Innovative Course Offers Students an Opportunity to Create Community Partnerships
The Department of Government and Sociology is currently offering an upper level sociology course that provides students with an opportunity to interact with the local community and learn beyond the classroom. Sandra Godwin, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology developed the course titled “Community-University Partnerships and the Co-Construction of Knowledge,” which also draws from the role of experiential learning as a powerful teaching and learning tool. According to Dr. Godwin, “this is a unique experience for our students since they are able to meet weekly, as a class, with a community organization in members’ own neighborhood. Students have the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with community members as we all work together for mutual empowerment. Community engagement encourages responsible citizenship, social justice work, self-reflection, and contributes to a culture of engaged learning.” Jon German, a senior Sociology major noted that, “this has been a transformative experience as I’ve learned that simply putting myself out there, introducing myself to people, and making an effort just to be there, can make a world of difference in creating relationships between a community and a student like myself.”
In addition to discussions and readings on public engagement, community change, participatory research and exploration of models of community-university partnerships, students attend weekly meetings of the Milledgeville Community Garden Association at Harrisburg, a historical, established neighborhood on the south side of Milledgeville. At these meetings, students have the opportunity to interact with leaders and members of the community and local community organizations.
Students have been able to observe first-hand how the community garden effort served as the framework for residents’ creation of a walking trail and focused home repair activities. Danny Montenegro, a senior Sociology major, commented that “I think it’s been a learning opportunity to work with a community that has been so eager to restore its neighborhood. It has been interesting to see it all come out of a community garden and move out from growing plants to growing a community.” For another student, Abby Martin, a junior Sociology major, “It's been cool to see how a left-over part of the former Harrisburg School has become so meaningful. The CP Lee Center has breathed new life. It has become a meeting spot, a place for after-school programs, a community garden, and also a place for all of us involved to change from who we are to who we want to be.” As a result of this course experience and the community engagements embedded in the schedule, some of the students are now tutoring children. According to Cheyenne Davis, a junior Sociology minor, “After attending the Harrisburg meetings, I’m not as uncomfortable meeting new people. I can go to these meetings, build relationships and support various initiatives.”
During the semester the students are also evaluating models and approaches to community-university partnerships. These evaluations could assist future efforts between Georgia College and the Milledgeville community. Plans for final projects include a student handbook for community engagement, a large poster map of the neighborhood, and a PowerPoint “scrapbook” of the history and current activities of the community association. Zykerious Crawford, a junior Sociology major, is excited about this possibility since this class allowed him to “recognize the bubble that exists here at GC, given that everyone shares a similar background. This class has been a reminder of the importance to bridge this gap between the university and the community of Milledgeville. We are discovering ways to do just that. It is an experience that will stay with me forever.”