Civic Engagement and Inter-Cultural Understanding: Course-Embedded Community Field Work for First Year College Students

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This workshop will present tools for using civic engagement as a method of creating meaningful community bridges, combating racism and effecting social change. One of the most diverse campuses in the United States, the State University of New York, College at Old Westbury, has a tradition of civic activism, service and social justice. Our students’ work on Gulf Coast hurricane relief in New Orleans inspired the College to establish the Community Engagement and Partnership Center (CEPC), housed in the First-Year Experience Program, to develop collaborative agreements with community partners. CEPC restructured the First-Year curriculum to include a course-embedded, community-based learning experience for all students, creating a unique model of collaboration that identifies civic engagement and diversity as core values of an Old Westbury education. Community partners were selected for their commitment to fostering social equity, youth development, educational empowerment, sustainability and/or environmental justice and an expressed interest in, and need for, diversity in its volunteer base. Old Westbury’s civic engagement model integrates academic study and analysis with field experience, challenging students to confront the big questions facing society today in real world settings. Students work in groups in culturally diverse, underserved and underrepresented communities, challenging prejudices and assumptions, while promoting the development of intercultural understanding, team-work, communication and leadership skills. Learning outcomes and an assessment plan were developed and implemented from the outset. Understanding diversity is an integral part of the community-engagement curriculum. The First-Year Reader, The Ethics of Engagement: Educating Leaders for a Just World, produced by faculty, includes readings in race, class and gender. Students analyze the goals and delivery of service in their community placements, while class discussions involve the exchange of multiple cultural perspectives. Student essays are assessed for a learning outcome that reflects this complex understanding of diversity.


Keywords: Community Engagement, Diversity, Inter-Cultural Understanding, Internships
Stream: Learning, Education, Training
Presentation Type: 60 minute Workshop Presentation in English
Paper: , , Civic Engagement and Inter-cultural Understanding


Dr. Laura Anker

Professor of American Studies and Director, First Year Experience and Civic Engagement Program, State University of New York
Old Westbury, NY, USA

Laura Anker is a Professor of American Studies at the State University of New York, College at Old Westbury and Director of the First-Year Experience and Community Engagement Programs. She is a recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. She received her Ph.D. in History from SUNY Stony Brook; her M.A. from Brown University and her B.A. from Brandeis University. Dr. Anker is the co-author of Women of Courage: Jewish and Italian Immigrant Women in New York (Greenwood Press, 1999). She is the Project Director, with Julio Gonzalez, of the “Listening Project,” a community study of Latino immigration to Long Island. She serves on the Boards of the East Hampton Union Free School District, the East Hampton Day Care Center and the Project Most After-School Program. She led Study Circles on immigration and wrote the discussion guide, Diversity on the East End: What Kind of Community Do You Want?

Dr. Barbara Hillery

Associate Professor and Chair, Chemistry and Physics Department, State University of New York, College at Old Westbury
Old Westbury, NY, USA


Dr. Hedva Lewittes

Professor of Psychology and Director, Academic Assessment, State University of New York, College at Old Westbury
Old Westbury, NY, USA

Hedva Lewittes is Professor of Psychology and Director of Academic Assessment at SUNY Old Westbury. She holds a Ph.D. in Pschology from Stanford University (1976), and an M.A. from Columbia University Teachers College (1969). Currently, she leads the assessment of the Civic Engagement program including the evaluation of learning outcomes and feedback from community partners. She is writing a chapter scheduled for 2009 publication on the development and assessment of a critical thinking curriculum in her Psychology of Adulthood and Aging course and has authored articles on adult and older women, their friendships and family relationships. As former Director of General Education and Chair of Psychology she helped to integrate diversity courses and has written and presented on this work and on using assessment to promote dialogue about curriculum and teaching.

Tonya Thomas

Director of Community Partnerships, Civic Engagement and Partnership Center, State University of New York
Old Westbury, NY, USA


Cynthia Anderson

Assistant Director, First Year Experience Program, State University of New York, College at Old Westbury
Old Westbury, NY, USA


Dr. Julio Gonzalez

Associate Professor, School of Education, State University of New York
Old Westbury, NY, USA


Ref: D08P0182