Arts / Faith and Humanities

Faculty and Students Focused on Community-Engaged Learning

Written by Dean Forbes

June 23, 2020

Community-engaged program sites

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One of the hallmarks of academics at Seattle University is community engagement. Professors design courses that get their students involved in local organizations, while students take classes in science, math, criminal justice and the humanities, among others.

One of the hallmarks of academics at Seattle University is community engagement. Professors design courses that get their students involved in local organizations, while students take classes in science, math, criminal justice and the humanities, among others.

Despite the regular academic year being over, new undergraduate students can sign up for a free two-credit summer course called Engaging Seattle: Pursuing a Just and Human World that begins Aug. 3. The Center for Community Engagement and University Core collaborated on developing the course with assistance and input from faculty members across nearly all of Seattle U’s colleges and schools. Faculty with a broad range of disciplines will provide prerecorded lectures to help frame each of the course topics.

The Center for Community Engagement facilitates service placements at community-based organizations for more than 500 students each quarter and develops project-based service-learning courses to address specific technical and research needs of local residents and families and the neighborhood organizations that work for and with them. Here’s a sampling of some of the service learning-focused courses:

Mimi Cheng, PhD, instructor, Biology: UCOR 3800 Infectious Diseases 

Cheng first developed the infectious diseases course a few years ago.

“We talked a lot about COVID-19 this quarter. It’s so easy to tie the topic to real life situations and I wanted to develop a community engagement aspect to this course,” she says.

The Center for Community Engagement connected Professor Cheng to Steve Shapiro at the Parent/Child Health Program at Public Health - Seattle & King County. Even before the pandemic, Shapiro was looking for someone who could make a series of short videos for young children and childcare providers about sanitation and calming techniques. The value of such videos has become more apparent since the COVID-19 crisis started.

The topics students are working on include breathing exercises and yoga for children and several areas of focus for providers, including calming corner creation, disinfecting vs. sanitizing, sanitizer use, hand washing technique, putting on and taking off gloves and when to wear them and sanitizing toys.

Cheng’s 30 students, mostly undergraduate juniors and seniors, worked remotely in groups of three to create videos, which were due at the end of spring quarter.

“It’s been a delight to work with Mimi. Her openness to possibility has fostered us getting as far as we have,” says Shapiro. “We’re hopeful this project will result in future connections between our program and SU students such that they might learn on multiple levels, teach us much and gain from the connection with public health and its professionals. We also hope this will further the mission to provide children and the childcare community with more opportunities for health and well-being.”

McLean Sloughter, PhD, associate professor, Math: MATH 3910 Data Visualization; and Brian Fischer, Math: MATH 3910 Statistical Modeling

Students in these two math undergraduate courses conducted survey analyses for two community partners, Real Change and El Centro de la Raza.

Sloughter’s class was divided into two teams—one worked with El Centro de la Raza and the other with Real Change. 

“My course is on data visualization and communication. The students have been learning both the technical side of how to write code to create graphs based on data, as well as the design side, thinking about what sorts of displays will most effectively communicate the intended information,” he says.

For El Centro de la Raza, the data analysis was focused on information about who is participating in programs with the goal to better understand the demographics and needs of the community. In the case of Real Change, the data described who their vendors are with the objective to understand the demographic and economic situations of vendors—both to see how the makeup of vendors is changing over time and how Real Change might shift its program to meet their needs.

Fischer’s class is on statistical modeling. “The entire class worked with Real Change to address the questions that McLean outlined,” says Fischer. “My students performed analyses that are complementary to what McLean's students are doing, but the overall goal is the same for the two classes.”

Maria Tedesco, PhD, lecturer, Matteo Ricci Institute: HUMT 1860 Religion, Conflict, and Peace

Tedesco’s students developed Justice Café host tool kits on the topic of religion and violence for the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center.

The Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (IPJC) is a Seattle-based organization focused on interfaith dialogue and justice education. Justice Cafés are spaces in which young adults committed to social justice can engage in conversations on issues of local and global concerns and make connections between spirituality and justice. Justice Cafés focus building community, deepen spirituality and promoting justice.

Tedesco divided her class into three working groups to create three different host kits. Zoom sessions were used to work with representatives from IPJC to become familiar with host kits and to create kits by the end of the quarter.

“The host kits contain materials, such as inspirational quotes, ice-breaking activities, narratives, data, conversation starter cards, ideas for action cards and spiritual reflections that help the hosts guide the Justice Cafés and enables participants to have meaningful and informed conversations,” says Tedesco.

"Professor Tedesco has given a tremendous opportunity to share our program with a group of insightful students,” says Samantha Yanity, justice educator at IPJC. “Through this process, I have been able to outline the fundamentals of our program, the importance of doing justice work and the challenges that come with this work.”

Brooke Gialopsos, PhD, assistant professor, Criminal Justice: CRJS 4000 Victimology

Students conducted a literature review of bike theft for the City of Seattle and drafted a preliminary survey. In the fall 2020 course CRJS 3010 Research Methods, students will finalize and implement the survey.

“We were asked by the City of Seattle, Office of City Auditor, to research bicycle theft. They will use our information to direct their research and prevention efforts in our community,” says Gialopsos. “This was a terrific opportunity for our class and I am incredibly excited. This project also coincides beautifully with the focus of our textbook, Introduction to victimology: Contemporary theory, research, and practice, and the interconnectedness of theory, research and prevention policy.”

In groups, students explored existing literature, examined theoretical explanations for victimization, fear and perceived risk, discussed victim/target characteristics, considered additional costs and consequences of victimization—both at the individual and community levels)—discussed prevention strategies and made theoretically based and empirically driven policy recommendations. Some key questions the project aims to uncover include:

  • Are marginalized groups, in terms of race, ethnicity and class, affected differently by bicycle theft?
  • What social justice implications does this have?
  • If fear of bicycle theft discourages bicycle use, as some research suggests, what are the downstream consequences for public health and the environment?

“In the fall quarter, my Research Methods course will use this project as a starting point to identify concepts, operationalize those concepts into variables, create questions, design a survey and, hopefully, implement the survey for the City of Seattle,” says Gialopsos.

Becky McNamara, PhD, lecturer and interim associate director, Matteo Ricci Institute: HUMT 1330 Introduction to Discernment and Community Engagement

Originally, students in this class intended to do community engaged service-learning hours with three organizations in the Seattle University Youth Initiative neighborhoods. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and switch to remote learning, McNamara found substitute ways to give her mostly first-year students a virtual service-learning component in her spring quarter Introduction to Discernment and Community Engagement course.

McNamara teaches a two-course series for the first-year cohort of students. The winter course is Context of Leadership (for humanities majors) and Teaching in the City (for humanities for teaching majors). The same students take the spring quarter course, Introduction to Discernment and Community Engagement, an introduction to the theory and practice of Ignatian discernment and community engagement. During the winter courses, students were introduced to community partners Bailey Gatzert Elementary, Washington Middle School and the Youth Chaplaincy Program at the Youth Detention Center to build relationships. Students learned about the history of the organizations and of the neighborhoods and completed a community asset mapping project. The plan was for students to continue working with the same organization this quarter as a service-learning placement. 

“I created new assignments to provide opportunities to be engaged in community from a distance,” says McNamara.

Students conducted interviews throughout the quarter with the staff to learn how the organization is adapting and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students also interviewed people and organizations in their home communities from all over the country to apply the course concept through interactions outside of the course. They interviewed religious leaders, politicians, former high school teachers and mentors, small business owners and directors and volunteers at social service agencies.

Throughout the course students took into consideration the unique circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. They looked at the concept of community engagement through the lens of social connectivity and physical distancing. Ignatian discernment was used to consider how students might engage in the community during this unique time in history.

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