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What Is True Community Engagement?

USF School of Management Professor Monika Hudson addresses GLCEL Seminar attendees

This year, USF faculty, graduate students, and community partners came together for the inaugural Graduate Level Community-Engaged Learning Seminar (GLCELS). This two-day seminar was designed to engage attendees with the true meaning of service learning and active community engagement. Participants enjoyed open discussions between faculty interested in infusing community-engaged practices into their courses and Bay Area service organizations interested in working with universities to meet community-identified needs. GLCELS is funded by a grant from USF’s Office of the Provost, in affiliation with the Faculty Team Innovation Award, which aims to encourage and accelerate academic collaboration and cross-fertilization.

GLCEL panels explored topics like defining communities, exploring community-engaged pedagogy, developing and maintaining community partnerships, and linking community engagement with Ignatian pedagogy. Attendees also participated in a cooperative community project development workshop.

“Many of the community service organizations in attendance had previously worked with our faculty and students for service-learning projects, research, or both,” said Professor Keith Hunter, a member of the GLCEL steering committee. For example, Professor Monika Hudson’s students collaborated with members of the Glide Memorial Church Social Justice Task Force in 2013 on a mutually beneficial data collection instrument test. They presented a fine example of students not only engaging in rich service learning in the community, but also of community-based research that actively contributes to the success and impact of a service organization.

“USF’s core values are to educate the whole student,” said panelist Eric Richardson, MBA student at the School of Management, “and that includes being a good community citizen. This seminar and the experience of being an active part of the community definitely added a lot to the value of my education. And when it comes to my future career, this project taught me the difference between pro bono work, which personally benefits your company or yourself, and being a true part of your community. The motivations behind it have to be pure, and in my future career in finance that’s what I really want to bring to the table, true community engagement.”

Panelist Richardson continued, “In Professor Hunter’s Leadership, Teams and Organizations class we were split up into groups of five or six and [were] encouraged to team up with a city partner and work with them. My team and I volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club in the Sunnydale Housing Project here in San Francisco. We interacted with the students through tutoring, coaching, mentoring them, and just being there as leaders in the community. A lot of these young kids don’t have a great support system in place and are largely raising themselves, and seeing that transformed us all. It taught us that it’s not about getting the most bang for your buck, but about being humble in leading other people, and letting those people show you how to lead them.” Richardson and his teammates are still involved with the Boys and Girls club.

“Feedback on the seminar was very positive,” said Dr. Hunter. “There seems to be a very high interest in ongoing interaction like we just had, and this is a good sign that the Faculty Innovation Award really paid off in terms of expanding opportunity for USF to partner with the community, to both provide high-quality service learning experiences and engage in more valuable community-based research.”

Written by Inge Lamboo