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Engaged Scholars program concentrations to expand

As program encompasses 10 departments, U. to hire assistant director, bolster advising resources

The Engaged Scholars program will expand to five more concentrations next year, adding to the five concentrations piloting the program this year, said Kathleen McSharry, associate dean of the College for writing and curriculum. Business, entrepreneurship and organizations and contemplative studies, along with three other concentrations to be determined, will offer concentrators the opportunity to become Engaged Scholars.

Due to its growth, the Engaged Scholars program will also take on a new assistant director, who will begin by fall 2015, McSharry said.

Director of Engaged Scholarship Allen Hance said the new hire will play a critical role in developing the curriculum for the Engaged Scholarship program in collaboration with both the dean of the College and the Swearer Center for Public Service. The University hopes to make an offer within the next month, he added.

This spring, sophomores have been able to enroll in the Engaged Scholars program as part of declaring a concentration in anthropology, engineering, environmental studies, public policy and theater arts and performance studies, said Kate Trimble, acting director of the Swearer Center. The program merges community involvement with academics, she added.

“Over time, we hope to have as many as 40 concentrations in the program,” Dean of the College Maud Mandel said, adding that she is unsure of the timeline along which the program will grow.

“We need to be able to build an infrastructure around it,” she said. “We need to be able to support the students with really good advising and opportunities.”

As the program develops, common experiences will shape the background of each Engaged Scholar. For example, each Scholar will be required to commit 250 hours to a community involvement project, which can be completed during the summer or as a sustained experience during the academic year, Trimble said.

The University will “decide fairly soon” which other three concentrations will be offered next year, Mandel said. She added that “a number of departments have expressed interest” in joining the program.

As the University makes this decision, it must carefully consider student interest, but faculty interest will be prioritized above all “since they are to teach the classes,” Mandel said.

The two concentrations already selected to join the program next year each contained a natural bridge into the process of Engaged Scholarship.

Contemplative studies “is a concentration that already has engagement embedded into what they do,” McSharry said.

“When the Engaged Scholars announcement came out … it almost fit word for word a lot of what the goals are for the BEO program,” said Brendan McNally, associate director of BEO.

BEO has been integrating community outreach into its programming for the last several years through its required senior capstone project, in which students design a project in conjunction with a community organization, he added.

Seniors interested in business, economics and social entrepreneurship have worked on capstone projects, including data analysis and recommendation writing for the Boys and Girls Club of Rhode Island as well as strategic partnership development for a local technology startup, McNally said.

Only students on track to graduate in 2018 or later will be granted the opportunity to declare as an Engaged Scholar in BEO, contemplative studies or one of the to-be-determined concentrations piloted next year, McSharry said.

While the program is still taking shape, it has come a long way since President Christina Paxson’s P’19 term began.

Paxson strongly encouraged the Engaged Scholars initiative and put it “at the forefront” of the University’s capital campaign, McSharry said. “Every president has their signature initiatives — this is hers.”

While the University has researched similar programs at other schools such as Cornell, Penn and Tulane University, Brown’s program “appears to be different from all the other programs in that it’s embedded in the concentrations,” McSharry said.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity at Brown because of the open curriculum and because of the spirit of students,” Hance said.

Concentration advisers will continue to help students from within their departments, but the Swearer Center will also act as a resource for students as they establish connections between Brown and Providence, Trimble said.

Alan Harlam, adjunct lecturer in public policy and director of social entrepreneurship at the Swearer Center, teaches “PPAI 1910: Social Entrepreneurship” and “PPAI 1701Q: Leading Social Ventures — Social Entrepreneurship in Action.” The curricula of these courses enable students to apply classroom concepts to real-life community problems, he said.

“We teach about theory of change and logic models. Once we have students doing a number of readings about how these topics work … and why they’re important to social change, students then create a logic model for their own venture,” Harlam added.

“The beauty of the projects is that they’re really varied,” said Andrew Kaplan ’15, a teaching assistant for Leading Social Ventures. One venture, “Rhymes with Reason,” uses hip hop to help high school students study vocabulary in preparation for standardized tests, he said. Another, called “Tiny Homes,” uses a model to build low-cost, smaller homes in Providence for homeless people, Kaplan added.

“I’m personally excited about the opportunity for students to have access to more and more classes that allow them to apply what they’re learning from within their department to real problems that exist in the world,” Harlam said. “I’m excited that my class is one of those opportunities that allows students to bridge the gap between Brown and their communities.”


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