Four faculty members to be named ‘community scholars’
April 12, 2011Tweet
A new program offered by the Center for Civic Engagement will provide four faculty members the opportunity to develop or modify a course that incorporates service learning and supports the Bridging the Digital Divide Project.
Each faculty member will receive a $1,000 stipend, a service-learning mentor, funding for course materials and student projects, and recognition as a Faculty Community Scholar. The courses will be taught during the 2011-12 school year and hopefully on a regular basis after that. Scholars and students also will share their experiences at a Community Issues Forum at the end of the school year.
“We are going to try to maintain a commitment to identify and support Faculty Community Scholars,” said Allison Alden, the Center for Civic Engagement director who developed the program. “Part of the reason I am committed to this is that we need to acknowledge that we have so many faculty who currently integrate their classes in wonderful ways and we have others who want to do the same thing.”
The Bridging the Digital Divide Project (BDDP) began in September shortly after the Center for Civic Engagement was established on campus. The project is a collaboration between Binghamton University, Broome Community College and community partners ranging from the American Civic Association and the Boys & Girls Club of Binghamton to Eco International and the Rescue Mission.
The goal of the project is to increase information technology access to those in need, such as immigrants, refugees, at-risk youth and senior citizens. The nonprofit organizations identify community members in need, BCC students refurbish donated computers and Binghamton University students provide computer literacy training at the nonprofit sites. The local recipients leave with a computer and the technological skills to succeed in the future.
Alden has attracted students to the project by using social media and also has partnered with campus groups such as BU Scholars.
“It’s basic computer literacy, so almost any student on campus can do this,” she said. “I’m trying to appeal to students and get them engaged in ways that are maybe not something they would have thought about otherwise. Let’s try to make them extend a little bit.”
Although other local organizations are interested in joining the project, Alden believes the best way to support the BDDP’s long-term sustainability is to incorporate the community into the classroom. It is something that has proved challenging in the past, she said.
“It’s very hard to launch a course with a community component if you don’t already have people that you know and trust in the community to work with,” Alden said. “We’re able to do this for them as a center. And because we are asking them to support Bridging the Digital Divide, these partnerships are already established.”
Alden used an education class with a professor teaching literacy issues as an example of a course that could incorporate service learning.
“Literacy isn’t just ‘Can you read a book?’ anymore,” she said. “Literacy is interacting with technology. But it’s hard for students in a classroom setting to understand the impact of people who do not have technological skills or access. Have (Binghamton students) spend 25 hours teaching basic computer literacy skills to an after-school program at the Urban League. Working with kids and showing them cool and innovative things they can do on a computer can provide a level of enrichment they may not be getting at school or home.
“Almost every class has the ability to integrate a service-learning component that will help students better understand the context, particularly context that is complex.”
The Faculty Community Scholars Program and Building the Digital Divide Project both fit Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher’s vision of “a vibrant community” as part of “The Power of SUNY.” Alden serves on the chancellor’s innovation team on the topic and said all SUNY schools will soon have to report how they are strengthening their bonds with their local communities.
“We are ahead of the curve because we’re starting to do a lot of things,” Alden said of Binghamton’s efforts. “It will become something that’s a priority across the state.”
Alden said she already has received many innovative proposals and is so encouraged by faculty ideas that she may provide one-on-one support to professors who still want to develop an unfunded course.
“Judging from the responses and the interest, I think we are going to see this program grow,” she said. “I see this as something that is a good first step.”