Tag Archives: CCE

Community Connected Learning Course Spotlight: Cassie Kearney ’22

In the fall of 2020, Cassie Kearney ‘22 participated in the Center for Community Engagement’s first Community Connected Learning course. Here is the reflection she shares on her learning experience from the semester.

Last fall, Cameron Weiner (2020.5) and I engaged in service-learning through a partnership with the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) to complete a final deliverable/product for the Community Connected Learning course. Founded in 2004, CAE is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that strengthens the Hardwick and greater Vermont food system by implementing programs that increase farm and community viability. Our interests and aspirations to diminish food insecurity while forming intimate connections with Vermont communities aligned well with CAE’s mission. For our final project, we constructed a COVID-19 impact assessment, which we titled, “Voices of the Pandemic: Perseverance, Hope, and Community.” We wove together personal narratives and published research to identify successes of CAE’s impacts on Northeast Kingdom (NEK) communities, specifically Hardwick, and to recognize needs and gaps where individuals were lacking/slip between the cracks. Our deliverable only contains one small glimpse of CAE’s COVID-19 response and impact, featuring the voices of farmers who have received resources and support from CAE, participants in the Hardwick Community Meals program, garden bed recipients, Grow Your Own workshop leaders, and community organizers involved in the Hardwick Area Food Pantry (HAFP) and the Hardwick Area Neighbor to Neighbor (HANN) group. By discussing personal narratives and pandemic data, we hoped that it would become evident how relief programs had been fruitful thus far and how these initiatives could be more diverse and effective as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

I loved my experience in this class because of how service was naturally intertwined within an academic curriculum. Understanding why communities are in need of resources, specific assistance, or care is the first step in deconstructing dominating power structures and dismantling the inequalities that sustain them in the first place. The overall success of the partnership made me so grateful for the opportunities provided by Middlebury, and working with CAE has been one of the most enriching, rewarding experiences of my college career so far. I was able to have an unparalleled, immersive semester in collaboration with CAE and community members despite never physically being present in Hardwick. I believe that this success speaks to the significance of the two-way street and reciprocity inherent in service-learning. Accountability and a shared knowledge of each side’s capacities, limitations, strengths, and weaknesses are critical in forming partnerships. If students are not wholly committed and focused on how they can best contribute to a specific community’s needs and strengths, then the organization can suffer detrimental effects – ultimately, the partnership could develop into a time and energy sink. Fortunately, that was not the case at all in my work with CAE.

My favorite part of the course/my project would definitely be forming relationships with the CAE staff and Hardwick community members. The enthusiasm, generosity, and mission of the CAE staff, along with the passions and excitements of my course instructors, made this service-learning experience so fun and fulfilling. The workload for the class never really felt like actual homework – I enjoyed what I was doing and realized I could actually help others in a virtual manner. In general, community engagement is so important to me because I love helping other individuals. Also, all of the community members that I interviewed or spoke with were so welcoming and receptive even though I was the outsider. I was very careful when navigating this line between learning about the community for my project and intruding on the good of the community/studying the community for academic obligations. Published literature shows many issues with short-term service-learning and the goals of higher institutions of learning. My supervisor, Lylee, once mentioned: “The best partnerships are the ones when both sides feel like they got the better deal.” I always tried to maintain reciprocity in my collaborative work with CAE, and I think that our partnership turned out the most fruitful that it could have been in COVID-19 times.

Seeing what I was learning in class being put into action or experiential learning was so valuable for my future goals to do nonprofit work in the Public Health field. I could witness how academic principles played out in my own experiences with community members and the CAE staff. Throughout the course and my partnership, I learned how to best identify and describe self-reflective practices, active listening, social location, privilege, and positionality. Fully comprehending how these personal factors impacted my perspectives and evaluations of a community separate from my own challenged me and pushed me to analyze common judgements and stereotypes. I learned to never take anything at face value; assumptions often automatically create barriers and further exclude members of society who are discriminated against or disadvantaged. Lastly, I have become mindful of the dangers of shaping communities as entities in deficit and shifting my frames of references to understand the situations of individuals divergent from my own situation here on campus and in the broader Middlebury community.

After Middlebury, I plan to get a higher degree in Public Health with a concentration in community or behavioral health. I would love to engage in nonprofit collaboration, so this course and partnership definitely prepared me for my future endeavors. This summer, I will also be working in a similar partnership program through the Forest Foundation. I will be making my own project by working with a nonprofit in the Boston area (organization is TBD). In addition, this course taught me how to concretely explain my goals and intentions (even when they aren’t fully formed!), to have confidence when facing obstacles or uncomfortable interactions, to utilize my creativity without fear, and to research and examine issues independently with a great deal of freedom.

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.”