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January 28, 2002

Service journey begins for first group of Cole fellows

By Michael Terrazas


Emory’s first group of Kenneth Cole Fellows have begun their three-semester exploration of how they might make a difference in urban communities.

The 20 undergraduates—mostly juniors, with a few sophomores, all recently selected for the new Kenneth Cole Fellowship in Community Building and Social Change—are spending this spring enrolled in a primer course on the task ahead: POLS 385, or “Community Building and Social Change: Introduction to the City,” taught by Michael Owens, visiting assistant professor of political science. Owens’ course is the first in a three-part sequence that places the fellows in the field this summer for a hands-on “practicum,” then brings them back to campus for a followup course in the fall.

Owens’ class serves to educate the fellows about the “interconnections among demography, culture, economy and polity, and the global, national, state, regional and neighborhood forces affecting communities,” according to its syllabus. The course also features a lab component to teach the students certain skills they will need once they hit the field this summer.

“Nothing as specific as this,” Owens replied when asked if he’d ever taught a class like POLS 385. “I’ve taught courses in urban policy and local government, where some of these issues have been addressed, but never on such a large scale. For weeks we will immerse ourselves in these very specific questions, [such as] collaboration and how public problems get solved, trying to link up sectors of society, [and] how to forge consensus.”

Owens said this first batch of fellows is a “mixed bag,” in terms of their hands-on experience with service work. Some have done extensive work with specific projects or programs, while others have “shown a serious interest in a commitment to building community and addressing social change.”

In addition to course readings on everything from coalition building to traffic congestion, Owens’ students will be learning specific skills—such as taking notes and conducting interviews in field research, strategic assessment and planning, and effective communication techniques—via the required, outside-the-classroom labs.

Those skills will come in handy once the fellows are dispersed in small teams to community, government and private organizations this summer. The Kenneth Cole Program has not finalized which organizations it will be working with, but Owens said the goal is to identify groups that approach similar societal problems but from different perspectives.

“So if we’re talking about affordable housing production as a problem, in terms of trying to meet the needs of homeless people in Atlanta, what we’d like to have is some fellows placed, say, in the city’s housing department, getting the governmental perspective,” Owens said. “Then we’d like to place another group with a homeless task force to get the advocate’s perspective, then maybe place another group with for-profit housing developers to get their understandings.”

After spending time with their respective organizations, the teams would regroup and discuss how collaborations could more effectively address a given problem.

In the fall, when they’re enrolled in “Community Building and Social Change II: Evaluating Community Initiatives,” (to be taught by Michael Rich, director of the Office of University-Community Partnerships), the students will review their summers’ work and study examples of similar collaborations—both successful and unsuccessful—from around the country.

“They’re very upbeat,” Owens said of the 20 students who are blazing trails for the groups of Kenneth Cole Fellows to follow. “When I first walked in the classroom, I felt like there was this electricity in the air—and I mean that for real.”




Back to Emory Report January 28, 2002