James Graham Brown Foundation grant bridges classroom and community, creates new CTL position

Posted by Centre News in Academics, Community Service, Community-Based Learning, Featured News, News 07 Oct 2014

Ellen Prusinski Portrait PSAs a leader in experiential learning in higher education, Centre College is dedicated to strengthening opportunities that facilitate personalized and engaged learning, such as study abroad, undergraduate research, internships and community-based learning. Thanks to a $500,000 grant the College received last year from the Louisville-based James Graham Brown Foundation to support academic internships and community-based learning initiatives, these high-impact practices are thriving at Centre like never before.

The grant has made possible a new position in the Center for Teaching and Learning that will take transformational learning to the next level. Ellen Prusinski (pictured above) joined Centre this past July as the Coordinator of Engaged and Experiential Learning and assistant professor of education. Her role is to assess and track academic internships, undergraduate research and community-based learning, thus ensuring the College’s continual development of these high-impact teaching strategies. She also oversees many aspects of the grant, especially its community-based learning component.

“Community-based learning is grounded in a belief in the importance of reciprocity,” explains Prusinski, who is particularly passionate about this type of engaged learning. “Students bring resources that can help build the community and the community offers resources and assets that can contribute to student learning.”

Prusinski is certain that everyone involved stands to gain from CBL’s hands-on and often service-oriented approach.

“Students who engage in CBL often say that one of the most powerful benefits the experience offers is an increased ability to communicate across difference,” she says. “I think that is especially important for Centre students, who engage with diverse communities and cultures, not just in Kentucky but around the globe.”

Prusinski has reached out to new community partners, such as Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill and the Lincoln County Schools, and hopes to establish long-term relationships with these organizations.

“Community partners have been really eager to work with our students and are excited about the resources Centre can bring,” says Prusinski, who will also continue to build on existing relationships with organizations such as Centro Latino and the Danville Schools.

Prusinski will also promote CBL on Centre’s campus with a series of faculty development workshops. Dr. Kerri Heffernan of Brown University will lead the first of these workshops on Thursday, Oct. 9 at 4 p.m. in the Evans-Lively Room of Old Carnegie. She will discuss ways of incorporating CBL into a rigorous classroom environment with her talk “The Scholarship of Community Engagement.” Heffernan will also give a syllabus development workshop on Friday, Oct. 10, that will help faculty put their ideas about CBL into practice.

Overall, Prusinski is looking forward to further developing practices at Centre that will directly impact student learning and make a difference in the community.

“I feel privileged to be in a position that affords me so many opportunities to talk with faculty, community members and students about issues of community engagement, social change and student learning,” says Prusinski. “There are some incredibly creative and energetic people working to build our community and enhance our students’ educational experience.”

Prusinski holds a bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College and earned an M.P.A. and a Ph.D. in education policy studies at Indiana University. Her Fulbright-supported dissertation focused on the educational processes surrounding women’s transnational labor migration in Indonesia. She has worked on education projects in communities around the world, including Chicago, Nanjing, China, and Central Java, Indonesia.

In addition to providing enhancements in CBL initiatives, the grant has been instrumental in bolstering the Centre Commitment, which guarantees every student graduation in four years, a study abroad experience and a research or internship opportunity. By supporting both student internship experiences and internship faculty mentorships, the grant contributed to a notable increase in students who participated in summer academic internships, from four in 2013 to 33 in 2014.

Moreover, the grant will be essential in creating incentives for faculty to participate in such high-impact practices, as well as assisting faculty with mentoring students in such practices. In an effort to more fully integrate these high-impact approaches into all areas of Centre’s academic life, a grant-funded faculty working group was established to examine best practices in terms of requirements and structure, as well as how these practices contribute to the College’s faculty evaluations and its tenure and promotion process.

by Caitlan Cole

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