Getting Real

The setting for testing our theories of neighborhood transformation and social change is outside the classroom and in the community.

—Michael Rich, Associate Professor of Political Science, Director of the Office of University-Community Partnerships

Vol. 10 No. 5
April 2008

Return to Contents

Getting Real
The academic commitment to service learning at Emory

Further Reading

“I would love to see a day when students, staff, and faculty choose Emory because they want to pursue the finest liberal education in order to civically make a difference.”

“The setting for testing our theories of neighborhood transformation and social change is outside the classroom and in the community.”

New Covenants in Special Collections

In the Dangerous Hands of Undergraduates
The teaching mission of Emory’s Manuscripts and Rare Books Library

The Keeping of Records
Alice Walker’s archive as an act of self-authentication

The rising tide of faculty responsibilities

Letter to the Editor


Academic Exchange: What are the major elements of the OUCP?

Michael Rich: We were created about seven years ago to do three things: increase awareness and collaboration among Emory faculty, staff, and students regarding their work in the community; to become a more accessible point of entry for community groups, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies to partner with Emory; and to help students at Emory connect their passions and interests with curricular, service, and research opportunities. The first line of entry for most faculty is our minigrants program, which provides $2,500 for teaching projects and $5,000 for research projects. Faculty can either take a new or existing course and add a community learning component to it, or develop a pilot research project. That does two things: it produces a tangible benefit for the community, and it provides a meaningful opportunity for students to engage in experiential learning outside of the classroom or some type of community-based research project, where the community is an active participant in the project design.

AE: Is there a relationship between the OUCP and your own research?

MR: Most of my research is on federal urban policy, how that plays out in local communities, and how we foster collaborative cross-sector partnerships to deal with issues related to urban revitalization and poverty. The OUCP and many of the programs and initiatives we’ve created, particularly the Community Building Fellowship Program, has been an opportunity for me to integrate my teaching and research around these issues and lift up the work in Atlanta so that it’s part of the national conversation of how public policy has an impact on urban neighborhoods.

AE: What’s some of the theory that backs up the practice at OUCP?

MR: As an educator I want students to leave here with an understanding of how the world works. The subject matter I teach, predominantly urban politics and urban policy, lends itself to actually putting students in the community to experience the real world and talk to people who live through these issues and try to solve these kinds of problems. The setting for testing our theories of neighborhood transformation and social change is outside the classroom and in the community. I think it adds power to the educational experience for students to see what a transitional neighborhood looks like, or to take them a step further, so that they’re actual participants in the transformation process. That elevates service to a higher level. I would like to see students who are concerned about issues such as affordable housing work with community partners to help design strategies to prevent homelessness in the first place. I want students to think about the determinants of the problem. That kind of engaged scholarship that gets down to actual problem solving is what we expect our graduates to be able to do in the real world. If we are the training ground for the next generation of leaders, as every institution of higher learning claims to be, then we have an obligation to provide educational experiences to prepare students to exercise that kind of leadership, rather than let them figure that out on their own after they get their diplomas.

AE: How have you coordinated the work of the OUCP with Volunteer Emory?

MR: We’re very happy to be working with Volunteer Emory on several projects to strengthen the ties between volunteer service and the curriculum. I see Volunteer Emory as a point of entry to community service for students. We’re looking at ways to take them to the next step and trying to build a continuum of opportunities for them to connect the passions they have about issues, which typically find outlets for service through Volunteer Emory, fraternities, sororities, or other groups. I’d like to connect those students with courses that help them increase their understanding of a particular issue and give them new skills they can apply in the community to become more effective change agents. If they’re interested in homelessness and participated with Volunteer Emory in something to do with homeless shelters, next they might take a service learning course about affordable housing policy that allows them to look at why we have homelessness in America. Their exposure to the issue is not just a couple hours a week spent at a shelter. Now, there’s a broader context that allows students to understand the parameters of a particular issue. At each step they build upon their previous experience and ratchet up the intensity of their intellectual engagement with the community. Their first experience may well be one of exposure to an issue; hopefully their capstone experience will be one where they have used their knowledge and experience to solve real-world problems.