August 4, 2008
Building to the next level: Fellows define engaged scholarship
By BEVERLY Clark
It’s a quiet summer evening on campus, but learning is not at a lull for 11 Emory students who are listening with rapt attention to the director of Hope House as she describes the comprehensive residential program in downtown Atlanta for homeless men with substance abuse issues.
The presentation is part of a weekly series of dinners for Emory’s 2008 class of Community Building and Social Change Fellows, where they get to interact directly with metro Atlanta’s community leaders, politicians and nonprofit workers. The talks are a piece of the students’ yearlong intensive immersion in community building.
The fellowship, a national model for engaged learning programs, ends with 11 weeks’ worth of summer work that defines what engaged scholarship can mean for Emory students.
The fellows represent a snapshot of Emory’s diverse undergraduate population, with wide-ranging backgrounds and career aspirations. But together this past year, the fellows have busted through “the Emory bubble,” as they describe it. They have ventured — literally and figuratively — far beyond the confines of the classroom.
Working in three separate teams, the students were dispersed around metro Atlanta this summer to help community organizations address complicated issues around housing, education, crime and social services. They are in areas where the effects of poverty — and the challenges to affect change — are not ideas in the classroom but real and in the flesh.
In the Mechanicsville community, located in the shadow of Turner Field, fellows are evaluating the effectiveness of an early childhood education and family support program called PAT (Parents as Teachers) for Enterprise Community Partners.
“I’ve been able to see firsthand the frustrations and the barriers the parent educators face daily, but also the tremendous rewards when you see the program making a difference in the lives of a mom and her 3-year-old child,” says Tiffany McDonald, a senior involved with the PAT project who hopes to work on public education policy in her home state of Mississippi.
The 12-month fellowship “has exceeded my expectations,” says Shari Sprosta, a rising senior whose team is working in the Edgewood neighborhood with the Mayson Avenue Cooperative to survey and evaluate the effects of the relocation of public housing residents from Edgewood to neighborhoods around Atlanta.
“Instead of saying I want to change the world, I can now say I know how to change the world,” Sprosta says. “What I have learned is so invaluable, and has made me even more passionate about becoming a lawyer to work on social change, public policy and justice.”
Most of the fellows were already dedicated volunteers, but the fellowship “allows us to take that volunteerism to the next level,” says Sprosta’s teammate, Yane Park.
This summer, the students are building on the work of past fellows by collaborating with previous partners or working in neighborhoods where the Office of University-Community Partnerships already has a presence. That deepens Emory’s commitment and role in these communities, says Sam Engle, senior associate director of OUCP. (The third team is working in English Avenue to the west of downtown to help the city of Atlanta launch a federal “Weed and Seed” initiative in the neighborhood to reduce crime and build community.)
Results of past fellows’ work include the completion of 22 projects that have produced policy change, new programs and entities, and funding for projects. Fellows also have expanded the capacity of existing community initiatives to effectively address issues such as HIV/AIDS, affordable housing, public education quality, urban sprawl, citizen engagement and more.
OUCP is in the midst of a comprehensive survey of fellowship alumni to assess the impact of the program on their lives now, and in turn, assess how the program is contributing toward Emory’s comprehensive initiative to prepare students to be engaged scholars with the critical thinking skills, hands-on experience and ethical leadership development to make a difference in their communities.
Overall, the fellows’ work is serious and invaluable to the community organizations and to the development of the students, says Kate Grace, director of the fellowship. “This program provides our communities with the resources necessary to better serve their residents while also offering a wide range of skill-building opportunities to our future leaders.”