Engaged Faculty Fellows connect classroom and community

By: George Lowery,  Cornell Chronicle
December 13, 2017

As fires rage across southern California, upstate economies struggle and teenagers crave educations that matter, Engaged Faculty Fellows are asking what they can do to help – and designing courses that do. The seven faculty members in this year’s cohort are developing community-engaged classes that give students hands-on experience and empower them to be global citizens – all while advancing community partners’ missions and contributing solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges.

During the yearlong Engaged Faculty Fellowship Program, participants become a community of learning and practice, focused on designing, refining and enhancing engaged courses and curricula. They grapple together with theory and practice of engaged learning; meet monthly to discuss readings, projects and challenges; and expand the idea of what it means to teach at Cornell. This year’s fellows represent seven departments in five colleges.

“Every year, faculty from across the university bring projects and passions unique to their disciplines,” said Anna Sims Bartel, associate director for community-engaged curricula and practice in the Office of Engagement Initiatives. “We provide them with frameworks, techniques and resources to improve their community-engaged teaching. Even more importantly, this program creates a powerful network of skilled academics working with communities – and each other – for the public good. It’s exciting what happens when brilliant, motivated scholars get to teach and learn from one another like this.”

The group’s Dec. 5 meeting focused on community partnerships and included a lively discussion about what makes an effective partnership – from memoranda of understanding to clear lines of communication to team-management software – and how to prepare students to collaborate with partners. Drawing on their own deep experience and readings about community engagement, fellows discussed issues of power imbalance and cultural difference that can impede partnerships. During a role-play exercise designed by two fellows, the cohort represented different local organizations, talked about the specific concerns and challenges of each, and imagined mutually beneficial collaborations among project teams.

Other topics covered throughout the year include the foundations of engagement, community-based research, critical reflection, student transformation and assessment, and the products of community-engaged work.

The fellowship program is open to all full-time faculty members and academic staff. Fellows receive a stipend to support their projects and can apply for conference travel funding. Applications for the 2018-19 cohort will open in the spring.

2017-18 Engaged Faculty Fellows and projects:

  • Rebecca Morgenstern Brenner, lecturer, Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, has students engage with California community planners in their efforts to design fire-resilient communities.
  • Larry Brown, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, is co-developing a new, community-engaged version of the field geophysics program.
  • Tasha Lewis, assistant professor of fiber science and apparel design, invites students to see how fashion and fiber sourcing can advance fairer economies.
  • Gen Meredith, lecturer in population medicine and diagnostic sciences, directs Cornell’s new Master of Public Health program, which is grounded in community engagement.
  • Julie Nucci, adjunct professor of materials science and engineering, teaches alternative high schoolers what engineering and materials science are all about.
  • Mona Anita K. Olsen, assistant professor of entrepreneurship, sparks student imagination for community-based social entrepreneurship.
  • Sara Warner, associate professor of performing and media arts, uses story circles and theater to explore local impacts of climate change.

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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