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'Civic Engagement Week' to highlight ties between St. Olaf, area nonprofits
February 8, 2009
Last fall St. Olaf economics instructor Sian Muir split her marketing class students into eight teams of four students, matching each team with a local organization. The students then helped the organizations develop real, usable marketing plans.
"They did the legwork that would have taken us a year to do and did it in two-and-a-half months," says Hayes Scriven, executive director of the Northfield Historical Society. The activity was part of St. Olaf's new Academic Civic Engagement program, started this year by the college's Center for Experiential Learning (CEL). The program included 140 students across eight classes; six classes are planned for this spring.
Now Feb. 12-19 has been designated Civic Engagement Week, which will include public presentations by area nonprofits Thursday, Feb. 12, 11:20 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in Viking Theater of Buntrock Commons. Representatives from the Northfield Healthy Community Initiative, Laura Baker Services, the Northfield Arts Guild, the Northfield Historical Society, the Northfield-Area Family Y.M.C.A., The Key, Smartwood Rainforest Alliance, the Rural Enterprise Center and more, will inform students how they can get involved through internships, Academic Civic Engagement projects, community-based work study and volunteering.
Engaging with local organizations is exciting and challenging for St. Olaf students who must "skill up" very quickly, Muir explains. "But it adds to the professionalism of the project because [students] understand it's not just abstract -- they need to be able to apply it, they need to be able to provide usable situations and solutions for these organizations."
The program, partially funded by a grant from the State of Minnesota, encourages professors to find ways to incorporate civic engagement into their classes by getting students to work on projects with community partners. It began last summer when faculty met with community organizers to talk about the possibilities.
Nathan Jacobi, CEL associate director for civic engagement, says the program fills a need at St. Olaf to encourage more hands-on experiences, especially when research shows that community-based learning enhances student learning, not to mention the help it gives local organizations. "Faculty [have done] projects like this in the past, but our goal is to take it to another level -- to make it more coordinated and to provide more support for [St. Olaf] faculty and the community partners," he says.
Professor of Psychology Dana Gross was initially a little nervous about the risks involved in handing her class over to someone else to control the direction of learning, but she says the experience was rewarding. Her infant development seminar worked with the Faribault Early Childhood Family Education program to provide audio-visual information about cross-cultural issues faced by Faribault?s Somali and Sudanese communities.
"By the time the students had gone through the whole process they felt like they had worked together, all the goals were met and they had a lot more confidence," Gross says. "I think they recognized that they have access to resources, information and all kinds of things that could be useful to other people and other groups."
To learn more about the program contact Jacobi at 786-3109 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit CEL's Community Partners page.