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U. to launch Engaged Scholars Program

Initiative will offer concentrators in four departments community engagement opportunities

The Engaged Scholars Program will launch its pilot phase this spring, marking the implementation of a proposal in President Christina Paxson’s P’19 strategic plan. The program will offer a new means of incorporating community service into the curriculum of four departments.

“At the heart of the Engaged Scholars Program, we are trying to provide opportunities for students to better integrate their academic coursework with opportunities to do work around social change,” said Allen Hance, director of the TRI-Lab.

Faculty members in the four departments participating in the program’s pilot phase — theater and performance studies, environmental studies, engineering and anthropology —  have already been doing work in the realm of engaged scholarship, said Kate Trimble, acting director of the Swearer Center for Public Service.

The term “engaged scholarship” evolved on a national level from what was formerly referred to as community service, Trimble said. Use of the term community service has “fallen out of vogue and people are now talking about community or civic engagement,” she added.

“Engaged Scholarship is a program geared to link what’s happening in the classroom with what’s happening outside the classroom, but it’s specifically one that’s linked to concentration tracks,” said Dean of the College Maud Mandel.

The program is the product of a student focus group commissioned by the Swearer Center two years ago, Trimble said. Students, faculty members and administrators discussed specific plans for the launch of the Engaged Scholars Program pilot this past summer, she added.

“The Engaged Scholars Program has been a joint effort of the Swearer Center, the Office of the Dean of the College and interested faculty who have been involved in a conversation about this during the strategic plan development,” Hance said.

Participation in the pilot program will entail taking concentration-specific courses that have components of engagment with partner organizations in the community. Enrolled students will be required to complete rigorous internships and participate in general programming for Engaged Scholars, Trimble said.

“The vision going forward is that each concentration will design a specific curriculum for the students in the concentration who designate themselves to be Engaged Scholars,” said Daniel Smith, chair and professor of anthropology. “That will involve courses that are already on the books but also developing specific courses with a highly engaged component.”

In anthropology, many of the engagement opportunities will be abroad in cultural immersion and archaeology, Smith added.

“Various programs have been doing engaged programs for years at Brown,” said Dov Sax, director of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, which houses the environmental studies department. “What has been decided is to begin to try to formalize that into a more cohesive and recognizable program that acknowledges that kind of scholarship.”

J. Timmons Roberts, professor of environmental studies and sociology, has taught courses with engaged elements such as attending United Nations climate negotiations and making local neighborhoods more sustainable. Engaged scholarship “meshes well with the kind of students that we have who want to change the world and don’t want to wait until they finish Brown,” Roberts said.

Many courses with engaged components already offered by the four pilot departments will be incorporated into the official program launch.

“In a way, Engaged Scholars formalizes what already has been going on, and it also pushes the faculty to be more consistent in terms of the engaged scholarship that they’re doing with communities,” said Nancy Safian, TAPS academic programming and facilities coordinator.

Engaged scholarship is “work from Brown for and with the world beyond Brown,” said Erik Ehn, chair and professor of TAPS. Department members in TAPS have worked with community partners such as English for Action, Central Falls High School, Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, The Manton Avenue Project and AS220 in courses involving engaged scholarship.

Working with English for Action, an immigrant support organization, Assistant Professor of TAPS Kym Moore “taught puppetry, but it was also a conversation about genocide,” she said.

“We have a faculty and staff who not uniformly but by and large, see theater as the formation of idealistic social communities in real time and space,” Ehn said. “There are a lot of groups that we’ve worked with over time that we’d love to work with in a more regular way.”

The four departments will solidify community partnerships with the help of the Swearer Center, continuing their work with previous partners and forming new relationships with local and international groups. The program will take engaged scholarship “beyond just the Swearer Center so you could do that through your department,” Trimble said. “It’s about embedding it in the institution as opposed to a one-stop shop.”

The specific overarching requirements for Engaged Scholars are still being determined, Trimble said. “This initial cohort is going to be, to some extent, taking a leap into the unknown,” she said. “This is a pilot, and it will evolve.”

The goal is to have 10 departments participating in the Engaged Scholars Program next semester, and “eventually up to 30 or 40,” Mandel said. The business, entrepreneurship and organizations, music and public policy departments have already shown interest in offering concentrators the option to be Engaged Scholars, Trimble said.

The Engaged Scholars Program’s pilot phase will “be defined by students and what their passions are and by departments who are working with concentrators to connect their academic pursuits with their passions,” Hance said.

The Swearer Center will hold an information session Feb. 12 for first- and second-year students interested in the program.


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