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June 1, 2014

GC fellows lead engaged learning initiatives

MILLEDGEVILLE — Learning experiences in which students contribute to the public good, address community issues and needs and understand the responsibility of citizenship are part of Georgia College's first Community-based Engaged Learning (C-bEL) Fellows Program.

Six GC community-based learning trailblazers were honored at the GIVE Center Friday for their outstanding efforts with student learning in and out of the classroom.

Dr. Kirk Armstrong, associate professor and coordinator of athletic training; Dr. Janet Clark, associate professor of rhetoric; Ruth Eilers, director of academic outreach; Dr. Renee Fontenot, associate professor of marketing; Dr. Barbara Funke, professor and community health coordinator co-chair; and Dr. Sandra Godwin, associate professor of sociology, were selected from 12 applicants to become mentors to faculty, students, staff and the community.

The Fellows are a major component of ENGAGE, the Georgia College Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), providing a blueprint for building a culture of engaged learning through the development of structured and assessable C-bEL experiences that connect students with the liberal arts and the wider community.

Godwin's Art and Social Justice course, taught with Art Professor Valerie, was a pilot project for the QEP.

Students shared true collaboration through art poster projects promoting healthy living at the Collins P. Lee Center.

“It's not a situation where we say 'oh, we are helping Harrisburg.' It's about mutual benefit,” Godwin said. “One of the main things we impressed upon students in that course is not how are you helping people but how you are transformed through this process of being outside the classroom working alongside community leaders.”

Students discover what civic identity really means.

“Part of that is just knowing Milledgeville,” she said.

Godwin said the C-bEL program is a method to organize the great college outreach work already in progress.

“There is so much going on that nobody knows about inside and outside of campus,” Godwin said. “We can be that liaison.”

Funke has more than two decades at Georgia College. Her community health class, taken by college juniors, has a 60-hour service-learning component.

“By the end, the feedback is almost universally that they got so much more out of that than they ever would have in the classroom. Students see the value,” Funke said.

Armstrong just returned from a study abroad in Belize. Eleven students worked with HIV/AIDS awareness groups, painted murals across the town, helped an elderly care facility and organized a health fair at a city market in the Central American.

“In about four hours, we did health screenings of everything from height, weight, blood pressure and talked about diabetes nutrition to 176 people,” Armstrong said.

As Director of Academic Outreach, Eilers uses science-based outreach for k-12 and adult learning.

“We usually reach about 5,000 to 6,000 participants per year in six to 10 counties,” she said Friday.

Clark values her American Democracy Project and Debate Watch work.

“I'm the grassroots civic engagement gal,” Clark said. “I'm all about wanting to get students to be educated for citizenship and ethical leadership in their communities.”

With fellow instructor Gregg Kaufman's help, Clark assists a Public Achievement course were students take on a “coaching role” with the YES Program.

“Our students and community are a wonderful asset,” she said.

Outreach with local businesses and non-profits are Fontenot's specialty.

By the time her students graduate, most have at least four client-based projects on the resume.

“What they realize is that it gives them a competitive edge,” Fontenot said. “It gives them that confidence. When students graduate, they have the experience of professionals. My job will be reflected on how well I prepared you, so that you can get ahead.”

Armstrong said the C-bEL Fellows Program would get campus momentum started.

“It's going to be highlighted how these experiences can be taken from the classroom into the community, so that every student has that opportunity in some way, shape or form whether it's here, nationally or internationally,” he said.

 

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