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City Engagement Day 2019: Connecting Students, Education, and Community

Students sit around tables listening as a woman talks.
Students learn about Trinity Lutheran Congregation from Pastor Jane Buckley-Farlee before beginning their City Engagement Day project.

For over twenty-five years, students have started off their Augsburg education with City Engagement Day. City Engagement Day is the first step on a student’s civic engagement and experiential journey at Augsburg. Along with their professor and classmates from their first year seminar (“AugSem”), students go out into the community for the afternoon to complete projects at community organizations. Each AugSem has a disciplinary focus, and each City Engagement Day site is carefully selected to pair with the discipline of the AugSem. The afternoon serves as an introduction to the communities surrounding Augsburg and the city of Minneapolis more broadly, a key learning aspect for Augsburg students in their First Year Experience. For some students, City Engagement Day is a catalyst to seek out volunteer or internship opportunities with the organizations they visited! The City Engagement Day experience is an important step in student learning as they begin to recognize and articulate their role in multiple communities, and to demonstrate agency to create positive, informed, and meaningful change in the world.

The goals of City Engagement Day have stayed consistent over its long history. The aims of the day include:

  • Students will learn more about the communities and organizations around Augsburg, and practice getting around the city.
  • Students will encounter community engagement and experiential learning as core components of an Augsburg education.
  • Students will build relationships with peers and faculty through shared work.
  • Students will connect with an organization or community that relates to the focus of their course or discipline.

With the arrival of Augsburg’s largest ever incoming class this fall, a significant number of local organizations were engaged to partner with Augsburg for City Engagement Day. While some local organizations have partnered with Augsburg for City Engagement Day from the beginning twenty-five years ago–including The Cedar Cultural Center, Mixed Blood Theater, Brian Coyle Community Center, and Seward Montessori School–a variety of new partners were engaged to participate in City Engagement Day 2019, including Hook and Ladder Theater and Lounge, the VOA High School, House of Balls Gallery, Waite House Radio station, the Midtown Greenway Coalition, 826 MSP, and Interfaith Power and Light. 

Organizations who participated as partners in this year’s City Engagement Day reported on the positive impact of the students who came to their organizations. At the Hook and Ladder Theater and Lounge, music students helped clean up gardens, cleaned, painted, filled a dumpster with debris, and helped organize a storeroom. Education students moved thousands of pounds of sand into a new sandbox at Anew Dimension Childcare Center, while another, business-focused AugSem moved the entirety of the West Bank Business Association office to their new location in the Mixed Blood Theater space.

Another aspect of connecting students to the communities surrounding Augsburg was transportation for City Engagement Day. Out of this fall’s thirty-two AugSems, twenty-five were able to walk to the site of their afternoon engagement, while the remainder were able to take public transit, due in no small part to the newly accessible Auggie Pass, an all-you-can ride transit pass for Augsburg students. By walking or taking public transit, first year students began to see close-up what our community looks like and what is available in it.

Each year, Mary Laurel True, Community Engagement Director in the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship, organizes City Engagement Day sites. True began City Engagement Day (then City Service Day) early during her 30-year tenure at Augsburg, and each year coordinates the event, carefully pairing AugSem classes with organizations and projects. Noting that the AugSems are paired with sites that are relevant to their disciplinary focus, True emphasized how impactful it has been over the years that students start getting involved right away to see how their potential field of study might be living out its mission in the city in creative and profound ways. 

Student reflections on their City Engagement Day experiences indicated that the day did, in fact, impact their understanding of the connection of an Augsburg education and their current and future change-making in the world. When asked about the most important thing they learned during City Engagement Day, students responded: 

“The way that Augsburg connects with its communities, and how we as students can help our local community.”

“The most important thing I learned was actually how important it is to be a part of your community. This is where I will be living, these are the environments and people I will be surrounded with for the next 4 years. So it’s very important not only to care about but to contribute to your communities…”

“I learned that not only did we help this community center, but I realized that just because we are a University within a community does not mean we are separate from the community. As we continue through the years at this University, we should always recognize and help out the community we are in.”

City Engagement Day may be completed for 2019, but its impact will continue to resonate with students as they enter into the fall semester and beyond. We can’t wait to see how the Class of 2023 will continue to engage with our communities through their time at Augsburg.

2018-2019 Year in Review

neighbors eating at garden partyThe Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship had a whirlwind 2018-2019 school year. From workshops and lectures to community-based collaboration, campus-wide initiatives, and hosting a national conference, in addition to our day-to-day programs like LEAD Fellows, Campus Kitchen, and Public Achievement, this past year was full to the brim. We are thankful for all of our partners and collaborators in this ever-changing and exciting work. As we look ahead to the new school year, we are proud to share some highlights from 2018-2019:

Democracy Augsburg:

During the fall of 2018, the Sabo Center hosted 18(!) workshops and teach-ins on topics ranging from community organizing basics to the opioid epidemic, democracy in South Africa, citizenship and community agency, and more. Sabo Center staff invited candidates from across the political spectrum to campus for tabling and outreach prior to the 2018 midterm elections, and significantly increased our center’s visibility with students, staff, and faculty.

Student Employment Pilot:

Led by Sabo Center Director Elaine Eschenbacher, the Sabo Center initiated a student employment pilot program that worked closely with supervisors and students to make on-campus student employment more meaningful and useful, both for departments employing student workers and for students in their own career preparation. Twenty students and their supervisors went through orientation, training, and structured reflection throughout the course of the school year, and a report on the results of the program are forthcoming.

Environmental Stewardship:

The intern team of three undergraduate students, one graduate student, and a MN GreenCorps member hosted several events throughout the school year exploring the intersections of equity and sustainability, including a “Sip-Sustain-Stories” discussion series and a “Sustainability is No Joke” storytelling event facilitated by RFTP. In collaboration with Campus Kitchen, students began work to set up a campus “Share Shop”–a space created by and for students to reduce consumption, mitigate student costs by providing access to things like tools, and creating a community space where students can take part in informal learning around sustainable practices and skills sharing. The Share Shop and Campus Cupboard (student-run food shelf) are excited to co-locate in the basement of the Old Science building in the fall of 2019.

Campus Kitchen:

Campus Kitchen saw the exciting addition of two new staff members, LaToya Taris-James and Natalie Jacobson. The Campus Kitchen student leadership team deepened the Campus Kitchen partnership with the Brian Coyle Community Center youth program, beginning weekly cooking sessions in the Augsburg Food Lab and in the Brian Coyle kitchen. Another highlight of the year was a garden party event featuring local food activist La Donna Redmond and storytelling facilitated by Mixed Blood Theater.

Place-Based Justice Network Summer Institute:

The Sabo Center was thrilled to host our colleagues in the Place-Based Justice Network for the network’s annual conference. Read more about the PBJN Summer Institute it the blog featuring highlights of the conference. 

Undoing White Body Supremacy Pilot Project:

In partnership with Augsburg’s Equity and Inclusion Initiatives, staff members at the Sabo Center are leading a pilot cohort of white faculty and staff learning to undo the ways white supremacy shows up in our bodies, not just in our minds. Selected applicants will meet and learn together throughout the 2019-2020 academic year. This is body-based racial justice work, informed by Somatic Experiencing®  and Interpersonal Neurobiology. You can read more about this exciting project on the Sabo Center Blog.

LEAD Fellows:

The 2018-2019 LEAD Fellows cohort had innovative programming, including a session about radical self-care, a vocation panel of recent graduates, and leadership styles exercises, including a town hall meeting simulation. New community partners hosting LEAD Fellows this year included OutFront MN and Inquilinxs Unidxs. And, best of all, we welcomed LaToya Taris-James, an amazing new staff member who brings a wealth of experience in youth and leadership development to supporting both the LEAD Fellows program and Campus Kitchen!

Interfaith @ Cedar Commons:

Once a month, Interfaith Scholars and community members meet together for food and interfaith conversations on a variety of topics. Topics for 2018-2019 included Wellness and Faith, Intersection of Culture and Religion, Religion as a Tool for Oppression and Liberation, and Interfaith Perspectives Post-Election.

Community-Based Learning:

Director of Community Engagement Mary Laurel True collaborates with faculty across the University to connect their classes to community organizations and projects. Some highlights from 2018-2019 included co-hosting a national conference on Cuba with faculty in the Spanish department, and bringing Spanish classes to the Mexican consulate in St. Paul to learn about their work with immigration and new immigrant communities in Minnesota. In collaboration with Religion department professors, students completed 12 visits to diverse places of worship (mosques, churches, synagogues, and temples), connecting their visits with study of interfaith topics.

 

Interested to join us for 2019-2020? Check out the Calendar and Events page, and be sure to like the Sabo Center of Facebook (@sabocenter) for all the latest on workshops, events, and ways to plug in!

What does community-based learning look like?

Community-based learning is a form of experiential learning directly connects students with the broader community and neighborhoods of which Augsburg is a part. Individual students and whole classes connect to community organizations through various means, including field trips, guest speakers, research, service learning, and public impact projects. These deliberately chosen experiences are guided by principles of mutual benefit for students and the community, are designed collaboratively with campus and community partners, and are based in deep and ongoing relationships with individuals and community groups. All community-based learning requires students to engage in meaningful reflection on their experiences.

 

Field Trips

A professor may plan a field trip for her course to a local organization or site so that students can experience first hand a context that might be referenced in class. Such a trip may offer opportunities to host discussions with local experts, understand an applied context, and to stimulate questions that may not otherwise occur to students in the classroom setting.

Examples

Religion classes tour houses of worship of different faith traditions, with tours conducted by practitioners of those traditions, some of which are in the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood nearby to campus. These visits are followed by in-class discussion and a comparative reflection paper that prompts students to reflect on the visit as well the connection between visit themes and their own experience.

Students from a food science class visit a nearby beekeeping company who keep urban hives to learn about the science of honey production and about the economy of urban farming.

Guest Speakers

Guests from the local community may visit a relevant class session to share their experience and insight and engage in discussion with students.

Example

An organizer from a local labor rights organization visits a history class focused on 20th-century American labor rights movements.

Research

Research that is conducted as a partnership between traditionally trained “experts” and members of the community for the benefit of both.

Example

A group of students in a business course collaborate closely with a local youth social enterprise to do market research and develop a marketing plan. While the social enterprise ends up with a functional marketing plan that they can now implement, the students have learned applied skills for research and developing an end-product for a customer’s use while building connections with a community-based organization with connections to Augsburg and significant local impact.

Service Learning

Sometimes used interchangeably with community-based learning, service learning is a specific kind of learning activity in which students participate in and reflect on a service-oriented activity in the community. This may be a one-time “service project” experience, but more commonly involves ongoing involvement by the student in a community organization over the course of a semester (usually at least 20 hours). The activity is directly related to course content, and benefits the community.

Example

As part of the class, a student in an Social Work 100 class signs up to regularly serve meals to the after school program at Brian Coyle Community Center with the Campus Kitchen program.

Public Impact Project

Public impact projects are sustained experiences that integrate meaningful public engagement that is mutually beneficial to students and the community. Instruction and reflection in a community context enriches course content, teaches civic responsibility, builds community capacity and relationships, and often connects to university-wide community engagement initiatives.

Example

Students from Design+Agency, Augsburg’s embedded design studio, create design solutions for a variety of local non-profits and civic projects.

Interfaith Scholars collaborate with community members to put together monthly interfaith gatherings in the Cedar Commons space.

Guiding Principles for Community-Based Learning

Whether you are planning a field trip, guest speaker, research, service-learning, or a public impact project, there are certain elements and factors to consider and incorporate. All community-based learning, from activity to long-term project, requires careful planning, connection to course objectives, collaboration with the community partner to identify need, intended impact, and responsibilities, as well as opportunities for quality reflection.

 

When planning for community-based learning, be sure to consider the following:

Consider Impact

Think about all facets of impact. For example, if you are taking your students to a community space–what do they need to know about the space beforehand to be respectful of the people there and the space itself? When asking an individual to come speak with your class, is there a way for the class to thank the presenter? 

Community Partners are Co-Creators

Ensure that the activity or shared work has mutually beneficial outcomes for your students and the community or organization. Especially when planning longer term projects or research in a community-based context, the outcomes of the work should have value beyond student learning, and the need and intended product should be identified in conversation with the community partner. Collaborate with the community partner–whether that is an organization, business, etc–as a co-creator of the course design, learning outcomes, and/or research goals.

Engage in Relationship

Engage based upon relationship. Build on existing university connections (there are many–be in touch with us in the Sabo Center to learn more!), or use your own connections. For the sake of students, vet the organizations or people they may be working with. Establish a trusting relationship with a community group or organization before expecting a student to contribute time and energy.

Clear Parameters

Be sure to establish clear parameters for students about the connection between the community-based learning and the course’s educational goals, objectives, and learning outcomes. Offer clear guidance about what is to be accomplished and learned, and emphasize the student’s responsibility and the reality of the impact their actions might have.

Prepare

Prep students for what to expect and what is expected of them in the context of a community-based learning opportunity, whether that is a field trip or a long term project. Engage in reflection with students before the activity or project–what do they expect to learn? What do they want to learn? What are some things they think they know from the jump? Have students attend a scheduled community-based learning orientation with the Sabo Center, or coordinate with the Sabo Center to bring someone to do an orientation with your class.

Reflect

Quality reflection is essential for effective community-based learning, and for all experiential learning. Build in opportunities for structured and varied forms of reflection, and communicate clearly about how this reflection will be evaluated.

 

Want guidance for how to get started?  Contact Director of Community Engagement Mary Laurel True (truem@augsburg.edu).

Place-Based Community Engagement

 

Augsburg University has a long history of deeply-rooted and long-term work in Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and the surrounding community, an approach known today as place-based community engagement. In fact, part of the reason Augsburg moved to Minneapolis in 1872 from its first location in Marshall, Wisconsin, was so that seminary students could gain experience serving city congregations in Cedar-Riverside and across the city. This commitment to place-based engagement has been affirmed and sustained across our history, from Professor Joel Torstenson’s call in the 1960s for faculty to embrace the modern metropolis as both classroom and place for contribution to the public good, to our early leadership in the field of service-learning, and the mission of the Center for Global Education and Experience. Over the last thirty years, dedicated staff and faculty have established and maintained numerous partnerships with local neighborhood organizations and individuals, connecting students, faculty, and community members. These partnerships are grounded in trust built on long-term, reciprocal relationships, and support a variety of initiatives and projects. Augsburg has continued to uphold these efforts through funding staff positions focused on community engagement, and prioritizing experiential education as part of the university’s mission and strategic plan.

Examples of this place-based partnership work in Cedar-Riverside include:

Midnimo at the Cedar Cultural Center

Sisterhood Boutique

Campus Kitchen: Community Garden and Meals at Brian Coyle

Health Commons

Cedar Riverside Community School

Community-Based Learning

Place-based community engagement is defined as “a long-term university-wide commitment to partner with local residents, organizations, and other leaders to focus equally on campus ad community impact within a clearly defined geographic area.” [1] Engaging with stakeholders from across the university and neighborhood community, a place-based approach aims to enact real and meaningful social change through partnership and co-creative work.

In recent years, Augsburg has engaged with a cohort of higher education institutions from across the country who are similarly interested in deeply focused, long-term, and place-based community engagement work. Recently formed into a formal organizational network, the Place-Based Justice Network (PBJN) consists of twenty member institutions that participate in annual summer institutes, continuous learning opportunities, leaderships retreats, and other activities focused on place-based community engagement in higher education. 

As a network the PBJN aims to transform higher education and the communities surrounding them by actually working to deconstruct systems of oppression through a place-based community approach. The values of the network emphasize anti-oppression, anti-racism, intersectionality, self-determination, and deliberative process. This move toward an explicitly anti-oppression framework is an important and unique shift in the field of university community engagement, and one which we strive to incorporate deeply into our ongoing place-based work. 

[1] Erica K. Yamamura and Kent Koth, Place-Based Community Engagement in Higher Education: A Strategy to Transform Universities and Communities, (Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2018), 19.