Author Archives: Tenzin Dorjee

Community Connected Project-Based Learning Teaching Assistant Program

“It has also been a vulnerable learning experience for the students, who have the satisfaction of knowing that they are doing work with real-world impact” Pam Berenbaum, Director of the Global Health Program and Professor of the Practice of Global Health, shared when asked about her thoughts on the Community Connected Project-Based Learning Teaching Assistant Program.

The Community Connected Project-Based Learning (CCPBL) Teaching Assistant Program, a pilot program within the Center of Community Engagement, aims to foster a rich learning environment where a trained group of Teaching Assistants (TA) collaborate with and support faculty, community partners, and fellow students with meaningful community connected projects embedded in courses. This past J-Term 2021 marked the program’s kick-off, with six student TAs paired up to work with faculty members and their class for the Spring semester. Prior to starting the program, Center for Community Engagement staff members trained the TA cohort via an independent study course which deepened their knowledge and skills for use in their support of real-world projects. 

Across the TA-supported classes, each had a unique focus. Projects varied widely, with topics as diverse as sustainability, health, artistic representations of enslavement, and environmental communications. TA Kathlyn Gehl ’21.5 worked with Professor Ellery Foutch and the AMST 314: Vermont Collaboration Public Humanity Lab class, in partnership with the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, to transcribe and organize documents. By helping review past records, Kathlyn saw the benefit of this relationship for both the museum and the community since the digitization of these records allowed easy search for others.

The benefit of the program to the community is also visible in the project managed by Daniela Morales ’21, TA for Pam Berenbaum’s project with Porter Medical Center. Daniela, Pam, and the cohort of students worked together to analyze and write up Porter Medical Center’s Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) survey data, a federal requirement for non-profit healthcare providers. This collaboration relieved the stress of the team of health care and social service providers who usually carry out this work during the pandemic. Pam also remarked on the satisfaction this project brought for students — as they saw how their effort in creating the CHNA will be used to set local health care program priorities for the next three years.

Additionally, Kathlyn shared how she saw the value of such a program by mentioning how project-based learning has the ability to increase student engagement and student learning. The role of the TAs is to encourage a smooth relationship between professors, students, community partners and the notion of project-based learning in order to easily expand this pedagogy. 

Through one’s engagement, the TAs can not only benefit the project but also themselves as individuals. Kathlyn reflected on how the program has been extremely valuable and rewarding, allowing them to learn about the groundwork of project-based learning and the history of Middlebury. TA Daniela Morales ’21 also stated how the program has equipped them to manage tasks and think of problems in a solvable way. 

As the academic year wraps up, the Center for Community Engagement is preparing for the next round of the program and getting the ball rolling. Training for Fall 2021 course TAs will kick off in late August. Kristen Bright, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, who will partner with a TA in the Fall, expressed: “We’re excited to participate in the CCPBL TA program… The program will help us to expand our Ethnographic Research course as students engage with theories and methods of organizational culture.” Through this first spring cohort and beyond, the program is able to incorporate community-connected project-based learning more seamlessly into experiential, educational experiences at the college.

Highlight: Community Connected Learning (CCL) Course

As a member of the larger Experiential Learning Center (ELC) ecosystem with the Center for Careers and Internships and the Innovation Hub, the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) is the primary site for students and local partners wishing to involve themselves in roles with activities that strengthen communities and contribute to the public good. 

Recently, however, the Center for Community Engagement has been able to branch itself out and expand its purpose into the academically-credited arena through its Community Connected Learning (CCL) course. For years, the CCE has been collaborating with faculty in stimulating community-connected experiential learning opportunities for students. To continue this aspect as well as to make the opportunities more versatile and with a project-focused format, the CCL class was developed. The creation of the course also stems from the cravings students expressed for experiential learning opportunities in and out of the classroom. Thus, the CCE launched its first CCL course in the fall of 2020 as a way to support students in their community-connected learning ventures. The course instructors were CCE Director, Ashley Laux, Assistant Director, Jason Duquette-Hoffman, and Assistant Director,  Kristen Mullins. 

To give students another chance to pair community engagement services with academic credit, the CCL course was offered again to students this Spring 2021. This semester, the class is led by CCE Assistant Directors Jason Duquette-Hoffman and Kristen Mullins, and Program Director, Kailee Brickner-McDonald. For both Fall and Spring, the class had 47 students altogether who participated and developed various projects topics with community partners. 

By offering the Community Connected Learning course, the CCE is able to broaden its work and mission goal. When asked how this class connects to the center’s objective and the College’s mission, the instructors collectively responded, “CCE’s work and mission carries some assumptions. A core assumption is that the liberal arts has a responsibility to the public good. We also believe that students’ civic development – their sense of themselves as active and contributing members in their communities; and the skills and knowledge to be successful in that work – are important elements of their liberal arts education. And that we – staff, faculty, students – are members of the communities in which we are learning; and as such have an ethical responsibility to do no harm. And, ideally, that we are contributing to the public good of these communities.” 

The CCE also hopes the class will prove beneficial to both students and community partners. Instructors of the class expressed their hope to “deepen students’ civic knowledge, skills, and identities through work that matters in the current moment, with partners in our communities who have so much to teach us.” Additionally, the instructors shared the collaborative nature of the relationships between students and community partners that make their involvement full of transferable lessons and meaning with each other. 

Instructors encourage students to take this course not only for its cross collaboration with local partners but also because of the empathy, perspective grasping, awareness of self and others one may gain from it.

Two students share their experiences towards the course’s positive influence for engaging in community projects. 

Emily Carfi 

Class Year: 2021

Major: Psychology Major, GSFS minor

For my project, I continued my work with Charter House Coalition, a homeless shelter located here in Middlebury. My project focused on homelessness and food insecurity during the pandemic and I worked to coordinate a safe, off-campus cooking group to provide a weekly meal for the shelter with other students, while following Covid safety guidelines. In addition to this, I created a “crowd” recipes list with dishes that can serve roughly 100 individuals. These recipes also include vegan and vegetarian alternatives to serve all guests at Charter House and to create a more inclusive meal experience.

This course was a great way for me to pursue community work with great guidance during such a difficult time of year. I learned about fellow Midd students’ involvement in the community, and I also learned about different organizations that are located in Addition County, which I hadn’t heard of before. It was so inspiring to see how all these students contributed to different organizations meant to serve different groups of people in need. I also learned a lot about what it means to engage in service learning, which is separate from volunteerism, and this is a crucial aspect to community involvement. I additionally gained a lot of communication skills, while expanding upon some existing organizational and work-related skills. This course was so beneficial and couldn’t have been introduced at a better time. In the end, we provided likely 500+ meals in the Fall semester, which was an exceptional accomplishment that I am proud to have been a part of facilitating.

I still am continuing my community work during my last semester here at Middlebury, working closely with Charter House to provide a weekly meal and to get students involved in community engagement. I have always had a passion for helping the community, but this course has helped me to progress this passion and utilize skills to the best of my ability.

Emily Hyer

Class Year: 2023

Major: Neuroscience major, Spanish and Global Health double minor

I worked with an organization called the Early Care and Learning Partnership. We researched early child care in Addison County and its relationship to health outcomes and COVID-19. My work involved interviewing child care experts, sending out a survey, and setting up social media like mail chimp and Facebook. I really enjoyed the course and how you could make it into an experience that best suits your interests.  I learned a lot about what community engagement means and how it is best used in a specific community. It also taught me the necessary skills to work in a community mindfully and ethically. I also learned a lot of personal skills from my project work–communication, active listening, and how to be organized and professional.

My favorite part was getting to work alongside my two project leads Cheryl Mitchel and Dr. Brakeley. They are both such strong and inspiring women who have had such a huge impact on the community in the years they have dedicated themselves to working here. I was so inspired and motivated by their stories and felt privileged to get to meet them. Getting to work on such a hands-on project has made me feel much more connected to Addison County. The course made me realize how much cool and impactful work could be done right here in Addison County, and pushed me to get more involved with the clubs I am a member of.

CCE Signature Program: Middlebury Alternative Break (MAlt)

Middlebury’s Alternative Break Program (MAlt) functions as a service-oriented alternative to traditional February break activities. By engaging with communities across the nation and the globe, students share an experience, provide service where service is needed, and learn about the systems that shape community realities around the world.

This year, three student-designed, student-led virtual projects took place over J-Term and spring semester. 

Topics revolved around US immigration education and advocacy, environmental conservation amid the pandemic, and the experiences of women of color in predominantly white spaces. While the pandemic introduced a set of challenges for organizing and carrying out the trips, the MAlt leaders were just as determined and dedicated to fostering engaging and welcoming environments for participants. MAlt trip leaders Olivia O’Brien (’21.5) and Alex Burns (’21.5) highlighted their excitement for hosting the guest speaker Lina Maria Murillo, a professor of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality studies and a Borderlands Historian at University of Iowa, who elaborated upon immigrant detention as a reproductive justice issue. Tina Cai (’23) and Huiming Liang (’22) coordinated with different environmental conservation groups to host a speaker series of varying perspectives on and changes to environmental advocacy, while Destini Armstrong (’21) and Megan Job (’21) collaborated with the Center for Community Engagement to send personalized care packages and activities to students. 

When asked about what inspired their MAlt Trip, leaders illustrated their desire to explore issues and share a space for students to develop the tools to make a difference. Tina noted that she saw the “potential to help organizations through community service virtually and learn from leaders from different nonprofits”, which fueled her and her trip-partners’ drive to host a speaker series along with a workshop. Some of the leaders were also eager to explore their topics as a result of their previous involvement in MAlt trips, such as Alex and Olivia, who collaborated with San Antonio–based RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services through a MAlt trip in 2019 and came away “feeling as through other Middlebury students should get involved”. Oliva shared, “we both realized this was work we wanted to continue in a more meaningful and long-term format, and by leading a trip year on the topic of immigration, we could get more Middlebury students involved in work that we both view as incredibly important”. 

Olivia advises that students apply to become MAlt leaders because the trip “allows you to introduce fellow Midd students to an issue or topic that you are passionate about. In my experience as both a participant and a leader, MAlt consistently creates a positive community of students that are eager to learn more about a particular topic (and from one another), and motivated to put in work towards often complex/difficult goals” Tina further communicates that through the MAlt trips, students are able to “enhance their leadership skills…while gaining personal growth through collaborating with different individuals” as well as “meet people who share the same passions and make connections”.

MAlt attendees responded happily to the leaders’ efforts. A participant of the US immigration education and advocacy trip imparts, “My experience with my MAlt trip was illuminating, inspiring, and intense. Although we did not physically travel, we did navigate the intellectual and legal landscapes that surround the immigration system in the United States to further our understanding of this reality. Engaging in the process of learning alongside other members allowed me to feel part of a community that also is dedicated in changing systems in place to control and oppress individuals”. Participant Zeke Hodkin also notes, “MAlt trips are such impactful ways to spend one’s free time from college because they introduce and seek to counter the injustices that pervade our society. The premise of MAlt is not just to enter a community, allow it to impact the voyeur, and have the individual leave; instead, MAlt really does focus on the intersection of growth through education and action against societal wrongs”. By learning more in depth about and engaging in reflections over complex issues, participants emphasized the necessity to move from a sense of understanding towards (often political) action. 

Thank you to all the MAlt leaders and participants for your eagerness to develop your knowledge and act for change! 

Grant Spotlight: Academic Outreach Endowment Grant

This blog is on Niwaeli Kimambo’s, Assistant Professor of Geography, Fall 2020 course.

An analysis of deforestation in protected areas shows tree cover and tree cover loss alongside protected areas boundaries (map by Charlie DiPrinzio ’21)

The Center for Community Engagement supports Middlebury College faculty seeking to deepen student learning through collaborative projects with community organizations. We recently had the chance to connect with Dr. Niwaeli Kimambo, Assistant Professor of Geography and talked more about her Fall 2020 Remote Sensing and Land Use in Sub-Saharan Africa course (GEOG 0351). With support from an CCE Academic Outreach Endowment Grant, Dr. Kimambo was able to partner students with the World Resources Institute (WRI) on a project entitled, “Mapping Landcover Change in Restoration Landscapes.”

Prior to embarking on extensive forest restoration, WRI partners needed to understand the landscape changes that have taken place historically in target restoration sites and remote satellite imagery is a powerful way for analyzing such changes. Students worked with the WRI to perform these needed preliminary analyses of landscape change, contributing to a more efficient preparation for restoration activities. Students conducted analyses for restoration areas in Malawi, Cameroon, Niger, and Rwanda. Below are Dr. Kimambo’s reflections on this collaboration.

How have community collaborations contributed to your teaching and research? 

Collaborating with Dr. Arakwiye at World Resources Institute has enabled me to bring real-world problems to the classroom and inspired new avenues of research. I found that students were more engaged with the content because there was an audience on the other end: someone who was keen to see what they came up with. The collaborations that started in the classroom have also spilled over into research, and will certainly spill back into the classroom.

Can you share an example of a particularly gratifying moment of student learning related to the community-connected project you facilitated?

We held several workshops of work in progress with our community partner. After one of these workshops, one student remarked how it was evident that lessons learnt in the classroom can be applied to solving world problems. As a teacher, knowing that students can apply what they have learned in my class is important to me. The project made that very apparent.

Do you have any advice for those who may seek to collaborate on a project?

Start small, plan early, and take advantage of technology. The current pandemic moment spurred more virtual communication, which allowed collaboration with a community partner who was on the other side of the globe!

Dr. Kimambo’s WRI colleague reflected on the partnership by sharing, “My collaboration with Middlebury students has pushed our work forward in the use of geospatial technologies for monitoring landscape restoration. Here are some examples of how:

  • Middlebury students compared various tree cover maps and even generated new ones of their own. This was an illuminating and impressive exercise. I would be interested in pursuing this topic further, particularly assessing how Collect Earth data can be used to further improve tree cover maps of our target landscapes.
  • During workshops and in their final writeups, Middlebury students gave me valuable feedback on the geospatial surveys I had designed. For example, students pointed out challenging components such as, i) how to estimate tree cover and tree density inside a plot; ii) what land cover types are difficult to interpret satellite imagery. Having this information has already helped me improve our training materials and will ultimately lead to a better implementation of restoration monitoring work in the target landscapes.”

Experiential Reflections: Jordan Saint-Louis’s Community Connected Learning Class Journey

This blog is written by Jordan Saint-Louis ’24, a student from the Center for Community Engagement’s first Community Connected Learning course in Fall 2020, on the class experience.

Funny enough, I registered for the Community Connected Learning (CCL) course in Fall 2020 with the idea of using my streetwear label, VOICI which I had been working on since May of 2020, for course credit at Midd. That was the initial motivation when I started the CCL class, “how can I tie my business to a course at Midd”. I think within our second or third week though, I had this revelation that my approach to VOICI was flawed. This led me towards taking Midd Entrepreneurs this J Term which confirmed we were lacking in development within a crucial part of our business. In a sentence, VOICI is about building a community and telling the story of the community within the DMV (D.C, Maryland, Virginia) area and hopefully to other markets as well. However, in my honest opinion that honestly doesn’t scratch the service of our brand (check it out @voici on Instagram) and taking the CCL course made me realize my business could be further developed! My project for the class was titled “Still Chocolate City” and was centered around the U Street Corridor in Washington D.C. which was once dubbed “Chocolate City” and how the soul of the area was disappearing due to gentrification. I had never done or participated in community engagement work unless you count community service, which I learned during the class that we should not mistake the two as being the same.


As mentioned above, the first thing I learned in the class was how different community service is to community engagement learning. Everything from the structure and goals of the work done to the relationships built contrast drastically. Community service is done to a community whereas community engagement is done with the community and for the community, to create a mutually beneficial relationship. However, the most influential part of the course was when learning about dispositions and how we should think about/present a community to others. Often, we look at a community based on what they lack and how much we can help them with our resources and “privilege”. This mindset greatly influences how we view the community and talk about it with others which form our dispositions. It is almost like they become a burden or we are doing them a favor by helping, but in truth, most of these communities are home to diverse communities that give birth to the culture that defines an area. U Street in D.C. is no different. So rather than say “we are giving back to the community” we say, “we are uplifting and building upon what they already have”. That was the most crucial distinction that I learned through the course. The course made me feel as though I could really create change within my community and honestly communities around the world. In the current climate in the world, I feel as though we all to some extent feel some responsibility to do something, no matter what “side” you are on, and for me, it is no different. The CCL course made me realize that my responsibility is to tell the stories of my community and educate my generation on the issues we have so that in the end we can come together to fix that. The course made me feel that this is the thing that I feel won’t get done unless I do it.

So rather than say “we are giving back to the community” we say, “we are uplifting and building upon what they already have”. That was the most crucial distinction that I learned through the course.

I believe we are all looking for that “thing” whether that be our purpose, our why, or our reason for living (if you want to get dramatic). So to any student pondering that question or whether to take the course, I would say take it. At the very least you will become closer with a community, whether that is Middlebury’s or your own. And if you really pursue it and search for it, your “why” might appear.

To learn more about the Center for Community Engagement’s Community Connected Learning course, click the link for more information: https://www.middlebury.edu/office/community-engagement/programs/civic-leadership/community-connected-learning-course

HOPE Holiday Shop 2020

Serving Addison County since 1965, H.O.P.E (Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects) is a local  non-profit organization located right here in Middlebury, Vermont. It runs one of the largest food shelves and retail stores in the county, where all of its donations aid the organization’s poverty relief work. And this year, even with coronavirus hovering over us, H.O.P.E did not let that stop their work in fulfilling their mission. Instead, they modified their procedures to ensure safety and continued onwards with their efforts.

Like many other aspects of our lives and the world, the annual HOPE Holiday Shop saw changes and challenges due to the pandemic. Regardless of the limitations set, the program achieved its core purpose in helping families who could not otherwise afford to purchase new gifts provide something a little special for children this holiday season. 

Usually in past years, the Center for Community Engagement coordinated with HOPE to provide campus support by organizing gift drives and raising donations. This year, unfortunately, that was unfeasible and the event looked a little different. Pre COVID-19, the program allowed families to enter its Holiday Shop at 282 Boardman St. and to browse gifts on-the-spot. Conversely, this holiday season HOPE took the operation virtually online by offering donors two ways to contribute: one by letting donors select their choice of gift by virtually shopping online for HOPE to purchase on their behalf and the other option by directly making earmarked donations. 

“The shop has historically been set up like an actual little store, It is beautifully decorated and very festive!” -Kate Selby. A photo of the HOPE Holiday Shop from previous years.

Although HOPE was able to amass gifts from these donations and bring in festive spirits like previous years, Kate Selby, coordinator of the HOPE Holiday Shop, commented on the challenge of how without the ability to run toy drives, these virtual donations might not have been as satisfying as donating actual items. Selby further shared how hard it was for HOPE to not see families come into the shop, roam around, and make their own gift selections. Even when faced with this challenge, Selby noted the highlight of her work as “a wonderful feeling to bring a bright spot to our families in need.”

The Center for Community Engagement’s AmeriCorps members, Tenzin Dorjee and Jilly dos Santos, who volunteered at the HOPE Holiday Shop this past December both reflected on their contribution during a time when human connection has tremendously changed. Tenzin Dorjee, the campus coordinator for the HOPE Holiday Shop, shared how human care and holiday love was still present in the air in spite of the no in-person typical Holiday Shop. “From packing a couple of the gifts to handing it to families through the window and saying ‘Happy Holidays, enjoy!’ it was touching” Tenzin says.  

Volunteer Tenzin Dorjee preparing wrapping papers to place in gift bundles.

Firsthand experience volunteering behind the program also showed both Tenzin and Jilly the difficulties involved. As gifts continued to be packed and distributed, the inventory slowly began seeing drops. Kate Selby mentioned inventory for the shop has always been hard. This year, particularly, gifts towards the end of its stock were bundled or substituted based not only on families ranked gift preferences but also what was left on the shelves. With the gift forms families completed, Jilly shared how she needed to make some assumptions based on the forms and got a sense of the child based on gift selections made by parents. She told this story of how “one father wrote detailed notes by each category that were both very helpful and honestly nearly made me tear up because it was so clear how much he cared about having his daughter’s present feel personal.” 

With the holiday season passed us, these changes and challenges the HOPE Holiday Shop encountered this year have only strengthened the organization’s work. Although Kate believes “it will be better to get back to “normal” as soon as possible, she says, “if things need to remain remote next season, we will be ready!”