Students in assistant anthropology professor Dr. Andrea Abrams’ “Community Based Anthropology” class are delving into experiential learning this term. They get the unique opportunity to work with the local United Way (Heart of Kentucky United Way) and its partners in order to better understand the economic, educational and health needs of the local community.
“Through research, interviews and focus groups, we hope to facilitate the process of improving the community services infrastructure that attends to the needs of the more vulnerable citizens,” Abrams says.
This endeavor is facilitated by the aid of a Pay It Forward (PIF) grant of $4,500 from Kentucky Compact. Pay It Forward grants aim to “strengthen communities through student-led philanthropy” and fund service projects that students identify as activities that will benefit their schools, neighborhoods or local communities.
The core of this anthropology course is community engagement. Community engagement, explains Abrams, includes the application of knowledge and skills, in this case anthropological, to move a community toward positive change.
Partnering with the United Way
The structure of this anthropology course is based on the Heart of Kentucky United Way’s reworking of its own strategic plan for providing services. The UW seeks to create “Community Portraits,” or big pictures of how services are allocated and how well citizens are being helped, says Abrams. Each Community Portrait will draw on existing data gathered from leaders of community service organizations.
“The goal is to provide the foundational research so that the United Way and its community partners can better coordinate resources to more effectively assist clients,” she explains. So the Centre course, in order to help accomplish this, has been divided into three teams: Education, Financial Stability and Health.
“Through a course such as this, students are able to get beyond talking about anthropology in class and to see firsthand the ways in which anthropological knowledge and methods can be applied in the real world,” Abrams says.
The students are using interviews and focus groups to get a deeper understanding of the community; then they’ll use anthropological and sociological theory to analyze the data and make recommendations to the United Way that can help improve the ways in which services are provided.
Abrams’ students are excited about volunteering in the community.
“They’re excited about learning more about the community in which they live and of contributing to a project that will make a real difference in people’s lives,” Abrams says.
She hopes that the service component of this course will teach her students that they can make a real contribution to their communities.
“As citizens, it’s important to use your knowledge and talents to contribute to your communities,” Abrams says.