Examples of how community-engaged learning projects can address community needs were showcased during a virtual forum on Nov. 17. The projects demonstrate the College of Human Ecology’s Engaged College Initiative, a partnership between the college and the David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement that supports learning with a community engagement component.
The forum provided a way to share the work that faculty and students are doing with community partners, the issues they are trying to solve, and the lessons learned from that work.
“There aren’t a lot of spaces to learn about this type of work being done across the College,” said Kristen Elmore, the College’s community-engaged learning coordinator. “This is an attempt, from our leadership team, to create a space for that — to learn and share from each other.”
One project, an example of community-engaged learning that started well before the Engaged College Initiative — is a course offered by the Division of Nutritional Sciences Global Health Program and Kilimanjaro Christian Medical University College (KCMU-Co). The course offers Cornell undergraduates and KCMU-Co medical students interested in global public health a chance to participate in collaborative coursework and service experiences at KCMU-Co in Moshi, Tanzania.
The students work together to develop a new policy case study topic on a pressing global public health issue in the Tanzanian context. This, according to Jeanne
Moseley, director of the College’s Global Health Program, and Innocent Mboya, assistant lecturer at the KCMCU-Co Institute of Public Health, fosters collaborative problem-solving among a team of students with varied backgrounds and lived experiences.
“Over the years, we’ve really had to center this value that, together, we are co-creating a rich and unique opportunity to learn from one another across many forms of difference,” said Moseley. “This means we all have to lean into discomfort, we have to bring a sense of humility, and we have to cultivate mutual respect and trust so that we can get the work done but also truly learn from one another.”
Since the partnership formed in 2007, 164 Cornell and 174 KCMU-Co students have completed 70 case studies. Moseley says a strong relationship and open communication between the two institutions have allowed the project to evolve, including when the pandemic forced a pivot to online learning, a challenge that Moseley thought couldn’t be overcome.
“I would say to Innocent, ‘I don’t know if we can pull this off,’ and he would say to me, ‘Jeanne, yes, we can. We can do this together,’” said Moseley. “So, I have to thank him for his continuity of positivity and encouragement.”
Rhonda Gilmore, senior lecturer in the Department of Human Centered Design, highlighted a project with the Girl Scouts of NYPENN Pathways to construct a multi-use building to be used year-round at Camp Comstock along Cayuga Lake. To start fundraising, the Girl Scouts first needed a design for the building, along with documents illustrating the need for the building to potential donors.
Students in StudioSHIFT designed a building that reflected the Girl Scouts’ various programmatic needs within the trefoil logo. The students also created a signage system that assists visitors with wayfinding throughout the property, and brainstormed revenue-generating opportunities for the Liberty Hyde Bailey Cottage on the property. Gilmore said it was an example of how a short-term partnership can be of value to students and community partners.
“This studio tends not to have those 20- to 30-year relationships because the needs of nonprofits are volatile,” said Gilmore. “Thankfully we can plug in and take care of those needs with impactful design solutions.”
With a critical mass of community-engaged learning happening already throughout the College, Elmore hopes that forums like this will help create a network for those working in community-engaged learning projects and those with a new project idea who just don’t know how to start.
“We want events like this to help faculty think about the work they’re doing, build this network of people that they can talk to about this work, and inspire those who aren’t doing this work yet,” Elmore said.
That work could include partners like the Sciencenter or the Family Reading Partnership. The leadership of the latter would like to determine the impact of its program in Tompkins County, along with help in researching emerging trends in early childhood development.
“We have a lot of anecdotal stories where people say it’s such a wonderful thing, but that doesn’t necessarily tell us that we’re creating the change that we’d like to,” said Amber Smith, executive director of Family Reading Partnership. “Having assistance that can help us design and implement those programs would be really great.”
Faculty members who have an idea of or want to talk more about community-engaged learning projects can contact Kristen Elmore at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Juan Vazquez-Leddon is communications director for the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research in the College of Human Ecology.