Community Partnerships

Last week I met with the superintendents from school districts close to campus to discuss ways we might create a more mutually beneficial network of relationships. I was joined by Sonia Manjon, Wesleyan’s new Vice-President for Diversity and Strategic Partnerships. Although Sonia just began her tenure here in Middletown, we know one another well from our work at CCA’s Center for Art and Public Life. Sonia was largely responsible for building up a wide array of community partnerships that linked California College of the Arts with community organizations, schools and artists’ groups around the Bay Area. She helped the faculty create many service learning courses and developed new undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Community Arts. At the same time, she has been an active participant nationally in the emerging field of community arts. I am delighted that the Wesleyan community will benefit from Sonia’s leadership and collaborative abilities. For more about Sonia, see: http://www.wesleyan.edu/newsletter/campus/2008/0208manjon.html

Our meeting with the superintendents surveyed some of the projects on which Wesleyan students have been working for many years. For example, Community and University Services for Education (CAUSE) has benefited thousands of high school students from the surrounding area who come to campus for lectures, seminars, films and art exhibitions. The High School Scholars Programs offer academically well-prepared juniors and seniors from local schools the opportunity to enroll in Wesleyan courses. We waive tuition for students for one course per semester, enabling them to get a head start on their college work.

Since 1966 the Upward Bound Program at Wesleyan has helped place high school students on the path toward a successful college education. From specific classes, to more general financial aid and career counseling, our Upward Bound Program has made a positive difference in the lives of teenagers in Middletown, Meriden and Portland.

Although I didn’t know the term “community service” in 1975, in my first year at Wesleyan I volunteered in the psychiatry ward at Middlesex Hospital and tutored an elementary school student in reading. I was joining a team that is still going strong today. Through the Office of Community Service and Volunteerism Wes students are lending a hand in schools, medical centers, community housing, music centers and in prisons – just to name a few of the places where they can be found.

In addition to our work with young people making their way to college, we are also interested in helping students discover how they can continue their education at an advanced level. Professor Laurel Appel is leading Wesleyan’s McNair Program, which assists students from underrepresented groups in preparing for post-graduate education. The program provides guidance, research opportunities, and academic and financial support to students planning to go on to Ph.Ds. We hope our McNair participants will one day be encouraging their own students to participate in university-community partnerships.

Not all our community programs are classroom based. Wesleyan’s Green Street Art Center offers a wide array of activities, including dance, filmmaking, poetry and music. Check out the website at: http://www.wesleyan.edu/greenstreet/events.html

With the support and cooperation of local and state organizations, Wesleyan has been offering a free film series on Ingrid Bergman and her leading men. We have collected Ms. Bergman’s personal and professional materials at our Film Archive, and we have played some of her great films to full houses. This week I will introduce Gaslight, Bergman’s 1944 classic with Charles Boyer. It’s a pleasure to welcome our friends and neighbors to the glorious new Center for Film Studies. In a small way with this film series we help build better town gown relations while reminding all of us of the gems in our archival holdings. Gaslight will be shown at 8:00 pm on Wed., July 23. The following week the series concludes with The Bells of Saint Mary’s. For more information: http://www.wesleyan.edu/filmstudies/center.html

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5 thoughts on “Community Partnerships”

  1. President Roth – Not long ago, like you, when I heard the words “community service” they seemed to be reserved for the punishment of white collar criminals and disgraced athletes…we have come a long way baby! Today, we seek to encourage a “continuum of compassion” for individuals – from grammar school to graduate school and beyond – to engage in civic life using our “T’s”…talent, time, treasures and technology to benefit others. Over the next few years, I for one would like to not only encourage the “town/gown” involvement but also find practical ways to network/integrate undergraduates and alums around the broad mission of the Allbritton Center for public life!

  2. President Roth, it is encouraging to hear your focus and emphasis on student involvement in the greater community. Senator Obama’s speech at graduation this past May stressed the importance of civic engagement, and I believe that this message has had an active impact on Wesleyan.

    I am a member of the Eclectic Society, and this morning I received an e-mail from our president detailing a new program at Wesleyan that provides program houses with $2,000 – $4,000 to design and execute a plan that addresses a social justice issue beyond campus. Tonight I count well over twenty thoughtful, often highly detailed responses. One member called for a plan to address public transportation in Middletown through the development of a bike co-op. Another recommended we use the money to create a music program that would provide instruments and instruction lessons to students at nearby schools. Suggestions ranged from environmental to humanitarian, from local to global.

    It’s inspiring to see how a university initiative can immediately have a direct effect on the student body. The effect in this case was online brainstorming, but the prospective opportunities that this project presents – like the many programs you discuss above – are tremendous.

  3. I am excited to be here and working with such an incredible group of students, faculty and staff. I am making my way around meeting with campus departments/programs including Green Street, Center for Community Partnerships, WESU and Center for the Arts which I am looking forward to working with and being a resource for.

    I look forward to bringing my work in community arts, service-learning, and civic engagement to Wesleyan. Community Arts as a practicing field of artists working with community-based organizations has existed independently of higher education but not without impact to or from the academy. Art movements influenced the development of art schools and colleges, supported the efforts of social movements, and illustrated civil- and human rights activities. Through critical and thorough examination of the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Harlem Renaissance, the Black and Chicano Arts Movements and currently the Hip Hop Movement, one can witness how artists, students and community activists have collaborated in ways that connect social justice, equity and diversity to ideologies and identity representation that are profound and revealing.

  4. President Roth, I enjoyed your blog about Wesleyan and the community. As you point out, both institutionally and individually, Wesleyan is a large service contributor to the community. One aspect of service that you didn’t mention was service-learning. I think it’s important to remind and/or make readers aware of the important role service-learning has in the education of Wesleyan students and in the community. Many people are still not aware of service-learning and it’s dual role of providing a unique educational opportunity from which students and the community partner benefit. For example, Last semester Barbara Juhasz’s “Psychology of Reading” students spent two hours/week at Macdonough School, providing Wesleyan students an opportunity to participate in the beginning reading process while they were learning the theory and provide the Macdonough students and teachers with tutors. The students in this class independently organized a drive to collect books for the Macdonough students. An “Environmental Geochemistry” class taught by Tim Ku was able to provide an analysis of an abandoned landfill site in the North End, providing students the opportunity to integrate different types of analyses, to develop a coherent understanding of the history of environmental degradation and methane production at the site, and to present their results at a public forum. This information was instrumental in attracting an energy company how will collect the escaping gas and use it to fuel a generator for the production of electricity.

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