Recently, the Hartford Courant published an opinion piece by Harvard University student, Alexander Heffner on the importance of community involvement in higher education. According to Mr. Heffner, “College should be home to learning that has consistent social application — not to students glued to their textbooks in straitjackets for the sake of passing courses. Learning should draw a connection between course material and its potential relevance in the ‘real world.’” Click here to read the whole article.
Wesleyan University’s Green Street Arts Center is a perfect vehicle for what Mr. Heffner feels is lacking in the collegiate experience. Green Street is an extension of Wesleyan University into Middletown’s North End. Every day we have students from Wesleyan University and Middlesex Community College come to intern in the office, work with after school students, volunteer, and take part in recreational classes or events.
Upon reading Mr. Heffner’s opinion, we were inspired to ask our own students to share their thoughts on the matter. We encourage you to leave a comment with your response to the article as well!
Isabel Dickinson ‘11
As a student at Wesleyan, a university that encourages service learning, community involvement, study abroad, and growth outside of the classroom through the arts and sciences, I feel that this article does not accurately describe American collegiate institutions. However, after a moment of reflection, I have to take into consideration the amount of initiative it takes for any one student to become more active in the community in which they live and study. It is not the institution’s sole responsibility to make their students active; anything less than making community service a requirement for graduation will leave some students inactive. But for the most part, I think that the majority of students are not willing to let experiences such as tutoring underprivileged youth or participating in Feet to the Fire or taking a service learning course, among many other opportunities, go by the wayside in their four years at an elite institution such as Wesleyan.
Sydney Lowe ‘13
Alexander Heffner is adamant that colleges should require community involvement—in his article he calls for a redefinition of the collegiate education system, advocating for a new civic focus on learning. I think he’s completely right.
In my experience, most university students tend not to recognize the significant connections between service learning and their academics when they should. I, on the other hand, grew up where community involvement was an actual requirement. In my New York City public high school, all students were required to complete a minimum of 40 hours of community service per year. I spent my four years volunteering at libraries, at children’s museums, and most memorably coaching my middle school swim team. By the time I had graduated, I’d simultaneously completed over 400 hours of community service and cultivated an appreciation for service learning that I’ll carry with me for years to come. It is this appreciation that I see all the time at Wesleyan. Founded on the dual principles of scholarship and service to community, Wesleyan University stands as an exemplar to other schools. There are so many incredible opportunities to get involved on campus and in the surrounding Middletown community; it would honestly be a shame for those who didn’t take advantage of them. Service learning shouldn’t have to be a requirement, but I think rather needs to be an integral part of the human philosophy: we should do it because we sincerely want to—because we want to change the world starting with our local communities. I’m so glad to have found a family at Green Street Arts Center where I can fully participate in service learning and make a difference. I’m excited to get to know the others who will join me in saving the world as well!
Alanna Badgley ‘13
With Thanksgiving coming up, I am bound to answer the question, “how is school going?” more times than I will be able to count. My answer will not start with a review of my classes, or a recap of the most recent concert I went to. Instead, I will be most likely to talk about how I spend my afternoons. From 3-6pm every school day, I’m not napping as a result of a late night cram session the night before, but rather I’m at Green Street Arts Center working with the After School Arts and Science Program. My second year at Wesleyan University is also my second year at the center, which I initially discovered through a community service initiative during my freshman orientation. As a result, I am now on first name, high-fiving basis with more than one hundred youth in Middletown, many of whom I see as I walk down Main Street, or that I sled with down the hill on our campus when it begins to snow. This is my college experience. I’m not isolated in a bubble of academia. I’m intimately involved with my community, and will leave Wesleyan in two and a half years not only with a Bachelor’s degree and a few good stories, but also with the fulfillment of truly connecting with the community around me.
Charming Yu ‘13
There are many forms of learning, and while the standardized classroom environment is crucial, I also believe that community engagement is a well-rounded approach. After exploring Wesleyan University’s Office of Community Service last school year, I learned about Green Street Arts Center and began actively participating in its After School Arts & Science Program. Being a part of the After School Program gives me the opportunity to interact with not only my fellow Wesleyan University students, but also volunteers from high schools and colleges in the area. Perhaps more importantly, I am also able to interact with the younger generation (elementary and middle school students) and see how various changes, especially technological advances, in the past decade distinguish their experiences from my own experiences when I was in primary school. Being involved in the community alters my perspective and helps me see where I stand in relation to different social circles, something that is difficult to achieve when you stay in your college bubble. However, staying involved in the community and understanding the situations around you is only the first step to tackling the various problems the 21st century presents.
William Tyner ‘13
In the opinion of a Wesleyan University student, what sets Wesleyan apart from other liberal arts institutions is its strong encouragement of student community involvement. Throughout the school, there are numerous programs in which students can get involved such as WesReads, WesMath, and Green Street Arts Center, among others. With great effort, Wesleyan tries to bridge the gap between educational theory and its application, and as a transfer student that is precisely why I chose to attend Wes over other liberal arts colleges. I think it is crucial that as students, we have the opportunity to descend from our ivory towers and apply our often overly theoretical knowledge of the world to contribute something with real and tangible outcomes to society. While many students are compelled to participate in social engagement, many do not do so, and I believe that it is the institutions job to promote it. To me, the overall goal of an education is to cultivate our reflexive self-examination skills by adapting what we learn in the maths, sciences, humanities, and so forth, to our own individual projects and goals and simultaneously to the progress toward the common good. Along with developing excellent numeracy and literacy skills, the goal of education should be to prepare students for civic engagement by encouraging them to get involved in their community, and this is something that few institutions foster in their curriculum. For example, this semester I am taking a Sociology of Education course that requires each student to observe and volunteer at a local school. This type of curriculum gives me a place to actively apply the knowledge learned in class to my observations and volunteer experiences at the local school. I am then able to apply my practical knowledge of society that is influenced by my academic knowledge to my work at Green Street. Green Street is a place where students from all different corners of the community can come and contribute something meaningful to society, and I believe that having an outlet to positively influence society is a powerful asset. Green Street is a prime exemplar of the coalescence of academic theory and its real world, practical application. The fact that Wesleyan strongly encourages its students to become a part of the Green Street community and other Middletown community organizations is something truly special and beneficial in the long run.
Jenny Huang ‘11
Attending college is often regarded as “training for the real world,” but consider this: we’re already living in the real world. As college students striving to be engaged and responsible global citizens, we must start within our own community. Working with and learning from people with diverse backgrounds is just as important as the research we develop with our fellow scholars. The various and numerous resources that Wesleyan students have at their disposals enhance our power as citizens to make a positive impact in the community we live in. An existing model for university engagement within the community includes Green Street, which draws upon the dynamic resources of Wesleyan and Middletown in an effort to enrich the lives of the students and families that utilize the facilities. Privileged institutions, like universities, have the ability and obligation to foster a sense of social responsibility among students to engage in community advocacy. Incorporating hands-on involvement into the curriculum would support Wesleyan’s recently launched Making Excellence Inclusive initiative, which aims to re-imagine “how to better educate our students to become more effective and thoughtful citizens.” As Heffner suggests, we must redefine the priorities of today’s colleges. The ivory tower does not have to be a bubble! We may be students for only a limited time, but we are citizens for life. Look around–this is the community we live in and it sure is real, so what are we waiting for?
Camille Martin ‘11
Alexander Heffner has an interesting point of view on college curriculum. It’s important for students to relate what they learn in class rooms to their environment. This type of hands on experience will carry them through college and the rest of their lives. Student’s often become preoccupied with passing classes and don’t spend time applying what they learn. However, most colleges offer humanities and science courses in which you can intern or volunteer in the community. Coming from a community college I’ve been able to intern and work in the community. In fact, the college I attend offers a human services program where you choose two internships your second year. Interning at Green Street Arts Center I get to work with kids in an art setting. This experience counts toward my college credit and is viewed as an actual class. Working in a field I’m interested in has taught me things I’d never learn in a class room setting and has enabled me to apply what I’ve learned in school so far!
Gabe Gordon ‘11
As a student majoring in Philosophy at a liberal arts university, I know what it means for higher education to remain tied down in an abstract, seemingly arbitrary level of learning. I agree with Mr. Heffner’s plea for an American educational system that emphasizes more hands-on community involvement over the rote standardization of knowledge. I am also grateful that my school helped found the Green Street Arts Center in an effort to collaborate with the town in which it resides. Dozens of my fellow students volunteer as tutors, private music teachers, and support staff at Green Street’s After School Program. The kids and students work together to give back to the community through the arts. Organizations like Green Street are invaluable parts of any community that wishes to unite people of all generations and backgrounds and to realize the ideas that Mr. Heffner proposes.
To close, I would like to add, that Green Street is not the only way Wesleyan continues to work with Middletown. Wesleyan has the Center for Community Partnerships (CCP), where combining the assets of the Service-Learning Center, the Office of Community Service and Volunteerism, the Office of Community Relations, and Green Street Arts Center, the CCP seeks to serve the development of both the individual and the community, guided by principles of mutual respect and shared responsibility. While many colleges have these types of programs, how many are actively encouraging their students to participate? And how many have resources like Wesleyan’s CCP and Green Street Arts Center? How many students are looking to get involved in their communities? The resources are there. Reach out. Find them.
Compiled by Lisa Bruno, Development Assistant, and Rachel Roccoberton Griffin, Administrative Assistant, with the help of the above students
To reach out and find ways in which you can get involved in Green Street Arts Center, call 860-685-7871 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.