Center for Learning in Action sharpens focus on outreach

Last Thursday, President Falk and Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass announced the formation of the Center for Learning in Action in an all-campus e-mail. The Center will oversee interactive outreach programs currently housed in the Office of Experiential Education and the Center for Community Engagement. Staff to be associated with the Center will remain in their current offices while a space for the department is designated. Paula Consolini, who has served as the coordinator of experiential education at the College since 2002, will direct the new center.

The Center represents an outgrowth of collaboration across groups on campus since 2011. In the spring of 2011, Klass helped convene a group to discuss the College’s relationship with other schools in the region. These conversations continued into the 2011-12 school year, when the idea for the Center crystallized as a solution to centralize various community engagement projects on campus. “We had a lot of people with great energy working extremely hard, yet without a center of gravity to hold all this work together in a coherent way, it felt like a lot of satellite activities spinning around,” Klass said. According to Consolini, the new Center is “a convergence of curricular and co-curricular experiential learning efforts. It provides us the opportunity to more closely collaborate to achieve our shared goals.”

Though the Center integrates existing departments at the College, the new office will help frame experiential learning and community outreach from a fresh perspective. According to Klass, “the notion eventually became that it should be something new created out of whole cloth that would be led by the experiential educational engine.” This focus on immersive learning environments will both help broaden student experience at the College and foster interaction with the community. “I see [the Center’s] mission as facilitating experiential learning in and beyond the curriculum to help advance the College’s mission to prepare our students for civic responsibility and leadership,” Consolini said.

The Center will organize existing community-centered educational programs and activities, such as outreach to local schools and regional at-risk students. “One of the ways the Center hopes to strengthen its connections and ties to the wider community is by having more students [of the College] serving the at-risk student population,” Tracy Finnegan, assistant director for regional and at-risk education, said. In addition to continuing her service as the coordinator of the TeachNYC Winter Study Program, Finnegan will build relationships with regional public schools and local at-risk student populations.

By way of its organization, the Center will also help simplify the structure of community engagement at the College. “With the creation of [the Center], my position will become the centralized contact for students, faculty and staff who would like to engage with local elementary schools,” Jennifer Swoap, assistant director for local elementary education, said. “I will facilitate connections and partnerships that will provide opportunities for students, faculty and staff [at the College] to engage with area elementary education.”

Ultimately, the Center will help to further institutionalize community engagement and experiential education at the College by creating an efficient organization of the department. “This is a way to bring it all together and to really reflect on and underscore the experiential learning spectrum from very basic kinds of community service that are so important to students, all the way to the pieces that are deeply and robustly curricular,” Klass said.