James Graham Brown Foundation gives $500,000 for experiential learning at Centre

Posted by Centre News in Academics, Community-Based Learning, Internships, News, Psychology, Research 12 Sep 2013

fabritius_stephanieInternships, undergraduate research and community-based learning have long been a part of a Centre education, but now, thanks to $500,000 from the James Graham Brown Foundation, Centre can greatly expand and improve its unique brand of experiential education.

“These kinds of high-impact practices are the heart of the Centre experience,” says Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Stephanie Fabritius. “We need to think more intentionally about how these practices fit into our curriculum, how we can help faculty participate in them and how we can help more students engage in them.”

Fabritius is particularly excited about the balanced way in which Centre’s opportunities are being expanded.

“This grant will enable us to do for academic internships and community-based learning what the Mellon Grant will enable us to do for undergraduate research,” she explains. “They complement each other so well.”

Indeed, the grant will promote coordination between Career Services, VISTA, the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Undergraduate Research Committee and Student Life, not to mention numerous other campus organizations and people. It will also be instrumental in strengthening the Centre Commitment, which guarantees every student graduation in four years, a study abroad experience and a research or internship opportunity.

The funding will be especially important for enlarging opportunities for community-based learning, which Fabritius explains is a symbiotic relationship between faculty, students and the community.

“Community-based learning is wonderful because it turns the community into a classroom,” she says. “Faculty can strengthen theories they use in the classroom by having students engage in practical activities in the community. The class ends up filling a community need while giving students a hands-on, real-world learning experience.”

The Spanish program already utilizes community-based learning, especially through its after school tutoring program, which gives students an opportunity to practice their Spanish while providing much-needed help to local children. Other classes that have utilized community-based learning include abnormal psychology, sociology, philosophy and first year studies courses.

The funding is especially useful because of the built-in incentives that encourage both students and faculty to engage in experiential learning.

“Embedded in this grant is additional funding for both academic internships and incentives for faculty members to serve as mentors of these internships,” says Fabritius. “There is also funding for mini-grants that faculty can use to develop one of their classes into a community-based learning class.”

As part of the grant, a Coordinator of Engaged and Experiential Learning will be hired to assess and track academic internships, undergraduate research and community-based learning. The coordinator will be housed in the Center for Teaching and Learning and will facilitate discussions among faculty on how best to implement more high-impact practices. The Coordinator will also work to promote these practices to faculty and students and discuss the pedagogies involved in these practices to students.

Most importantly for Fabritius, the additional funding represents a significant educational opportunity for students.

“The kinds of thing we do extraordinarily well at Centre is provide students with opportunities to ‘do the discipline,'” she notes. “You can read all day about a certain discipline, but there is a huge transformation involved in ‘doing’ that discipline. The practices involved in this grant will give more students an opportunity to engage in this way with their education. It’s what schools like Centre are all about.”

The James Graham Brown Foundation is based in Louisville, Ky., and established the Brown Fellows Program at Centre in 2009, making Centre the only private college in Kentucky to host such a prestigious scholarship program.

by Mariel Smith
September 12, 2013