June 26, 2000
Volume 52, No. 36
Summer scholars find their place
By Eric Rangus
The theme is place.
The place is the dinner table in the basement of the Delta Sigma Theta house. Or a desk at the Child Advocacy Unit of DeKalb Juvenile Court, looking across at a 7-year-old boy who has been abused by his father. Or a health clinic at Whiteford Elementary School in southeast Atlanta.
This summer, the place is anywhere but inside a classroom. Sometimes the place is inside oneself.
The Summer Service Scholarship Program is more than just a simple internship. It gives Emory Scholars an opportunity not only to study together, but think together, live together and-if program director Bobbi Patterson has her way-learn together.
For 10 weeks, through July 28, the program has formed a community among its 10 scholars. The majority live on campus in the sorority lodges, work together at 30-to-35-hour-a-week service internships, and gather twice a week as a group to meet with mentors and special guests to discuss in an informal setting various academic, intellectual and social subjects-all in some way related to "place."
"They're functioning as a community very well," said Patterson, visiting assistant professor of religion and director of Theory Practice Learning (TPL). "And not just pragmatically, they're learning together."
"It's a different way of learning," said Helen Blier, a doctoral candidate in religion who is serving as a faculty mentor. "It's more deeply involved."
The program, created last year, is open to all merit-based scholars (about 200). A total of 15 applied last year, a number that whittled down to 10 when several of the applicants received other internships. In fact, several of the current scholars (Jenn Peresie, William Leasure, Mark Blankenship, Shveta Shah and David Harkin) helped Patterson plan the program. It uses the Theory Practice Learning approach, which takes classroom ideas and applies them to real-world situations.
The service internships are hardly cakewalks. They involve working in difficult posititons with people who are often in serious trouble. For instance, scholars serve with the Child Advocacy and Probation Units of DeKalb's Juvenile Court; Men Stopping Violence, an organization devoted to stopping violence against women; the Women's Resource Center, a crisis intervention and prevention program; the Whiteford Elementary School Health Clinic; and the Southern Center for Human Rights. Sometimes scholars work together in the same place. This often places the scholars outside their comfort zone, which is not a problem.
"I never thought I'd be doing something like [this] over the summer," said Samit Shah (no relation to Shveta) who is majoring in music and biology and interning with the DeKalb Child Advocacy Unit.
"I thought it would be good to be a part of an experience like this, to look at the whole pie rather than pieces of it. It's nice to know what other people are like. And it's very important for a student to know about the communities they live in."
The idea of "place" is not simply a geographical one. Early seminars asked the scholars to look inside themselves. Meditation was used as a tool to unlock self-knowledge. University Secretary Gary Hauk dropped by to discuss Emory as place. One recent Thursday night featured Kathy Palumbo from the Atlanta Food Bank. Blier spoke at dinner about a planned camping trip into the North Carolina mountains. The progression of place is linear and methodically expansive: self, Emory, Atlanta, wider world.
Monday and Thursday nights are community nights. The scholars all gather in the Delta Sigma Theta house to cook dinner and meet with guest speakers. On Monday nights five alumni also join them, serving as mentors.
The conversations aren't really different than in any other living situation (Don't stack dirty plates because both sides get messy), but even a casual visitor can notice a decidedly intellectual edge.
One discussion over burritos and pink lemonade centered on gender at the child advocacy unit as the social workers there were almost exclusively female. Could a man actually handle that job? It's an interesting question, since several male scholars are also interning there.
Seminars with guests are informal affairs with everyone seated on sofas, chairs and even the floor. Note aren't taken; the scholars simply listen, ask questions and interact.
"I'm learning how nonprofits work," said Eloise Holland, a senior creative writing major who is working with the Women's Resource Center. As part of her job, she often refers cases to Travis Sentell, who is interning with Men Stopping Violence.
"I know how difficult it is. They all have parts they have to play, and that's just one of the things I'm learning about Atlanta," she said.