Classes get community engagement

Oakwood Cemetery Association President Holly Taylor-Meyer leads students on a tour. Photo Courtesy of Amy Fluker

By Tala Alsharif

This fall semester introduces students to new community-engaged learning courses.

In community-engaged courses, students and faculty members work with local organizations to identify needs in the community and address them.

One of the university’s goals is to be recognized by the Carnegie Foundation and apply for the foundation’s elective Classification for Community Engagement.

Associate Provost and Dean of Sokolov Honors College, Amy Cossentino, said the university is reviewing courses submitted by faculty members.

“Our academic senate group began last year receiving applications from faculty for their courses to receive this [community-engaged learning] attribute,” Cossentino said.

There are certain elements and characteristics the honors college’s committee looks for, to ensure courses are considered a community-engaged learning experience by the Carnegie Foundation.

Some elements include the type of action a student is taking part of, the ability for a student to link the engagement piece to the course, the mutual benefit between students, and community partners and public dialogue — such as presentations — for feedback.

“The characteristics fall into four groups,” Cossentino said. “What is the engagement? … Are the students actively engaged in reflection? We’re also looking at reciprocity … which leads into the fourth bucket, which is public dissemination.”

Students who take community-engagement courses are required to complete 20 hours of community engagement per course.

Brian Bonhomme, a history professor, explained there are two courses already certified as community-engaged learning in the history program.

“One of the courses is one that I teach … Global Environmental History,” Bonhomme said. “When the course is offered next, 20 hours of the students’ semester will be in community-engaged work.”

Bonhomme said last semester, he offered a course where students could choose to take the regular option of the course or the community-engaged option.

“Those who took the community-engagement [option] worked with the YSU recycling [program],” Bonhomme said. “I had an on-campus option … and an off-campus option, which was the Mahoning County Land Bank.”

Bohnomme said he’s working with and reaching out to other local environmental organizations for students to collaborate with.

Another course that has recently been certified as community-engaged is History of Ohio taught by associate professor Amy Laurel Fluker.

Students in the course commit to doing community work with local organizations such as cemeteries or historical societies as part of their coursework.

Fluker said her course works with the Trumbull County Historical Society and the Oak Cemetery Association in Warren.

“They came to us … two years ago asking for help digitizing historical burial records held at the cemetery,” Fluker said. 

Fluker and members of the Trumbull County Historical Society scanned around 12,000 records for students to digitize. 

In students’ reflection papers about the community work, they expressed how it was refreshing to be involved in something that serves a purpose. 

Bohnomme said students in his class agreed, and also found the work beneficial.

“It benefited them in terms of being able to take what we learned in a classroom … and see how it actually relates to something in the real world,” Bonhomme said. 

Anna Morgoine, sophomore nursing major, who was involved in community-engaged learning as part of her Honors Campus Community Partnership seminar, volunteered with the Jewish Community Center for different events, such as a fresh food drive.

“It helped me put into perspective how many people benefit from these organizations,” Morgoine stated. “All the community partners work to promote a better … quality of living, and by volunteering in the fresh food drive we were able to make that possible.” 

Students interested in community-engagement and volunteering opportunities can visit the YSU PenguinPulse website. Students can view community-engaged learning courses under YSU’s undergraduate catalog.