Pete Mather

Pete Mather

Julie Paxton

Julie Paxton

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CCCE leading efforts to engage faculty in community engagement

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Ohio University’s Center for Campus and Community Engagement (CCCE) is wrapping up its second year and celebrating significant progress made in its goal to increase service learning at the University.

A University-wide initiative, the CCCE was created to serve as the central clearinghouse for meeting the community engagement needs of the entire OHIO community as well as for community-based organizations in Athens and the surrounding region. Its mission is to collaborate with regional community-based organizations and University-based partners on all of OHIO’s campuses to provide students transformational learning opportunities linked to the curriculum through structured applied learning, service learning, undergraduate research and volunteer activities. A hefty charge, the CCCE has made its initial focus service learning.

Since the CCCE’s founding in the fall of 2013, more than 120 OHIO faculty members from several campuses have participated in introductory service learning training, with 16 of those individuals recently completing an eight-week intensive training.

These efforts have been spearheaded by two faculty members who are serving as OHIO’s service learning experts – Pete Mather from the Patton College of Education and Julie Paxton from the College of Arts and Sciences. Each boasts valuable but distinct experience in service learning, bringing local and global perspectives to OHIO’s drive to incorporate service learning into its curriculum.

“Pete and Julie have been involved in the CCCE and its service learning initiative from the center’s very beginning. Their involvement has been critical to the development of the CCCE,” said Kevin Davis, director of the CCCE. “They both have dedicated a lot of time, knowledge and energy into the CCCE.”

Mather, an associate professor of counseling and higher education and secretary to the OHIO Board of Trustees, and Paxton, an associate professor of economics, both sit on the CCCE’s 14-member advisory board. Mather chairs the advisory board and this semester was named the CCCE Faculty Fellow. (See sidebar)

From the Carter Center to OHIO’s CCCE

Mather brings an international context to OHIO’s service learning initiative, having served as the director of educational programs for the Carter Center for three years before joining the faculty at Ohio University.

A nonprofit public policy center founded by President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, the Carter Center aims to fight disease, hunger, poverty, conflict and oppression throughout the world. In his position, Mather worked with about 100 interns each year helping to coordinate and implement the various humanitarian programs the center operated. It was in that professional environment that Mather said he first began applying service learning principles to the internships, committed to connecting the interns’ academic interests with their work in the field and creating opportunities for reflection, one of the hallmarks of a meaningful service learning experience.

“That’s where I developed my interest in and learned about the service learning pedagogy and started applying it,” Mather explained. “When I came to Ohio University in 2005, I really wanted the international experience and service learning to be part of my work as a faculty member.”

The University and the Patton College of Education supported Mather’s passion, allowing him to develop a service learning-based program in Honduras that began in 2007 and has since migrated to Ecuador in partnership with OHIO’s Tropical Disease Institute. Designed primarily for graduate students studying education and higher education, these service learning opportunities allow the participants to work side-by-side with individuals in rural communities in these countries on projects that are of value to the host community. Mather noted that one year the group constructed a community building in one of the towns while another year they built a playground for a school.

For Mather, the projects completed on these trips are just the icing on top of the cake. His primary missions are educating his students about the service learning pedagogy in hopes that they may apply it to courses they teach in the future and allowing his students to cultivate relationships with the individuals in these communities.

“A big focus I hope students take away from these experiences is learning about intercultural competencies, examining how they think about interacting with people who seem to have a very different life than they do,” he said. “I think our students are often surprised when they go into these communities and see how rich the communities’ social fabrics are even though they may not have electricity, they may not have television and all those things that probably in some ways fray our social fabric a little bit.”

Keeping it local

While Mather’s service learning experience and passion is more globally focused, Paxton’s is rooted deeply in her roots.

“I grew up in Athens; I’m a townie,” Paxton said, noting that watching her colleagues develop service trips overseas inspired her to focus on opportunities and partnerships in the local community.

Paxton began dabbling in local community service in 2000 when she founded WE CARE, a community service organization for women in the Athens area. Each year the group explores a different local nonprofit and performs various acts of service for that nonprofit. This year, the group is working with Circle for Kids, a summer outreach program provided by Nelsonville-based nonprofit The Paper Circle. The program provides underserved area youth a summer of enrichment and learning through the arts.

According to Paxton, WE CARE has already sponsored a holiday art program for the children who attend Circle for Kids and plans on supporting the group’s visits to OHIO’s Athens Campus this summer.

“As I’ve led WE CARE, I’ve become more familiar with the community members and the amazing efforts that are going on right here in town,” Paxton said. “It’s led me to start incorporating service learning elements into my economics classes here at the University.”

Paxton teaches an economics of poverty course that requires students to participate in one of two service learning opportunities.

One of those opportunities involves a partnership with Athens-based nonprofit Good Works, which operates the Timothy House, the only homeless shelter in a nine-county region of Southeastern Ohio. Each Sunday morning, students in Paxton’s class prepare breakfast for the residents at the Timothy House before sitting down to join them for their first meal of the day.

“We’re trying to get face-to-face experiences to help build relationships and make the lessons we’re exploring real instead of just discussing problems from a textbook,” Paxton explained. “It’s all about making it real and not idealizing or fantasizing about who the poor are.”

The class’ other service learning opportunity involves a program Paxton and her students created called College Bound Bobcat Club. Designed for Athens Middle School students who want to learn more about attending college, students in Paxton’s class visit the middle school once a week over a 10-week period and lead a group of middle-school students onto the Athens Campus afterschool. The middle school students are provided a snack and are taken to places throughout campus designed to expose them to some of the logistics of attending college as well as some of the programs that are tied to their individual interests. For example, one student was interested in becoming a make-up artist, so the group visited OHIO’s theater department.

“These are ways to make our students connect to both the curriculum and the community,” Paxton said. “Having service learning as a required course element pushes students into something outside of their comfort zone, allows them to apply the lessons they are learning in class, and has the potential to truly make a difference for both the students and the individuals they are working with.”

A peer-to-peer approach

Through their roles with the CCCE, Mather and Paxton’s service learning experience extends beyond their individual classrooms and into the classrooms of their peers.

“Pete and Julie’s practical experiences in developing community-based educational opportunities for their students have been extremely helpful in designing our faculty trainings,” said Davis. “The training attendees have often commented about how Pete and Julie’s first-hand knowledge has helped them think of ways to bring community engagement into their own classrooms in an academically meaningful and helpful way.”

Mather and Paxton conducted introduction to service learning workshops this past fall, providing an overview of the service learning pedagogy and best practices and how it can benefit students, faculty and community partners. They recently completed an eight-week service learning and community engagement faculty seminar designed for educators who had already completed the initial training. During this in-depth training, 16 faculty members from departments throughout the Athens Campus explored service learning theory and practice, reviewed the University’s policies on service learning, learned how community engaged learning can be incorporated into course curriculum, and examined how to implement best practices locally and globally. Mather and Paxton led most of the seminar lessons but also included guest presenters who provided a local perspective on service learning. For example, one week of the seminar focused on “Partnering with the Community,” a lesson that was led by Keith Wasserman, the founder of Good Works.

“We shared with faculty some of the tools that we’ve used in our service learning experiences,” Mather explained. “The training involved a combination of learning pedagogical practices and logistical tools as well as providing faculty access to individuals in the community who might be able to provide them information down the road as they begin to develop their own service learning opportunities.”

One OHIO faculty member who completed both the initial and in-depth trainings is about to launch a service learning experience for her students.

Kerri Shaw, a field education instructor in social work, will be taking a group of nine undergraduate social work majors – eight from the Athens Campus, one from the Lancaster Campus – to Paraguay next month for a two-and-a-half-week study abroad experience that includes a service learning component.

Shaw’s interest in service learning stems not only from her experiences in social work but also from the experiences she had as an Ohio University student.

“Service was such an important part of my own experience as a student,” explained Shaw, a 1996 OHIO graduate.

Her service experience began when she stumbled across a flier on campus advertising a group that was starting a program to provide a free weekly meal for area residents. She attended a meeting at United Campus Ministry about this project, which ultimately led to the creation of United Campus Ministry’s Thursday Supper, a program that more than 20 years later provides an average of 5,000 free meals to the community each year. Shaw’s involvement in the Thursday Supper program continued throughout her undergraduate years.

“That experience gave me an entirely different perspective of being here and provide me with connections that I still have today,” she said. “It changed the way that I was a student, and to see that program thriving now is just so rewarding and satisfying. You never know what you’re going to be connected to or the difference that you’re going to make. There’s a danger in students coming here and just plugging into the University and not into life off campus. They’re missing out on this huge part of the educational experience.”

As Shaw was preparing to launch the study abroad trip for her students, she wanted to ensure that the service learning component was as meaningful as possible, prompting her to sign up for the eight-week faculty training.

“I wanted to learn more about the academic side of service learning because I’ve always been on the service side of it,” she said. “I wanted to learn more about how to process the experience with the students and things I could build into the experience that would make it a richer and more meaningful experience for them.”

According to Shaw, the training taught her not only hard skills, such as creative ways to reflect with students, but also exposed her to different resources designed to make the service learning process more manageable – all while being able to network with faculty throughout campus.

“All of this is raising service to a different level on this campus and adding value to our coursework,” she noted. “Providing students opportunities to have relationships with people who are different than they are and having opportunities to apply some of what they are learning is invaluable.”

MTD-CCCE-faculty

Pictured are some of the 16 Ohio University faculty members who participated in the eight-week in-depth service learning training provided by the CCCE.

An investment in service learning and community partnerships

The CCCE is not only providing OHIO faculty guidance on incorporating service learning into their curriculum but in some cases funding as well – all as a means of helping set the service learning wheels in motion.

Faculty who participated in introductory service learning workshops not only were eligible to further their studies through the in-depth training but also to apply for mini grants to help facilitate their service learning aspirations. Since spring 2014, the CCCE has awarded more than $9,000 in mini grants to faculty throughout the University.

Shaw was awarded a $1,000 mini grant to assist with the service learning component of the upcoming trip to Paraguay. Part of the trip involves constructing a home in the South American country, and the $1,000 grant combined with some private fundraising Shaw did will cover the cost of the building materials.

Andie Walla, an adjunct professor in the School of Media Arts and Studies and a video producer with University Communications and Marketing, participated in introductory service learning training last spring. She has been awarded a mini grant each semester of this academic year to help implement service learning into her curriculum.

“As I learned more about service learning, I thought it would be an excellent way to involve my video students in the community and to provide content for their video projects,” Walla said.

Walla teaches a multi-camera studio production class, in which her students produce a 10-minute video in a talk-show like format. Often, she said, the content of those videos wasn’t as strong as it could be with many students simply focused on a club they were involved in or something familiar to them.

She decided to try something new fall semester and dip her academic toe into the service learning process. Walla paired the students in her multi-camera studio production class with three area nonprofits – Camp Oty‘Okwa, Live Healthy Appalachia and Kids on Campus – to produce these 10-minute videos.

“I thought working with these nonprofits would give the students actual content to work with, allow me an opportunity to mentor them in these client-based relationships, and provide the nonprofits with a video, which can be a very expensive service that not a lot of nonprofits can afford to do,” Walla said. “So everybody wins.”

The mini grant Walla received helped pay for transporting students to locations where the videos were shot as well as to fund a teaching assistant to help facilitate the students’ client-based relationships.

According to Walla, this service learning experiment was such a success that the students commented at the end of the semester that they wish they had had more time to work on that project. That inspired Walla to approach the School of Media Arts and Studies with a proposal to launch a new course, Media Production for the Community, this semester. School administrators gave Walla the go-ahead if she could get enough students to sign up for the course. Shortly after posting the course, 24 students enrolled, filling the class and generating a waiting list.

Walla received another mini grant to again support transportation costs and a teaching assistant. Students in the new Media Production for the Community class have been paired with four nonprofits, including Gawande College in India, and are producing two videos for each entity – a 60-second commercial and a 5- to 6-minute video.

“I think the most important thing about the service learning we’ve been doing is giving back to the community, which benefits the students personally and professionally,” Walla said. “And for me personally, it’s perfect because it combines the two things that I love – making videos and the Athens community.”

Community partners serve as co-educators

OHIO’s service learning initiative cannot succeed without the support of its community partners. The CCCE works with nonprofits throughout the Southeastern Ohio region and the world to create learning opportunities for OHIO students outside of the traditional classroom setting.

“Successful service learning requires a balance between the University and our community partners who I really view as co-educators in the academic process,” said Paxton. “The work our students do with these community partners is helping them, but we’re getting a lot out of the arrangement as well.”

One of those community partners, Live Health Appalachia (LHA), has been active in the CCCE from the very beginning. Founded in 2010 as a community and University partnership housed in the College of Health Sciences and Professions, LHA became in independent nonprofit in 2011. Its mission is to improve the health and well-being of the Appalachia region through outreach, education and advocacy with an emphasis on nutrition and other lifestyle choices.

“We’ve been involved in the CCCE since day one,” said Sherri Oliver, executive director of LHA, adding that the nonprofit involves OHIO students in its adult and child education programs in a variety of ways. “It is so beneficial to have an office at the University that is dedicated to linking students up with our long-term service commitments in particular. It’s nice to have a clearinghouse. It makes the process much easier and allows us to interact with so many more students on a much more meaningful level.”

According to Oliver, the CCCE was founded at just the right time for LHA as the organization started exploring how to expand its programming to area third-grade classrooms.

LHA partnered with the CCCE in applying for a $25,000 Sugar Bush Foundation grant to fund the nonprofit’s Live Healthy Kids: Meal Masters program, a continuing nutrition education program being piloted in 13 third-grade classrooms throughout Athens County. The grant was funded, and the CCCE recruited 25 students from the Patton College of Education the College of Health Sciences and Professions to teach the program in the local schools.

“If we didn’t have these student food educators, we wouldn’t be able to offer this program,” Oliver said. “Twenty-five students are a lot for us to manage, but having the support of the CCCE makes it all possible.”

LHA is also one of the nonprofits that Walla’s new Media Production for the Community class is working with. According to Oliver, the videos that students are producing for that class will be used to recruit participants for its programming as well as to support its funding efforts by supplementing written funding requests with visual demonstrations of the organization’s programming in action.

“The work with the video students has really given us an opportunity to interact with students on a completely different level, to let them learn more about our organization, and to gain some really neat marketing material that we can use,” Oliver said.

As LHA continues to grow, it is exploring opportunities to venture outside of the Athens area and into the regional Appalachian community – an effort, Oliver said, that will require the support of many volunteers and partners, including those provided through the CCCE.

“Being able to build upon this relationship is so critical to so much of what we do,” she said.

For more information about the CCCE, visit http://www.ohio.edu/communityengagement/.

This special Compass series highlights the ways in which Ohio University staff and faculty are living their passion while making a difference – on campus, in the community, in their fields, and around the world.

Mather named CCCE Faculty Fellow

As Pete Mather prepares to leave his position as secretary of Ohio University’s Board of Trustees, he has taken on a new role at OHIO – Faculty Fellow for the Center for Campus and Community Engagement (CCCE).

According to Kevin Davis, director of the CCCE, as the Faculty Fellow, Mather will be coordinating the academic side of the center’s service learning initiative. His duties will include providing resources and expertise in curricular development through one-on-one sessions and group programs; collaborating with campus partners to develop research related to service learning and academic community engagement, including the assessment and evaluation of CCCE programs; and representing the CCCE with internal and external stakeholders.

It’s a role Mather is eager is fill.

“Most of my scholarship is on service learning and related to service learning, so I jumped at the opportunity to be involved in Ohio University’s service learning initiative,” Mather said. “It’s something I’m very personally interested in and provides another avenue for my students to be involved and learn about service learning. I think there is such a rich opportunity for faculty and academic courses to be more tied into the community, globally and here locally.”

Mather said this summer he will be focusing on developing an assessment and evaluation program for service learning at Ohio University, which will involve working with the University Registrar and the Office of Institutional Research as well as examining tools and best practices used at other institutions.

He’ll also be working with Elizabeth Sayrs, dean of University College and vice provost for undergraduate education, on developing a method for OHIO to designate courses that include a service learning component. That effort will lay the groundwork for the University to develop a community engagement certificate in the near future.

“My focus is really on the academic pieces, working with faculty, assessing the program, and working on the certificate and curriculum pieces,” Mather said. “We’re just one piece. There are a lot of community engagement opportunities at the University, and we also want to find ways to really coordinate with other parts of the University.”