Author: Jacob Miller
The Center for Community-Based Learning (CCBL) celebrated its sixth anniversary on September 27 with a two-day forum in Lower Herrick Chapel that focused on reflecting on its role as the institutional core of community outreach at Oxy. The gathering was well-attended by Oxy students and staff as well as other community members and featured panel discussions and presentations on the nature and progress of work being conducted by Occidental in the community.
Among some of the highlights of the CCBL’s progress report was a marked increase in community-based learning programs in the Oxy curriculum. The center reported that the number of CCBL classes has risen from 15 in 2001 to over 60 last year. According to CCBL survey data, a large majority of students in these classes responded positively, citing the programs as useful, informative and rewarding.
While these statistics are in line with the center’s mission of integrating academic and community work, CCBL Director Maria Avila said “the main way we measure our success [with participants] is through the stories.” This theme was addressed continuously throughout the forum as participants spoke up about their perspectives and experiences with CBL-related work.
Professor Alan Knoerr of the Math department and Celestina Castillo of the LA County Children’s Council opened Thursday’s event, with President Susan Prager speaking to the enduring relevance of the CCBL in strengthening Oxy’s ties to its neighbors. Prager also introduced keynote speaker Manuel Pastor, a former Oxy Economics professor who has since become a well-respected community organizer while working as a professor of Geography and American and Ethnic Studies at USC.
Pastor noted the positive change in Occidental’s disposition to its neighborhood since his tenure. “When I first came in 1984, Occidental billed itself only as ‘next to Pasadena,'” he said. Mr. Pastor praised Oxy students and staff and the success of the CCBL in reshaping Oxy’s community relationships. His keynote address focused on the need for education in the future to better serve shifting national demographic and socioeconomic trends. “We need to re-tool our educational structure to recruit these new students and engage them,” Pastor said.
On Friday, Dean of Students Eric Frank introduced panel discussions addressing the role of community-based learning in higher education. Surya Kalra ’06 served as a session moderator while Kristen Sheline ’07 spoke as a panelist. Sheline related her undergrad experiences, explaining that her senior UEPI comps project with the CCBL “really popped the Oxy Bubble for me.”
Faculty panelists also showcased many of the CCBL programs that they have sponsored in recent years. Professor Ron Buckmire, Chair of the Math Department, noted the continuing progress of Math 201, a year-round education course in which Oxy students assist Franklin High School students in learning basic algebra. Recognizing that algebra students were underperforming at local high schools, the math department wanted to get involved. Franklin High School Principal Luis Lopez ’88 acknowledged the effort, and said that while challenges still existed in its implementation, the program had helped stimulate an interest in pedagogical change at Franklin. “It was a catalyst for more and deeper conversations with my faculty about what we need to do to teach math,” Lopez said.
Other participating faculty included Professor of Politics Caroline Heldman, who presented on her New Orleans student relief program; Professor of Art History and Visual Arts Brody Fox, who spoke on the role of visual media in shaping the communication of outreach efforts and Professor of Critical Theory and Social Justice Elizabeth Chin, who introduced Project GOLD, an anti-gang intervention program in local middle schools working in collaboration with the LAPD.
Faculty researchers also shared personal anecdotes about academic research with CCBL components. Professors Bob Gottlieb of UEPI, Roberta Mancuso of Psychology and Jim Sadd of Geology each discussed research work undertaken by themselves and Oxy students in community settings. All underscored the importance of community engagement and reciprocity in both enhancing the practical applications of research, as well as informing its character.
“Often community-based partners have a fresh perspective that we as researchers don’t have,” Sadd noted.
At its conclusion, forum attendees were enthusiastic in their responses to the event. Alexis Moreno, Assistant Director of the CCBL, said she was “really pleased by the level of engagement. The role of our students in helping to put this together was just wonderful.”
Margot Seigle (junior) was also positive in her outlook of the event. “It was cool for us as students to see how many different people and organizations are supportive and successful at community organizing,” she said.
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