on a panel to discuss the concerns of those in government and operating nonprofits in Easton. Panelists included Paula Panovec, director of resident services at Third Street Alliance; Anita Mitchell, executive director of the Easton Area Community Center; Kim Kmetz, manager of Easton’s Main Street Initiative program; Dean Young, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Easton; Terrence Miller, chairman of Easton Gang Prevention Task Force; and Mike Dowd, vice president of Easton Initiatives with the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. Char Gray, executive director of Pennsylvania Campus Compact, and Thorme offered comments.

Workshop participants included Falbo, Jones, Kimber, Seetch, Shulman, Tavakoli, and Winfield. Also in attendance were Deborah Byrd, associate professor of English; Annette Diorio, associate dean of students and director of residence life; Diane Elliott ’74, visiting instructor of government and law; Denise Galarza-SepĂșlveda, assistant professor of foreign languages and literature; Carmela Karns, administrative assistant for forensics and the government and law department; Jennifer Kelly, assistant professor of music; John Kincaid, Meyner Professor of Government and Public Service; Stephen Lammers, Manson Professor of the English Bible; Jeannine Pinto, assistant professor of psychology; Rob Root, associate professor and associate head of mathematics; Howard Schneiderman, professor and head of anthropology and sociology; Larry Stockton, professor and head of music; Yih-Choung Yu, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Amber Zuber assistant director of the Landis Center.

For more information on the Community Based Learning and Research Initiative, contact Kimber by email or at x5269.

Categorized in: Academic News