Civic Engagement and Inter-cultural Understanding: Course-embedded Community Field Work for First Year College Students

By Laura Anker, Barbara Hillery, Tonya Thomas and Julio Gonzalez.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper will present tools for using civic engagement as a method of creating meaningful community bridges, combating racism and effecting social change. One of the most diverse campuses in the United States, the State University of New York, College at Old Westbury, has a tradition of civic activism, service and social justice. Our students’ work on Gulf Coast hurricane relief in New Orleans inspired the College to establish the Community Engagement and Partnership Center (CEPC), housed in the First-Year Experience Program, to develop collaborative agreements with community partners. CEPC restructured the First-Year curriculum to include a course-embedded, community-based learning experience for all students, creating a unique model of collaboration that identifies civic engagement and diversity as core values of an Old Westbury education. Community partners were selected for their commitment to fostering social equity, youth development, educational empowerment, sustainability and/or environmental justice and an expressed interest in, and need for, diversity in its volunteer base. Old Westbury’s civic engagement model integrates academic study and analysis with field experience, challenging students to confront the big questions facing society today in real world settings. Students work in groups in culturally diverse, underserved and underrepresented communities, challenging prejudices and assumptions, while promoting the development of intercultural understanding, team-work, communication and leadership skills. Learning outcomes and an assessment plan were developed and implemented from the outset. Understanding diversity is an integral part of the community-engagement curriculum. The First-Year Reader, The Ethics of Engagement: Educating Leaders for a Just World, produced by faculty, includes readings in race, class and gender. Students analyze the goals and delivery of service in their community placements, while class discussions involve the exchange of multiple cultural perspectives. Student essays are assessed for a learning outcome that reflects this complex understanding of diversity.

Keywords: Community Engagement, Diversity, Inter-cultural Understanding, Internships

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 8, Issue 5, pp.49-56. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 609.273KB).

Dr. Laura Anker

Professor of American Studies and Director, First Year Experience and Civic Engagement Program, State University of New York, Old Westbury, NY, USA

Laura Anker is a Distinguished Professor of American Studies at the State University of New York, College at Old Westbury and Director of the First-Year Experience and Community Engagement Programs. She is a recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. She received her Ph.D. in History from SUNY Stony Brook; her M.A. from Brown University and her B.A. from Brandeis University. Dr. Anker is the co-author of Women of Courage: Jewish and Italian Immigrant Women in New York (Greenwood Press, 1999). She is the Project Director, with Julio Gonzalez, of the “Listening Project,” a community study of Latino immigration to Long Island. She serves on the Boards of the East Hampton Union Free School District, the East Hampton Day Care Center and the Project Most After-School Program. She led Study Circles on immigration and wrote the discussion guide, Diversity on the East End: What Kind of Community Do You Want?

Dr. Barbara Hillery

Associate Professor and Chair, Chemistry and Physics Department, State University of New York, Old Westbury, NY, USA

Barbara Hillery is an Associate Professor in, and Chair of, the Department of Chemistry and Physics. Her research interests are in analytical and environmental chemistry. In addition, she is interested in encouraging non-science majors to venture into the chemistry lab and discover that they can indeed do science.

Tonya Thomas

Director of Community Partnerships, Civic Engagement and Partnership Center, State University of New York, Old Westbury, NY, USA

Tonya Thomas is Director of Community Partnerships with Old Westbury’s Community Engagement and Partnership Center. In this capacity Ms. Thomas not only develops community partnerships with non-profit organizations on Long Island and the Metropolitan area but also facilitates internship-readiness workshops and social justice awareness programs for the entire class of first-year students. She earned a Bachelors of Science in Journalism from Boston University’s College of Communications, then completed a fellowship at UCLA’s Anderson School of Business. In addition to her work at Old Westbury, Ms. Thomas has over fifteen years experience in the entertainment industry, including both television and films.

Dr. Julio Gonzalez

Associate Professor, School of Education, State University of New York, Old Westbury, NY, USA

Julio Gonzalez is an Associate Professor in the School of Education at Old Westbury. His field of specialization is Special Education, and he also wotks with students interested in Special Education with a Biligual Extension. He works with Laura Anker on The Listening Project.

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