Surrounded by the riches of location that have long shaped the experiences of North Central College students, faculty over the years have expanded their classrooms to encompass Naperville and other suburbs, Chicago and the world. Students find their voices, their passion and their future careers by connecting with community needs and resources.
By 2019, with the implemention of a semester calendar and a new general education curriculum, “community engaged learning,” as it’s called, will be integrated into every student’s academic experience.
“We’re encapsulating what our faculty experts have been doing for years,” said Jennifer Keys, director of the Center for Faculty Excellence and professor of sociology. “Drawing inspiration from these and other model projects we are forging ahead with new courses and experiences that will be infused into the new general education curriculum.”
As faculty reimagine the curriculum, they are striving to build in high impact practices—and community engaged learning is one of many on the list. The benefits to students can include improved retention and grades, higher rates of interaction with faculty, better critical thinking and writing skills and a greater appreciation of diversity.
The concept of students learning outside the classroom is going to flourish in coming years. Below you’ll find stories of community engaged learning that form the foundation for building new and meaningful experiences.
“Community engaged learning is a high-impact educational experience in which students collaborate with community partners to apply academic knowledge and critical thinking skills to meet societal needs. Through critical reflection on their activities, students gain a deeper understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline and an enhanced sense of civic efficacy and responsibility.”
North Central College’s definition of community engaged learning
College of Arts & Sciences
Inside / Outside the Classroom
Real-world experiences bring an enriching perspective to topics like homelessness, immigration and autism. These stories represent just a snapshot of disciplines across the College of Arts and Sciences that integrate community into curriculum.
Giving voice to a community issue
“My Advanced Writing classes are challenged to write about complex problems outside of academia, issues that directly impact our students and community. I have partnered with Hesed House, a homeless shelter in Aurora, Ill., so my students can personally experience the issue of homelessness and build an educated perspective about this real-world, public issue,” said Megan Paonessa, adjunct associate professor of English. Below are excerpts from her students’ essays.
Keely Bierniak ’20: “Schizophrenia is present in up to 20 percent of all homeless individuals. It’s time to change the way these programs approach mental healthcare of the nation’s homeless population and focus on long-term improvement.”
Nathan Baer ’19: “Although the VA is a valuable resource to aid military veterans in their re-acclimation to civilian life … it should be modified … adding a strong clinical focus to the re-acclimation process.”
Marlyn Ayala ’19: “… (music) programs have been shown to create positivity and cultivate hope to combat the stigma that surrounds the homeless. … It only takes one person to pick up an instrument to start the chain of connectivity.”
Discovering a calling in the community
Translating informational packets and legal counseling for women at DuPage Shelter Service became a life-changing experience for Sarah Obrist ’18 (pictured at top), majoring in Spanish and global studies. The project was led by Jelena Sanchez, visiting assistant professor, who teaches Spanish for the Professions.
Says Obrist: “The experience was really rewarding and inspired me to find an internship. Through connections in the College’s political science department, I found a summer internship in the DuPage County court system (Wheaton, Ill.). It was more of an observation experience in Spanish translation because I’m not certified. But I learned legal terminology and witnessed the issues of immigration up close. There are so many issues, like defendants not wanting to disclose their legal status, or not wanting to report crimes due to the consequences. There’s a lot of fear and rumors about deportation.
“Now I’m applying to graduate schools for translation studies. You learn so much from using your skills in the real world and it’s fulfilling to know that I’m on the right path.”
Directing a mission to serve special families
For 12 years, Chords for Kids has entertained children with autism or other special needs and their families. Audience members sing, cheer and move during the concert, the brainchild of Lawrence Van Oyen, professor of music. “Our mission is to offer a concert without social restraints,” he said.
It’s also inspiring for the students who participate as members of the Concert Winds and Symphony Bands. “I realized my music has a direct impact on my community,” says Rachel Finnes ’18. “As a future educator, there’s a huge benefit, and as students, we’re able to give the community a service.”
School of Business & Entrepreneurship
Local / Global
Working with business partners from down the street or across the globe, students gain new perspectives that prepare them for a global economy. These experiences in the School of Business and Entrepreneurship are broadened and deepened when combined with liberal arts disciplines.
Market Research: Driving community partnership for 25 years
Naperville Tuk Tuk became the latest in a long list of local organizations to gain insight from students in the Market Research course. Students asked business owners about their advertising budgets and whether they would consider placing an ad on a Tuk Tuk—an open-air vehicle that transports passengers from the Fifth Avenue train station and surrounding neighborhoods to downtown Naperville.
The company’s connection came through ConVerge, North Central’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “We liked the idea of college students with a marketing focus conducting objective research,” said Chris Parker, company manager. “We jumped at the chance to work with them.”
A strong connection has long existed between Market Research classes and the community. “This is an easy area to find clients,” says Mary Galvan, associate professor of marketing, who originated and teaches the class. “When I first started, I’d just walk into stores in Naperville and ask if they needed help.”
Today, alumni ask to participate, like Emily Larsen ’17 of SAI Financial Services in Warrenville, Ill. She requested research on the opinions of millennials regarding financial planning and investment management. “I remembered how beneficial the Market Research course had been not only for myself, but also for local businesses and nonprofits.”
The Tuk Tuk research group collected 30 surveys of business owners and presented their results to the company. Said Garret Lyle ’19: “The opportunity to communicate and work with local businesses in the Naperville area makes us feel connected to the community.”
December Term trips to San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, began in 2005 as part of an Enactus project to import, roast and market coffee beans. A deepening relationship with coffee growers in Guatemala continues to evolve and inspire new projects and experiences, like establishing more avenues for coffee bean imports and supporting social entrepreneurship. Opportunities to travel, research and understand the coffee industry transcend classroom lessons. Over the years the project has been enriched by the partnership between Jerry Thalmann, associate professor of accounting, and Matthew Krystal, associate professor of anthropology.
The relationship has inspired an interdisciplinary course taught by Thalmann simply called Coffee. Larrance Academic Center will soon be home to a coffee laboratory and roaster operation. Students through their travel have researched religious rituals, the legal system and social entrepreneurship projects. Under the new semester calendar, Krystal foresees a May term trip expanding into a summer field school and perhaps a study abroad course. Thalmann is helping the growers expand their sales—and ultimately improve their livelihood. “Our goal is connecting other roasters in this area to the farmers to import their beans. It’s become my mission in life.”
School of Education & Health Sciences
Past / Future
Community experiences often lead to students finding their career paths—a model that has inspired education majors for 30 years and, today, is shaping curriculum changes and professional networking for other majors in the School of Education and Health Sciences.
Junior/Senior Scholars establish a model
What began in 1988 as a three-week summer camp for 25 youngsters has grown into a year-round program that serves 200 elementary and secondary school students and their families from North Lawndale and East Aurora. It’s all under the direction of Janis Fitzsimmons, executive director of the College’s Urban Education Laboratory. North Central students annually complete thousands of hours of tutoring. As a result, they show an understanding of and increased preference for teaching in high-need schools. Since 2002 the number of North Central education alums teaching in high-need schools has increased from 35 percent to more than 50 percent.
Teaming up outside the classroom
Imagining new experiences for exercise science majors is the focus of Marilyn Skarbek, assistant professor of exercise science. The semester calendar will enable a new “community engaged practicum” for juniors beginning in fall 2019. Students will work in teams with local businesses and nonprofits on research, educational campaigns or new programs. “These projects might be so large that they roll into a second semester with another team,” Skarbek explains.
The proposed new curriculum will require that exercise science students have three experiences in the community: an observation experience as first-years, the practicum as juniors and a full immersion internship their senior year. “We have 80 internship sites right now and are gaining more weekly,” added Skarbek.
Exercise science majors often go on to graduate school in physical, occupational or recreation therapy, or clinical exercise physiology. Others work in fitness and wellness facilities or as collegiate coaches. Madalyn Aubuchon ’18 has plans to pursue a graduate degree in physical therapy at Washington University in St. Louis.
In the meantime, the 150 students in exercise science are benefitting from the modern new human performance lab in the Wentz Science Center. “We all spend a lot of time here; it’s great to work with the equipment but also to network among ourselves,” said Kevin Whalen ’18.
Jasmine Yang ’18 (right) and Sydney Stacey ’18.
Bringing the community to campus
An opportunity to network and share advice attracted more than 260 students and other participants to the Sport Business Conference held in the Wentz Science Center in February. Representatives of professional and collegiate athletics discussed their jobs in digital content, fan experience, customer service and sales. The cocurricular Sport Management Association planned the event. “It was a breakthrough moment for me, realizing that I’m on the other side of the table giving advice now,” said panelist Justin Roach ’14 (second from left), director of business development for the DuPage Convention and Business Bureau
Below you will find pictures from our Human Performance Lab:.