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Actionable Scale

HWS students and individuals with developmental disabilities work
side-byside painting rain collection barrels during the annual Arts
Experience festival.

by Steven Bodnar

"There's nothing more satisfying and inspiring than having people thank you for the work you're doing in the community and joining in your efforts with a helping hand," says Daniel Budmen '15.

Fusing his passion for nature and commitment to service, the environmental studies and geoscience double major researched, planned and partnered with local residents to build a greenhouse at the Geneva Community Center. A volunteer with the area chapter of the Roots and Shoots environmental club, Budmen envisioned an easily accessible place where children could learn firsthand about plants and trees.

The greenhouse project became a reality thanks to a $5,000 Centennial Fellowship and the student-community partnership that is emblematic of the types of efforts taking place throughout Geneva, says Katie Flowers HON'11, director of the Colleges' Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning, which each year connects hundreds of students with community partners.

"Community-based research allows a community member or organization to identify a challenge they'd like to tackle and then focuses the efforts of the Colleges - our faculty and our students - to achieve that goal," says Flowers. "Students have an amazing opportunity to learn from these partnerships. We can all be proud to find applicable ways for our students to contribute to the City in ways that our partners have identified as important to them."

Community-based research and service-learning projects are integral to the relationship between the Colleges and Geneva, with projects ranging from economic impact assessments and environmental audits to literacy programs and public health campaigns.

Flowers says student learning outcomes are best achieved when there's a reciprocal relationship present. "Community-based research is a great way for students to explore academic interests in a hands-on way," she says. "Students are learning from both faculty advisers and local sponsors. It's a bridge between the curricular and career. A community-based research opportunity could be the first step toward a student's future, and that's a very exciting prospect."

Each May, HWS and area partners celebrate the accomplishments generated from this relationship during the Community Engaged Scholarship Forum. At the event, students showcase their research projects and the Colleges present three major honors for outstanding community contributions: The Community Partner of the Year Award, The Compass Award for Outstanding Engaged Student Scholarship and the HWS Civically Engaged Faculty Award.

A recipient of the 2009 Civically Engaged Faculty Award, Associate Professor of Education Mary Kelly is currently advising six students on community-based projects ranging from child advocacy to adult learning. In addition, Kelly recently helped to spearhead the fifth annual Arts Experience festival, a two-week event bringing together those with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, the Colleges, and the public to explore the arts. Held in partnership between HWS and the Collaborative of the Finger Lakes, the Arts Experience connects 12 chapters of ARC, a nonprofit serving adults and children with developmental disabilities, as well as more than 300 students and 300 people from community agencies.

"Most students really embrace these kinds of opportunities," Kelly says. "They get to step out of the campus and get to know community partners and local students. It's an experience that can change who you are. It can change how you see the world when you have the opportunity to connect with others. It's pivotal to continue to improve those opportunities and to make it happen."

Kelly says community-based scholarship has become an important part of not only how she teaches, but also how she learns. She says all of her courses are rooted in service-learning, a launching point from which many students pursue research projects in Geneva and the surrounding area.

"Geneva is the perfect place for students to solve real issues in collaboration with our partners," she says. "It's a wonderful learning environment." Thanks to the close connections formed, Kelly says it is an environment in which real change can take place.

Professor of Sociology Jack Harris P'02, P'06, a recipient of the 2010 Civically Engaged Faculty Award, has been working with faculty colleagues and students to extend student-community collaborations for nearly two decades. Through courses such as his "Senior Sociology Seminar," Harris inspires students to engage their academic interests locally.

"The Colleges are part of a vibrant community where students can learn and engage with neighbors," Harris says. "One of the great things about Geneva is that it has an actionable scale. Students can really make a profound difference here. They will then take that lesson - that they can make a difference - into their lives and communities around the nation and the world. I can't think of anything more important."