Community-integrated classes engage students

In order to instill a sense of active citizenship in Dartmouth students, Helen Damon-Moore, director of service and educational programs at the Tucker Foundation, collaborates with College faculty to incorporate community-based research and learning into classes in various departments. Projects have ranged from building a play structure for Lyme Nursery School as part of a course on engineering design to consulting with Rwandan refugee women in “Women, Gender and Development.”

“Dartmouth students need real-world perspective,” Damon-Moore said, explaining that engaging classes offer a “window” into Upper Valley life that changes students’ perspectives on the reading, writing and lectures they experience in the classroom.

Prior to Damon-Moore’s arrival at the Tucker Foundation four years ago, no coordinated efforts to implement community work in courses existed. By consulting individually with professors and working with the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning to execute workshops, Damon-Moore helps faculty to implement community-based learning techniques.

Encouraged by resources and instruction made available by the Tucker Foundation, professors have integrated community-based learning in a variety of disciplines. This term, students in “Poverty and Public Policy in the U.S.,” taught by sociology professor Matissa Hollister, are assessing micro-business development for the Upper Valley Haven, a temporary shelter and resource center for homeless families and adults. The Haven has considered starting a small business to provide job training and employment to the people it serves, Hollister said.

As part of the class, Tashzna Jones ’12 is researching organizations that have similar businesses to the one the Haven is trying to create, she said.

“It’s one thing to learn,” Jones said. “It’s another thing to put it to play. No one knows what this business is going to be, and we are working together to make it happen.”

Jones said that because she grew up in a low-income community, she finds studying the real-world implications of poverty especially important.

“I’ve used this experience as a tool to take and implement in my own community,” Jones said.

“Engineering Design Methodology and Project Initiation,” a required course for students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in engineering, also incorporates community-based elements, according to engineering professor Douglas Van Citters.

“The broadest definition of engineering is the application of science and math to meet societal need,” Van Citters said.

The class is currently conducting both regional and international projects, including working on a waste disposal system for a village in Haiti and a recycling system for Stonyfield Farm in Londonderry, N.H. Students have also worked on improving patient tracking and condition monitoring at the Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Van Citters said.

Damon-Moore is also teaching a course in the women and gender studies department, titled “Gender, Activism and the Common Good.” Her students collaborate with The Family Place, a parent-child center in Norwich, Damon-Moore said. Thus far, students have visited the jewelry business at the organization, interviewed staff members and written profiles of staff members for the center’s website. The jewelry program at the center employs young mothers while teaching them parenting, life and job skills, according to The Family Place’s website.

David Rolla ’12 said the class has provided him insight about the nature of non-profit organizations.

“It’s not that I ever thought it was easy, but seeing all of the work that each of the staff members do on a daily basis puts working to the common good in perspective,” he said. “It takes many people to run and sustain just one organization.”

Students taking classes with a community-learning focus serve a “different purpose” than regular volunteers, according to Sara Kobylenski, executive director of the Haven.

“The service learning projects really give us a value added in some area that goes beyond what normal volunteers give,” Kobylenski said. “One of the best things Dartmouth has going with the community are these service learning partnerships.”

Community service as part of a class experience also encourages structured reflection, according to Damon-Moore. “When my students go out to work in the community and come back, we have an arena for them to share the ideas they’ve gained, further their ideas and to really analyze what has happened,” Damon-Moore said.

Community-based learning bridges the gap between theory and practical experience and enables students to challenge practices using their theoretical knowledge, according to WGST professor Patricia Hernandez. Hernandez teaches “Telling Stories for Social Change,” in which students collaborate with inmates at Sullivan County Correctional Facility in Unity, N.H. to develop a theater performance based on the life experiences of the inmates.

Classes that engage with the local community are offered up to $1,000 per term through the Community-Based Learning and Research Small Grant Program, sponsored by the Tucker Foundation, to cover the costs associated with community engagement The grants help subsidize travel costs to non-profit organizations, according to Damon-Moore. Students sometimes drive as far as 30 to 60 miles to pursue service work, but these distances do not deter faculty from teaching the courses, she said.

“For a school in a rural setting that is only fairly recently into this type of course, I think that Dartmouth has a notable impact,” Damon-Moore said.

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