Posted 7 a.m. Monday, April 25, 2022
Inaugural campus community learning efforts finding success
Conducting and analyzing surveys for the Women's Fund to better understand the most pressing economic, social and health needs of La Crosse area residents. Helping YMCA mental health advocates correspond with Spanish-speakers needing services. Assisting Downtown Mainstreet with acquiring grants for art initiatives.
All have happened in the past year as part of a new UW-La Crosse program connecting students with community businesses and organizations, while providing students the experience they need for their careers.
As the inaugural Community Engaged Learning (CEL) pilot ends, Community Engagement Coordinator Lisa Klein says the program has been beneficial to faculty, students and the community.
"I consider the pilot year of the Community Engaged Learning Program a success,” says Klein, noting that 19 courses received the Community Engaged Learning designation for the 2021-22 academic year.
Klein says 316 students assisted with about 36 businesses, non-profits, or civic organizations. About 85% of those partnerships were within La Crosse County.
Minor adjustments to the program over the next academic year will make the university-community partnerships even more accessible, benefiting both UWL faculty and community partners.
“This pilot year was intended to allow both instructors and our partners to provide feedback on the process,” she explains. “Their input will help to make it an even more enjoyable, educational and beneficial experience.”
Lindsay Steiner, an associate professor of English, structured her Grant Writing, ENG 314, class to take part in the program in fall 2021. The class partnered with Downtown Mainstreet Inc. (DMI) to assist with funding public art and downtown beautification. Students worked in teams to research community and client needs, identify grant opportunities, and write grant proposals and inquiry letters. At the end of the semester, the students' projects were shared with DMI.
Steiner says the experience provided students with an authentic context, audience and purpose for grant writing. The students, she notes, learned to manage a complex, multi-week project that had the potential to directly impact La Crosse.
“Through this project, students developed skills such as collaborative writing, adaptability, critical thinking, and problem solving,” says Steiner. “At the end of the semester, students left the class with a set of marketable skills, project examples that they could show employers as they go on the job market, and a renewed sense of community engagement beyond the physical boundaries of UWL's campus — a key component of the Wisconsin Idea.”
Steiner says the opportunity worked well with assignments she planned for her students.
“The new Community Engaged Learning designation provided additional support and a formalized structure for working with a community partner and connecting the course's student learning outcomes with career readiness competencies such as those emphasized in UWL's Eagle Advantage program,” she says.
Steiner says CEL worked so well she intends to explore additional class designations for other courses to partner with a community organization.
Assistant Professor Kristina LaPlant, Political Science and Public Administration, is excited about her POL 494 class, which during the spring semester has collected nearly 700 responses for a La Crosse Community Needs survey. She says several community organizations are waiting to see results.
“There has been a great deal of interest from these partners in receiving the data and wanting to see a presentation of our findings,” she notes.
LaPlant says the students will present their findings during a public presentation, "Forward Together: Identifying Needs in the La Crosse Community,” from 2-4 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, in 3310 Student Union.
“Our hope is that we can share this data with any and all organizations that will find the information we have collected beneficial to their mission of serving La Crosse residents,” LaPlant says.
So far, three organizations have committed to attend the event, including the Women's Fund, Downtown Mainstreet, and Mayo Clinic Health System.
While the deadline for instructors to apply for a Community Engaged Learning designation for fall 2022 has passed, those interested in the program for the spring 2023 semester can begin applying now by filling out the CEL Proposal, on the Community Engagement webpage for instructors.
Instructors can find a preview of the proposal on the webpage along with a quick guide explaining the CEL program process. The deadline to apply for the designation for the spring 2023 semester is Sept. 1, 2022.
What is Community Engaged Learning?
A new UWL program is gaining momentum. In September 2021, the Community Engaged Learning program was introduced to faculty during all-college meetings before the fall 2021 semester. In its first five months, 19 course sections have been designed as Community Engaged Learning. The program connects students with community businesses and organizations while providing students experience they need for their careers.