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Community service is a part of many Brown students' extracurricular experience, but new programs — such as the Engaged Scholars Initiative — at the Swearer Center for Public Service support service learning in courses and research. The center is particular about using the term "engaged scholars" instead of "service learning," said Roger Nozaki MAT'89, associate dean of the college and the center's director.

"The language of service learning does not fly with faculty," said Kerrissa Heffernan, director of faculty engagement at the center. "We have to talk about it in language that makes sense to them."

"Just the term feels like it's something different, foreign or not rigorous," Nozaki said.

Though individual faculty members have taken initiative to incorporate community projects into their courses and research, Nozaki said the new program can add to the visibility of such individual initiatives. "If you Google ‘service learning,' you're not going to get a lot on Brown," he said.

Not every student or professor is an "engaged scholar" and not everyone should be, Nozaki said. "I don't see our job as convincing people to do this," he said. "I don't think that's a realistic goal."

For some professors, engaged scholarship "doesn't fit with their teaching style" and "could be a big disaster," Heffernan said.

While the Swearer Center provides resources such as funding, professors like Phil Brown, professor of sociology, actively promote engaged scholarship among their peers. Brown said he would tour several University departments to describe engaged scholarship and dispel misconceptions.

Brown, who teaches a freshman seminar on environmental justice, received funding from the Engaged Scholars Initiative to teach a nine-week course on environmental justice to local high school students.

Though public outreach is required of any professor who receives a grant from the National Science Foundation, service is otherwise an obligation for the University, Brown said.

"Brown gives a lot to Providence, and this is part of the thing it has to give." Many faculty are driven by "a moral sense that we really have to make science and scholarship and academic abilities available to as wide a range of people as possible," he said.

There is a tendency in academia for scholars to think of the local community as a test subject, Brown said. When faculty think about linking service to learning, it must take the form of a partnership because "the community is privy to things we just don't know," he said.

While Brown incorporates service learning into his first-year seminar, he said he is aware of the difficulties students might have. "You don't just say ‘go out and find the community group and do work with them,' " he said. Building relationships with the community takes years and students need guidance to maintain the trust, so engaged scholarship works best in smaller courses and with the aid of teaching assistants, he said.

Heffernan said the type of courses she envisions aren't those that include a token service component. In a strong course, the professor must ensure that the "experience in the community helps people understand the theory itself," she said, and so not all service learning courses necessarily require students to volunteer.

"It's more likely they're in the community doing investigation," Heffernan said.

The problem with actually performing service as part of a course is its temporary nature, she said. If Brown students lead a workshop for a semester with local children for a course, it's important to ask, "is it a good thing for those kids when Brown students disappear?"

But some students, like Leo Eisenstein '10, strive to find ways to continue projects begun during a service learning course. Eisenstein, a concentrator in geology and Latin, said he enrolled in Visiting Lecturer in Literary Arts Rick Benjamin's course, LITR 0310A: "Poetry and Community Service," because of its reputation.

"It was clear to me that I wanted to continue to do that work after Rick's class," said

Eisenstein, who led workshops for middle school children last spring as part of the course. At the end of the semester, he joined Space in Prison for the Arts and Creative Expression — a Swearer Center program in which students work with prison inmates on creative work — which he said is similar to the work he did in the course.

The course, which carries a mandatory S/NC grade option, is also a workshop in which students write and share their own poetry. "Poems are meant to be shared," Eisenstein said.

There is need and demand for such courses and service-related research at the University, Eisenstein said. "It's an important exercise for experts to put their work in a context that's understandable for someone who does not have the same expertise."

But when there's demand for a course that's not offered at Brown, students create their own courses as a Group Independent Study Project. Allen Kramer '13 and Evan Schwartz '13 are taking a course this semester at the Making Connections Leadership Institute in downtown Providence alongside community members.

"I want to learn to work with people who are different from me," Kramer said. "I also want to learn the same things that they're learning."

Kramer said he recognized students may not have chosen to be in Providence if it weren't for Brown. "People shouldn't think they're getting stuck with Providence," he said. "This place really exemplifies a lot of what's going on in the country."

"One of the problems with service learning is that  as younger college students, we don't really have skills to offer," Schwartz said. "You'll take up more time than you're worth."

"There's not one model of what this should be," Nozaki said, "We have to think with more variety about what the approaches could be."



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