Engaged learning is at the heart of nearly everything the Center does. It is a form of pedagogy and scholarship built on reciprocal exchange with communities both near and far for mutual benefit and development. Well-designed engaged learning courses integrate academic content, community partnerships, and critical reflection on the challenges communities face. At the Center for Social Concerns engaged learning is grounded in the Catholic Social Tradition and it takes three general forms: experiential learning, community-based learning, and community-based research courses.
In experiential learning courses students encounter outside the classroom what they study in class. Students in an intermediate Spanish class might attend Latino arts and heritage events, attend Mass in Spanish, or take a guided tour in a part of town primarily populated by Latino residents and business owners.
In community-based learning courses students have the opportunity to contribute to the community beyond the campus. Their experiences in the community are integrated into class like a reading assignment, providing them with an additional text for consideration during class discussions and in written assignments.
In a class on immigrant memory, for instance, students might work intensively with local immigrant families to compile stories from children, parents, and grandparents in order to get a sense of various perspectives on immigrant experience and to give those families a keepsake narrative that records and honors their journey.
The Center also facilitates community-based research courses that involve students exploring a critical question posed and guided by a community organization; the results of their study are intended to assist the organization.
For example, in a Poverty Studies Capstone course, students could partner with the St. Joseph County United Way to write research briefs that address local questions about changes in public policy that could help the United Way reach its goal of reducing poverty.
Community-based research can also take the form of a collaborative effort between academic researchers and non-academic community members that aims to generate social action and positive social change through the use of multiple knowledge sources and research methods. Ideally, the research questions originate from off-campus communities and the process involves meaningful participation by all partners in every stage of the research. Students can be involved in this research through curricular or co-curricular approaches.