Iowa Manning Sculpture

Experienced engagement scholar inspired by new collaboration

Frank Durham, associate professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, taught community engaged learning classes for years, but it was not until he worked with the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) and the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) that he formally connected with engaged teaching and learning. Durham first partnered with IISC through his Advanced Strategic Communication course, which worked to develop a communication plan to recruit and retain residents in Manning, Iowa. Next, Durham attended OCE's Engaged Faculty Institute to dive deeper into the pedagogy of community engagement. “I felt like I had found my ‘people.’ Although I have taught service-learning courses since 1990, I had not experienced a formal discussion on the topic. The workshops really resonated with me and validated my approach. I was very happy about the whole program,” Durham said. The Engaged Faculty Institute, sponsored by Iowa & Minnesota Campus Compact and OCE is a gathering of engaged faculty members that promotes collaboration, sharing of best practices, and training on how best to conduct service-learning courses.

Service-learning classes require students to move beyond the passive role they experience in a traditional classroom as they engage real-life clients. Durham said, “Putting solutions together takes real cooperation. That is how my students get to experience the look and feel of professional communications management. We typically invite our clients to attend class whenever they wish. Integrating their perspectives into the students’ understanding of the project gives the class the opportunity to make sense of the client’s experience versus the principles of communication management I will teach them. In the end, the students become conversant in the client’s business and related needs, the client learns about the student’s formal thought processes, and I get to enjoy seeing the dynamic develop. It’s a kick every time,” Durham said.

Durham spends a semester planning for classes that incorporate community engagement. He began shaping his spring 2020 community-engaged learning course in mid-August and applied ideas gained from the institute and other faculty members. He said, “Basically, I built the philosophy of community engagement into the nuts and bolts of the course to make sure that my students work hand-in-hand with our ‘live’ clients. Real-time problem-solving tops any traditional lecture-and-discussion course I can imagine.”

The institute inspired Durham to begin organizing a working group for faculty and staff interested in developing research articles based on data collected through service-learning work.