When Saadhya Bahudodda ’24 first came to Brown in fall 2021, she attended an event where she learned about the Swearer Center for Public Service's Engaged Scholars Program, which allowed certain concentrators to pursue community engagement within their field of study.
“I was really interested in (the program) because I had known since high school that I wanted community engagement to be a large part of my college experience,” she wrote in an email to The Herald. Since the program was only open to 16 concentrations, Bahudodda was not sure whether she would be able to pursue it.
But the launch of the University’s new Engaged Scholarship Certificate that same semester changed Bahudodda’s options. The new program is open to all concentrators, allowing her to pursue a certificate that integrates community engagement into her existing study of biology.
The Engaged Scholarship Certificate is sponsored by the Department of Sociology and the Swearer Center and “allows undergraduate students to investigate public, civic and/or social justice issues that they are passionate about,” according to its website. The certificate integrates academic study with “community-based learning, research and action” to help students find ways to engage with the community outside campus, the website continues.
According to Carmine Perrotti, assistant director of community-engaged scholarship, there are currently 11 students who have declared the ESC.
The switch from the Engaged Scholars Program “has overall been pretty successful,” he said. “We've had positive feedback from students who are already involved in community-engaged work and students who want to get involved.”
Kenneth Wong, an ESC faculty advisor and professor of education policy, political science, public policy and urban studies, served as an advisor on the ESP program in the education department before being invited to be a founding member of the ESC faculty committee.
“The ESC comes at the right time … because the Swearer Center is working on its strategic plan … which focuses on having research projects by faculty and students … be more responsive to community partners,” he said. “A lot of the ESC students are going to co-design some of these projects.”
Aaron Castillo ’23 was one of the first students to officially pursue the certificate. “I didn't want to be a Brown student who stays within the Brown bubble for all of my four years,” he said. “I wanted to experience what it's like outside of Brown and learn about Providence’s history.”
“The ESP and the ESC are pretty similar,” he said. “It's just a much more formalized means of graduating with something” related to community engagement.
Perrotti said that the decision to create a certificate was based around concerns that only students from 16 concentrations were eligible to participate in the program.
“Because ESP was embedded within the 16 concentrations, the number of ESP course requirements also varied from concentration to concentration,” Perrotti added. “Not only was there limited access, but there was also a lack of consistent experience.”
Out of the 11 students who have declared, eight are concentrators in departments that were originally affiliated with the program, while three are concentrating in departments outside of the original 16, according to Perrotti. These students, who would not have been able to participate in engaged scholarship otherwise, are concentrating in health and human biology, public health and psychology.
“Students (also) have more choices in terms of developing the series of courses that they would like to take in order to fulfill the requirements,” Wong added. He gave the example of a concentrator in education who is interested in the issues facing children who have experienced public health issues such as lead poisoning and water contamination.
“They could take a class in the School of Public Health that deals with contamination in urban neighborhoods (and) an engineering class to understand … the science behind the contamination,” he explained. In the previous program, they would only have been able to take courses within their concentration.
Perrotti also spoke about the wide range of “issue areas” he has seen students define as the focus of their certificate.
“There's a variety of ways students are approaching the work and it’s exciting to see how this work is building upon their concentration studies,” he said.
Perrotti added that the new certificate allows even students who are not planning to complete it to be exposed to community engagement. “SOC 0310: ‘Theory and Practice of Engaged Scholarship,’ which is the class that I teach, is the foundational seminar for the engaged scholarship certificate,” he said. “When we switched to the certificate, we opened up that class to any undergraduate students when it used to only be for ESP students.”
Castillo said that if students cannot do the certificate, they should take advantage of their new access to SOC 0310, which he said is a “class that every Brown student should take.”
“That's really important to us because we want to be able to support students who are interested in connecting their academic experience with community engaged work who may not be interested in the ESC or (who are) double concentrating,” Perrotti added.
According to the University’s certificate guidelines, “a student completing two or more concentrations (or a concurrent degree) may not complete a certificate.” According to Perroti, many of the rules about student access to the certificate are determined by the University.
When ESP was a track within 16 set concentrations, students were able to complete the program while double concentrating. Wong said that he hopes the College will revisit the idea of opening up access to the certificate for double concentrators in the future.
As more feedback comes in from the 11 students currently engaged in the program, certificate coordinators are making continuous adjustments to the certificate, Perrotti said. There is also a faculty review committee in place that meets two to three times a year to discuss the certificate.
“There hasn't been any major changes from when we first launched, given how new we are,” Perrotti added. “We've made small tweaks to … the ESC ASK declaration and we've updated the practicum reflection assignments.”
For students who are now able to pursue the certificate, the change to open the program up to all concentrations has allowed them to apply their academic studies in a real world context. Bahudodda wrote that she is particularly excited to design her curriculum to reflect the issues she cares about most.
“I’m really glad that the program was changed into a certificate,” Bahudodda wrote. “I don't think I would have been able to do the program” otherwise.