Community-Based Learning for a Day

March 3, 2015
Community-based learning takes the classroom into the world

University of Richmond classrooms aren’t easy to find some days, and not just because the ubiquitous Gothic architecture can make it difficult to differentiate one building from another. Rather, many classrooms have simply moved off campus.

The following describes some UR community-based-learning programs during one day — Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014.

8:55 a.m., International Center

Students groggily strolled into class, perhaps regretting their decision to take the 9 a.m. section of Landscape Ecology with Dr. Todd Lookingbill. They slowly filled the room, taking off coats, shuffling through backpacks, and staring at their laptops or iPhones.

Lookingbill introduced Gregory Buppert from the Southern Environmental Law Center, explaining that some students would work with Buppert on their group project.

The class broke into five groups, each with its own community-based project. The group partnering with Buppert conducted research related to a proposal for a new pipeline in Virginia. Another drafted an app to track invasive species with Kevin Heffernan, stewardship biologist at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“Stuff like this is great experience for going into the real world,” said Dillon Massey, ’15. “It shows you how to apply what you’ve learned.”

10:20 a.m., Jepson Hall

Students gathered for the 10:30 a.m. section of Justice and Civil Society with Dr. Julian Hayter. The rambunctious group calmed down when Hayter flipped on his PowerPoint and dived into the day’s discussion of reading on feminism.

Outside the classroom, each student completed more than 20 hours of required community service before the semester’s end. Students connected readings with their service through weekly journal entries. On their final exam, they applied classroom readings to an analysis of the environment at their community-service site.

The Why of It All

Hayter and Lookingbill consistently incorporate community-based research projects and service learning into their courses.

“This is a way to make academic works meaningful outside of the safety of a college campus,” Hayter said, “to bridge the divide between challenges the greater community is dealing with and challenges academics are dealing with.

“The implication of this course is to see if all these complicated ideas have any broader practical application. I don’t think that would work, or at least resonate as profoundly with students, without community-based learning.”

2:05 p.m., Transportation Hub

Dr. Patricia Herrera leaned over her shuttle seat to tell the driver class would be meeting at the Valentine Richmond History Center today.

Herrera and co-instructor Dr. Laura Browder were teaching their final course within a five-year documentary-theater project focusing on civil rights and education in Richmond. For the semester’s addition to the project, students headed off campus to the historic East End Church Hill neighborhood once or twice a week.

Their class, Archiving Richmond, met weekly with a group of Church Hill Academy high school students to learn about the history of the neighborhood and work on an archive and exhibition they co-created with Virginia Commonwealth University students for the Valentine Richmond History Center. (The “Made in Church Hill” exhibition opened Jan. 22 and runs through June 22.)

At 3 p.m., UR and Church Hill Academy students started looking through black-and-white photographs of Church Hill. They held the photos with white gloves and penciled in notations for their digital collection. Church Hill Academy students chattered excitedly as they found old photographs of the streets they lived on.

“Richmond is a fascinating city,” Browder said. “The relationships people have here are tangled and interesting and go back for generations. It’s hard to imagine not studying the community where we live when we’re here among all these conflicts and challenges that keep bubbling up in the present day.”

6:15 p.m., Transportation Hub

Students from Dr. Elizabeth Outka’s first-year seminar, Giving Sorrow Words: Trauma and Recovery in Literature, boarded a shuttle headed to the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center to work with another group of high school-aged youth.

Three groups of Outka’s students take part in a five-session reading program with the Bon Air youth. Together they read “Listening Is an Act of Love,” a collection of stories from NPR’s StoryCorps program.

After going through the center’s security, including a routine pat-down, the UR and Bon Air students broke into their assigned pairs to discuss that week’s reading.

Danielle Del Giudice, ’18, was surprised. Not only had her Bon Air partner completed all the assigned readings, but she had also picked out sentences that struck her.

“I had my favorite stories picked out,” Del Giudice said, “but I hadn’t picked out a particular sentence like she had. She can read a super negative story that I would find really sad and find one positive line that she loves. It helps me understand her a little more.”

8:30 p.m., Campus

Outka’s students’ return to campus marked the end of a long, full, complex day of community-based learning.

Lookingbill’s, Hayter’s, Herrera and Browder’s, and Outka’s classes offered just a glimpse of what goes on every day both in and outside the classroom. That same day, psychology, education, and law students also engaged in community-based learning.

And this was just one Tuesday, one day of many days of community-based learning at University of Richmond.

Photo: Dr. Todd Lookingbill, assistant professor of geography, the environment, and biology, teaches a number of community-based-learning courses.