Starting next semester, courses will be offered at Ithaca College that introduce basic community involvement as part of the curriculum in a broader experiment with community engagement modules.
The pilot modules, proposed as part of the college’s IC2 program, will consist of two 2- to 3-hour sessions or a single 6-hour session in courses that aim to build a partnership between the college and local community agencies.
The goal of the community engagement modules is to further long-term community objectives and provide in-depth student learning, Elan Shapiro, an environmental studies and sciences lecturer who helped organize the program, said.
“You have to get the students well oriented to the issues and the complexities of working in the community with people who have very different backgrounds from them,” he said.
Community agencies that will work with the college as part of the program include the Greater Ithaca Activities Center and the Southside Community Center.
The course modules are designed to address issues in the local community. Students will primarily be working with community organizations that serve low-income residents, Shapiro said.
Shapiro said he hopes the modules will set a precedent for other colleges to act as partners with community organizations. Success of the course modules will be measured through student-written journals, feedback from organizations, reflection discussions and paper surveys, he said.
Professors from different fields at the college have indicated an interest in the community modules because they believe it will provide real-world application for what their students learn in the classroom.
Julie Pena-Shaff, associate professor of psychology, said she will use the course module to offer community service as an alternative to a final research paper in her course, Lifespan Development Across Cultural Perspective.
“The students also learn about the community and change the mind-set that they think they are doing the community a favor and rather that the relationship is reciprocal,” she said.
Judy Gonyea, associate professor of occupational therapy, has also incorporated community service in previous courses, working with groups like Parent to Parent. She said she looks forward to offering the course module as part of her Occupational Apartheid class.
“It will be important for the students in the class to see how, on a local level, you can look at a group that needs support or has issues that need to be addressed and relate them to something national or global.”
A graduate student in the occupational therapy program, Christine Slocombe, has taken courses with Gonyea, working at the Ithaca Free Clinic and the Friendship Center, an extension of the Red Cross.
“It’s kind of an interesting view into the grassroots aspect of it — getting an opportunity to see the needs of the individuals in the community who utilize that service,” Slocombe said.
Amy Frith, assistant professor of health promotion and physical education, said she hopes using the course modules in her Community Nutrition class will allow her to teach students different theories of nutrition in the community.
“This is one way we are thinking would be a good way to train the students and how to collaborate with community members,” she said.
Shapiro said he is ready to get the course modules running.
“When it works, they’re learning a lot from the community, and the community is learning a lot from them,” he said.