Professor of English and Director of the Center for Civic Engagement
In 1947, President Truman’s Commission on Higher Education concluded that “Long ago our people recognized that education for all is not only democracy’s obligation but its necessity. Education is the foundation of democratic liberties. Without an educated citizenry alert to preserve and extend freedom, it would not long endure.” The Center for Civic Engagement at Drew embodies this vision through its mission of integrating knowledge and action for the common good.
Civic engagement opportunities for students have blossomed since the Center’s creation in 2008. The Civic Scholars, a scholarship program for students committed to community service, has grown to over forty students in just three years; and Drew faculty have developed and taught more than fourteen Community-Based Learning (CBL) classes. CBL classes incorporate work with community organizations as part of their course requirements, and have ranged from “Toxic Chemicals” to “Sociology of Education.” This semester CBL students are teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages as part of an English class in “Latino/a Literature” with Professor Sarah Wald. They are researching and proposing solutions to local policy issues in “Public Policy & Administration” with Patrick McGuinn, and they are making theater with Newark high school students in Professor Christopher Ceraso’s and Lisa Brenner’s team-taught class, “Theater in the Community.” Moreover, as students in these classes benefit our communities, they also gain practical skills and experience to bring to the workforce.
Nicole Kurosko (CLA ‘13), a junior Civic Scholar, has just completed the U.N. Semester, where she interned with a human rights organization, but this experience is only part of Nicole’s deep and broad engagement with the world beyond Drew’s campus. As an assistant for Professor Patrick McGuinn’s CBL class, “Public Policy,” Nicole gathers data on student learning and community benefit. She serves as liaison between student policy teams and United Way staff, and assists with research and analysis on the impact of policies affecting funding for childcare, affordable housing, and support for disabled adults. Nicole’s collaboration with Professor McGuinn will lead to a co-authored article. Clearly, Nicole embodies the Truman Commission’s ideal of connecting education with the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy, and doing so has helped her achieve an impressive array of accomplishments.
Nicole is one of a growing number of Civic Scholars and other Drew students embracing the power of community engagement. Rajdeep Lahari’s (CLA ’14) path as a Civic Scholar led him to enroll in Financial Literacy, an economics class that works with middle school students at the Morristown Neighborhood House. Funded by the Van Houton Foundation, this class allowed Rajdeep and fourteen other Drew students to provide a full semester of instruction, passing on knowledge about personal financial responsibility to youth, and culminating in a ceremony and celebration at Neighborhood House. Rajdeep is continuing his involvement with immigrant and underserved populations in our area through an internship with Pathways to Work.
Meanwhile, “Theater in the Community,” and the partnership with the Newark Public Schools that it supports, is now in its third year. Newark high school students benefit enormously from working with college students—one participant even went on to attend Drew. For Drew students as well this is a powerful experience, leading one to write that “In three years, this was the most important class that I’ve taken at Drew, both personally and on a communal level. It is great work and it is important work. This is the work that Drew should be doing and I hope to see this program flourish.”
The transformative potential of community-based learning is one reason why the Association of American Colleges and Universities identifies it as one of five high impact practices that increase undergraduate student success. This is also one of the reasons why Drew’s new strategic plan places such emphasis on enhancing students’ social, global and professional engagement. By embracing activities that take learning beyond the campus and bringing new knowledge back into the classroom from communities, civic engagement at Drew fosters our students’ success while educating the active, well-informed citizens our democracy needs.