“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.