UVM Research Assistant Professor Kristen Underwood speaks with Middlebury College students about the New Haven River’s watershed as part of their environmental studies course in fall 2019. Working with Underwood, EPSCoR Fellow Elizabeth Doran, and Vermont Family Forests, the students conducted research on how individual forest landowner management decisions impact water quality in the Lake Champlain Basin.
Vermont Business Magazine Middlebury College’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE) has created a new website that aims to boost collaboration between organizations with ties to their local communities and faculty and their students.
The site—Middlebury Liberal Arts in Action (MLAA)—allows nonprofits, schools, state offices, and businesses to submit proposed projects. Faculty, in turn, search the submissions and identify collaborators for community learning components of their courses. Faculty can also submit details about their classes, research programs, and the type of projects they seek. Topics range from the environment and public health to the arts. By working with community partners as part of their classwork, students have the opportunity to apply what they are learning.
“Middlebury students and faculty have been collaborating with community organizations as part of their scholarship for a number of years,” said Ashley Laux, director of the CCE. “Now, for the first time, we have a great way to facilitate these partnerships and expand the number of groups that participate.”
Part of that expansion includes broadening the term “local” regarding partner organizations. While Middlebury College faculty and students have worked with community members on both local and statewide initiatives, the CCE would like to increase the number of organizations it works with across Vermont and the Northeast, in other parts of the United States, and even abroad. It welcomes organizations that have strong ties to their local communities, regardless of where they are located.
“We hope that organizations that are too distant for in-person collaborations will submit ideas for virtual projects,” added Laux.
Laux said the partnerships are mutually beneficial. Students and faculty learn from collaborating with community members. The organizations benefit from the students’ knowledge, energy, and fresh ideas to address important challenges that they may lack the resources to tackle on their own.
Community members’ understanding of local issues make them excellent partners to determine the best methods for addressing community needs, said Laux.
She noted that MLAA will provide the organizations with a catalog of course- and research-based engagement opportunities available at the College.
The online tool supports CCE’s goal of encouraging students to work alongside local residents to strengthen the community and develop a civic identity and sense of social responsibility that will inform their lives after they graduate from Middlebury. MLAA also allows students to explore opportunities posted by community partners for independent studies or thesis project work.
Past community partners and their projects include the following:
Energy Action Network (EAN): Students in a spring 2021 capstone environmental studies course conducted research and developed interview materials to support the goal of helping lower-income Vermonters switch to clean, affordable transportation while also accelerating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
World Resources Institute (WRI): Before embarking on extensive forest restoration in sub-Saharan Africa, WRI received help from students, who analyzed satellite imagery of the landscape changes there, contributing to a more efficient restoration.
Sujata Moorti, dean of the faculty at Middlebury, said the MLAA site “reflects Middlebury’s goal to deepen experiential learning opportunities for students within the curriculum.”
“These opportunities are a key part of our commitment to immersive learning and to making all academic experiences equally accessible to all our students,” she said.
About 20 Middlebury College courses every academic year incorporate collaborative student-community projects into the curriculum.
“The new site will help to facilitate students’ full participation in our communities,” said Diane Munroe, assistant director for community-based learning. “We are very grateful to all of the organizations, agencies, and schools who have already deepened our students’ learning by embracing these types of academic partnerships with Middlebury.”
In the future, the CCE will invite submissions of projects and course information twice a year—once in the fall in advance of winter and spring term collaborations and once in the spring for fall term collaborations.
Source: MIDDLEBURY, Vt. - Middlebury College 4.22.2021