The School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies has been piloting a new program as part of its PLAN (Professional development, Life skills, Academic development, and Networking) initiative first created in 2008.
The Community Engagement Academy was piloted through the spring and is expected to transition to a year-long series of sessions in the 2016-17 academic year. These sessions will allow students to participate in community engagement opportunities throughout Louisville, including a continuation with its pilot partner – The Parklands of Floyd Fork.
The impetus behind the newest academy is two-fold: It contributes to UofL’s designation as a Carnegie Community Engaged University. According to Beth Boehm, Vice Provost for Graduate Affairs and Dean of SIGS, it also allows students to gain hands-on experience by working with different community stakeholders.
Through the pilot program, students learned how to do a needs assessment of The Parklands, an area of nearly 4,000 acres of parkland that includes trails, playgrounds, fishing areas, camps, family programs and more. The Parklands created a list of needs the grad students could help with, such as fleshing out curriculum, teaching field trip groups and building online resources.
There are also adult education pieces, such as creating programs that encourage lifelong learning, and students have been tasked to think about ways the Parklands can engage corporations. The possibilities, Boehm said, are far-reaching. She also hopes the program will foster change in the culture of graduate education.
“Many students are committed to using their education to help others. Part of that is seeing a problem and studying it from an academic point of view,” she said. “But there is a gap between academic learning and hands-on learning and the academy is helping to bridge that gap.”
Such an approach is necessary now, Boehm added, because there are fewer tenure-track positions available.
“One concern among graduate deans everywhere is that we are graduating PhDs for jobs that no longer exist or exist in small numbers,” she said. “We’re trying to look at alternative careers for PhDs and help them gain the skills to pursue academic jobs as well as professional careers that allow them to be contributing members to an organization or to use their knowledge and research skills to become social entrepreneurs.”