Monday, October 18, 2021

Community engaged coursework (CEC), which brings students out of the classroom and into the community to learn while applying skills in real-time, is found at universities across the country. Beginning Spring 2022, University of Iowa students will view and select courses with a CEC designated component in MyUI.  

Rachel Young, associate professor, and director of undergraduate studies at the school of journalism and mass communication at the University of Iowa said that students often want to take a CEC because it ties their learning in class to real problems, issues, and events in the community.  

Instructors designed CECs to have students apply what they are learning actively from the beginning of a class and work with organizations outside the campus community, stretching them in crucial ways.  

"I think students have to change their mindset," Young said. "When you go into a community engaged class, you enter into a relationship."  

Students are traditionally responsible for their behavior, homework, and meeting a professor's expectations; CECs add a community partner to the mix.  

"I have seen students elevate their game because they feel responsible for what they are producing," Young said. "Work produced is not just for a grade but is something that a community partner might be able to use."   

Students who understand that the work they are completing can have a tangible impact on people's lives in local communities bring an ethical consideration to the projects they are producing and ensure that the work they are doing is of high quality.   

In strategic communication, students need to demonstrate that they understand what it means to be inclusive in their communications and have used CEC experiences to indicate that they can be ethical professionals.   

"I had one student who was interested in event planning and was interviewing for a job," Young said. "He recently asked me if I would send the report for his class project because he thought that the project demonstrated a consideration for the diverse needs of people when planning an event."    

Because of his experience in the CEC course, the student demonstrated how the class had considered inclusiveness to be the definition of success, one which listened to many voices in determining how the event should go.  

"He wanted to have the project report to talk about and show at his interview," Young said. "We both hadn't looked at it in a few years and were pleased to see the work again. He felt proud to see how much he and his classmates had done that semester."  

While some students may work for the community partners they engage with after graduation, most students can use the materials in portfolios they can later reference when entering the workforce.  

Community engaged coursework also creates a more equitable way to approach internships. For example, in the journalism field, internships are essential for professional experience, but not everyone can take one, especially if it is unpaid.   

"People have lots of demands on their time," Young said. "Students with other jobs and who are paying their way through school can't always get an internship."  

Ensuring students get community engaged experience in classes means that everyone will have some client or community-based work to share with future employers.  

The School of Journalism and Mass Communications defines the future of community engaged coursework as sustained relationships which develop partnerships within the local community.  

"We are working with Coralville right now in a way that integrates community engagement throughout the curriculum," Young said. "It's not just something special that you get when you are in your capstone class or because a specific professor is interested in doing it."  

Young wanted to be sure that the journalism school was teaching the skills needed for community engagement in the curriculum from the very beginning.   

"We are allowing students to do projects both small and large throughout their time in our major," Young said. "It is the right thing to do because it creates strong connections with the community. Our students need real-world experiences and the skills they gain from them."    

Students who take CEC courses have a lot to offer and can learn to benefit organizations doing important work.  

"It is such a positive experience, and we want to do more of it," Young said.  

Before implementing the CEC designation, students did not know how to find community engaged courses to help them make better decisions when registering.  

"If they had a class like that before and now want to seek out another one, they can do that," Young said.  

Making the designation part of the registration process helps students find those classes and understand more about what kind of class they will be enrolling in.  

The designation also allows faculty to highlight that they are committed to teaching these classes, which requires a lot of passion and commitment.  

"It is a way for them to signal that their work is to create a community engaged class," Young said. 

Story by James Dykeman