During their course of study, fellows will work in research teams with faculty and community partners to address major social problems, such as nutrition and food access, the challenges of intergenerational communication, and poverty’s manifestations across rural and urban environments. Interdisciplinary models of community engaged pedagogy are at the forefront of current research. As Cathy N. Davidson’s recently released book The New Education indicates, the most innovative pedagogy designed to expose students to the experiences needed for the twenty-first century workplace is happening on the periphery of higher education. The Pathway will move digital community engagement from the periphery to the center through a full curricular integration.
The Pathway will strengthen the University’s commitment to the region. St. Louis’s Metro East is a nexus of racial, ethnic, regional, socioeconomic, and generational diversity, and a microcosm of national trends. Although cities like Edwardsville are among the wealthiest in the St. Louis metropolitan area, Madison and St. Clair counties also include East St. Louis, Granite City, and Alton—cities characteristic of the rust belt that have been negatively impacted by declining industries and falling populations. Hamel and New Douglas are sparsely populated rural farming communities with predominantly white populations, whereas more than 90% of the residents in Madison and Venice are African American. The Pathway will attempt to bridge the urban rural divide by focusing on broad problems in their specific regional context. The program will foster a reciprocal relationship with community partners and create more positive public perceptions of the humanities and social sciences as fields of study. The committee has researched models on campus and at other institutions in developing plans for the Pathway’s community partnerships.
Current Models on Campus
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville has recently taken steps to strengthen its relationship to the local community. One of Chancellor Randy Pembrook’s stated goals is supporting high impact community engagement practices at all levels of the University’s operations. From 2018 on, the College of Arts and Sciences has had community engagement as one of its desired topics for its Targeted Funding Initiative program. The 2019 all-faculty meeting focused on community engagement, and the Continuous Improvement Conference, scheduled for March 29, 2019, will focus on community partnerships. To date, community engagement is flourishing on campus, but there are only a few examples of more centralized efforts, detailed below, in addition to an overview of models on other campuses and some key examples of how research teams would partner with community organizations.
The Successful Communities Collaborative
SIUE Successful Communities Collaborative (SSCC) is a cross-disciplinary program that supports one-year partnerships between the University and communities in Illinois to advance local resilience and sustainability based on community-identified environmental, social and economic issues and needs. Their mission is to connect Illinois communities with the students and faculty of the University. SSCC is based on the model supported by the EPIC Network, which “partners higher education with communities to improve the places we live.” SSCC’s past partners include the Village of Godfrey and the cities of Highland and Alton, IL. Classes partnering with these communities have worked on recycling campaigns, methods to address the opioid crisis, and DCEP committee member Dr. Connie Frey Spurlock directs the SSCC, which is housed in the Office of Educational Outreach.
The Digital Community Engagement Pathway plans to work closely with the Successful Communities Collaborative to establish partnerships for research teams. In this way, students will be able to directly see and measure the results of their work. In addition, in many cases partners contract with SSCC, and those funds will be able to support the work of faculty and students taking part in the Pathway.
Service Learning through the Kimmel Student Involvement Center
At Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, service learning is an important part of our curriculum offered on the campus. Students who participate in service-learning are provided with a safe, meaningful educational and non-paid position with a nonprofit agency or organization. The Kimmel Student Involvement’s Center’s Service Learning webpage and Student Learning Handbook provide some guidance for faculty and students about how to build community partnerships and set up service learning activities in class. The research teams in the Digital Community Engagement Pathway will help support a plethora of sustained community partnerships for the institution, and provide new faculty development opportunities regarding community engaged teaching and scholarship.
SIUE’s IRIS Center
Two of the committee directors, Jessica DeSpain and Kristine Hildebrandt, have been using a team model in the IRIS Center since 2009, wherein students collaborate with faculty on the planning and execution of research. As a part of SIUE’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities program, these students have completed fieldwork abroad, studied rare books, and served as near-peer mentors for digital humanities clubs at secondary schools. The digital humanities and social sciences focus of IRIS has given undergraduates a powerful combination of community and digital learning experiences and greater clarity on the value of their majors. They learn transferrable skills like writing for the web, project management, web development, and data visualization. Speaking of her work with DeSpain, one student noted, “Having one-on-one time with a faculty member was one of the most rewarding aspects of my time as SIUE…. It was the first time that the work I was doing and the decisions I was making would have an impact on future researchers. This project shaped who I was as a student, and it gave me the courage I needed to add my voice in collaborations.” The research team model involves students in questions that matter to them and provides them with an audience beyond the University. By integrating research teams into the curriculum, the Pathway will provide underserved students sustained exposure to the benefits of experiential learning.
Models at Other Institutions
The Common Problem Project is a collaboration between five State University of New York campuses that is funded by the National Science Foundation. The purpose of the project is to promote cross-disciplinary teaching and learning, while developing problem-solving skills and civic engagement in students. Faculty from different disciplines are paired and their relevant, existing classes are coordinated to include a joint project, focused on a problem or problems of common interest. The problem can be either local, regional, or wider still. Students work in cross-disciplinary teams to devise solutions to the problem(s). Community partners and instructors serve as expert sources, but emphasis is placed on the self-direction of the learning in student teams.
The MetroLab Network is very much like the EPIC Network, but it emphasizes technology in its partnerships as the Pathway will, through Smart City models. The Newtwork is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation. To be a member of the Network, the organization must have a signed Memorandum of Understanding and at least three research, development, and deployment projects.
Another model is CityStudio Vancouver. This is also similar to the EPIC model. CityStudio focuses more on experimental projects. They are funded by universities, cities, and philanthropic organizations. Students enroll in designated campus courses to participate in a project. The campus course offers a traditional experience. Students can also enroll in studio courses that are off-site intensive experiences.