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CEO co-directors Debra Rubin (left) and Nell Anderson (right), with Ellie Esmond, programming and training coordinator. Photo by Paola Nogueras ’84

Educating for life: developing citizenship skills at Bryn Mawr College

Although only one year old, the Civic Engagement office (CEO) offers greatly expanded opportunities for community involvement. By linking academic and co-curricular service with activism programs, the CEO has increased resources and created a model for collaboration.

By Susan Messina ’86, MSS ’90, MLSP ’91


Alumnae who recall their involvement in campus activism, off-campus volunteer work or internships, student government, or club leadership would be delighted by the richness of resources available to Bryn Mawr undergraduates today through the Civic Engagement Office (CEO), a collaborative effort of the College’s previous Community Service Office and Praxis, its experiential learning program. In the past, such efforts by students tended to be sporadically supported, rarely linked together, and often unconnected to academic work. But a choreography has emerged, largely as a result of the vision of campus administrators Nell Anderson, Ellie Esmond, and Debra Rubin, MSS ’93, MLSP ’94.

In the fall of 2003, Anderson, from the Praxis Program, and Rubin and Esmond, from the Community Service Office, met several times in anticipation of their upcoming move into a newly renovated building on Cambrian Row (formerly Faculty Row). Created in 1997, the Community Service Office (CSO) was designed as a resource to support student-initiated service rather than to plan programs, but had been frustrated by the lack of continuity in many of the student projects. The Praxis Program was established in 2000 to provide resources and technical assistance to faculty who wanted to incorporate community-based learning into their courses.

During their meetings, Anderson, Esmond and Rubin reflected on their programs’ separate roles with students involved in service, service-learning, and activism, and began to consider what their offices might accomplish together. They formally proposed the creation of the CEO to President of the College Nancy J. Vickers and Undergraduate Dean Karen Tidmarsh ’71. Both Vickers and Tidmarsh were excited about the proposal and endorsed it. What has emerged over the past year is a blossoming collaborative effort involving undergraduate students, social work graduate students, faculty

and staff on the main and social work campuses, as well as community organizations in Norristown and other neighboring cities. The momentum was needed the week fall 2005 semester began. After Hurricane Katrina struck, the CEO began coordinating the College’s efforts related to fund raising and collection drives. Anderson and Rubin are co-directors of the new CEO, with Rubin leading service and activism programs and Anderson taking responsibility for Praxis and the development of community partnerships. Esmond has assumed the role of programming and training coordinator.

Their vision is ambitious. “We want to bring civic engagement to the center of academic affairs and student life, greatly expanding curricular and co-curricular service-learning opportunities,” says Rubin. “We realize that civic engagement is a broad term, meaning different things to different people,” Anderson adds.

Although only one year old, the CEO has greatly expanded opportunities for community involvement. By linking academic and co-curricular service with activism programs, the CEO has increased resources and created a model for collaboration. “I think it’s crucial to view yourself not only as a member of the College community but of a larger community that is very much within reach and very accessible,” said Crista Fuentes ’07, a junior from Los Angeles. “Without the CEO, my experience at Bryn Mawr would have been very isolating.”

Equally important as the effect of campus engagement on students is the effect on the local organizations and communities. As Anderson explains, We are moving toward a partnership model where the College develops ongoing reciprocal relationships with local organizations, schools and neighborhoods. We don’t want to ‘use’ the community as a laboratory for students. We want to model good citizenship by considering the public good—the needs of the community, as well as the learning needs of students.”

Full Circle

The journey of Lindsey Giblin ’06 is what the new office dreams for every student. As a freshman, Giblin used the Community Service Office to find an opportunity to tutor students in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. Following her first academic year, she participated in Summer of Service, a 10-week intensive summer internship during which she lived on campus in Perry House with four other students. Each student served as an intern at a local community agency and participated in training and reflection activities throughout the summer. Giblin interned at Project RAINBOW, a transitional housing program for homeless women and their children.

In her sophomore year, she continued tutoring and also took a Praxis course, Professor Judith Porter’s Sociology of Poverty. To meet the fieldwork requirement, Giblin interned at CADCOM (the Montgomery County Community Action Development Commission), where she became familiar with the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) campaign. The EITC is a tax credit for low-income individuals; the campaign trains volunteers to prepare taxes for qualified individuals so that they get the credit.

This training was to come full circle, when Giblin turned her attention to Norristown.


Bryn Mawr College/Norristown Community Partnership in Action

Norristown is only 15 minutes from campus, closer than most neighborhoods in Philadelphia. One of the poorest municipalities in Pennsylvania, it was largely unknown to the campus until a few years ago. In 2002, the Bryn Mawr-Norristown Community Partnership in Action (CPIA) was established between the undergraduate college, the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research and various community-based organizations in Norristown. CPIA is based on reciprocal sharing of assets and resources addressing the needs of both the community and the College. For the Norristown community, the most sought after of the College’s resources is its students. In order to nurture the growth of this campus-community partnership, the CEO is developing a system for Norristown to articulate its volunteer needs and for the College to respond effectively by engaging students through volunteer initiatives and the Praxis Program.

Giblin applied for and won a grant from the sociology department for sociology research in an urban setting. These funds allowed her to work at CADCOM, where she immersed herself in every facet of the organization, including the EITC campaign. She reflects, “Work that summer at CADCOM became my whole life. It deepened my understanding of what it means to be a community organizer.” In recognition of her commitment, when she returned to campus that fall, Giblin was invited to join the newly formed Community Partnership in Action (CPIA) Steering Committee, where she was one of three student representatives.

Meanwhile, the CEO was asked by CADCOM to increase the number of volunteers to the EITC campaign. The CEO hired Giblin as a student coordinator to oversee the training and placement of Praxis and non-Praxis EITC volunteers. She recruited 20 students to be trained as IRS certified tax preparers, delivering more trainees than could be used at CADCOM.

In the end, the campaign was a smashing success: Giblin and the other volunteers brought half a million dollars back into the Norristown community.


Summer of Service 2005

Other CEO Programs

The Praxis Program

Founded in 2001, Praxis is Bryn Mawr’s experiential, community-based learning program. Since its inception, 640 students have taken Praxis courses, involving 42 faculty and 15 departments.

Scholars in service to Pennsylvania

This new initiative at Bryn Mawr recognizes, trains, and supports students who are civically engaged. Ten selected students pledge to complete 450 hours of service in one calendar year. Scholars in Service to Pennsylvania is an AmeriCorps Education Award Only program.

Ardmore Community Tutoring (ACT) and Overbrook High School Tutoring

Students provide free tutoring in math and reading to elementary school-aged children in the Ardmore Community. Students also tutor 9th grade math at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia.

Ardmore tutors Shafiqah Berry '07, Laura Kane ’07, and Tenagne Tessema ’07. Tessema coordinated the ACT Summer Program for her Bryn Mawr Summer of Service project. Photo by Paola Nogueras ’84


Annual symposium

In May 2005, the CEO hosted a Civic Engagement Symposium funded through a contribution from Katharine C. Patterson ’75, where faculty, staff, students and community partners reflected on “what works” in the College’s Civic Engagement Programs.

Studies in Civic Engagement

In 2005-2006 the CEO will launch an online journal, which will be published each semester to give students and faculty a scholarly forum for sharing their experiences with teaching and learning related to civic engagement.

Each summer since 2001, the Summer of Service program has selected five Bryn Mawr students through a competitive application process to live together in Perry House and intern at local community agencies for 10 weeks during the summer. Often, the students who participate develop long-lasting relationships with the office and staff. Many, like Giblin, take on leadership roles that place them in the position of coordinating the involvement of their fellow students in service and activism.

The participants benefit from weekly reflection sessions facilitated by Esmond and Kelly Strunk, graduate student intern from the GSSWSR. This summer the students gradually took over the responsibility for leading the reflection sessions and the group discussed in-depth topics ranging from how to tell if the work they were doing made an impact at their sites to issues of inclusion and exclusion in communities to which they belong. Esmond notes, “These sessions also provide an opportunity for students to make connections with other students and sites. This summer we talked a lot about supervisor styles and what makes a good team. We also always talk about ethical issues, such as the challenge of maintaining confidentiality.”

Tenagne Tessema ’07 coordinated the Ardmore Community Tutoring (ACT) Summer Program for her project.

Winnie Tang ’06, who is majoring in East Asian Studies, spent her summer at the Nationalities Service Center, working four days a week on an impressive array of projects, including being a teaching assistant for an introductory English as a Second Language (ESL) class and helping launch a program matching ESL students who want extra practice with English speakers who want to learn a foreign language. About her experience, Tang says enthusiastically, “I’ve taught ESL before to little kids, but I’d never worked with adults. I love it! It’s so different. It’s one thing to teach kids who are forced to school by their parents. But when you teach hardworking adults who are willing to pay for a class in the morning or evening, you know they want to learn. It’s really amazing, so fulfilling.”

She learned an even larger lesson: “I was afraid of going out into the ‘real world,’ but what I discovered this summer is, if you find a job that you are really passionate about it’s not scary, stressful, or boring.”

Crista Fuentes ’07 divided her time between two very different organizations: the Mum Puppettheatre and the AIDS Policy Project. At the Mum Puppettheatre, a Philadelphia-based company that integrates puppets, masks, and the human body into theater performances, Fuentes focused on lining up astronomy-related community partners who could work with the creative team to devise an educational component to the upcoming production of The Adventures of a Boy and His Dog in Outer Space.

The AIDS Policy Project assignment was completely different. She was continuing work she had started in the spring semester through the CEO’s Scholars in Service to Pennsylvania program, tracking the money trail of international AIDS treatment funds flowing into China. Fuentes explains, “Within the past decade, there has been a massive AIDS epidemic in central China, due to a blood transfusion scandal. Only recently has that epidemic been acknowledged by the Chinese government. The AIDS Policy Project is trying to figure out if the money from the Global Fund is going to the treatment sites.”

Fuentes, who is double majoring in French and religion, is spending the first semester in Paris. There, she hopes to connect with AIDS activists and to continue her research on behalf of the AIDS Policy Project. “In the future I hope to be able to continue work that is along the lines of what I’ve done with the AIDS Policy Project,” she says. “My study of China in particular has motivated an interest to continue similar studies in graduate school.”

New Directions

On September 17, the Civic Engagement Office introduced first-year students to the new office during a day-long Civic Engagement Orientation.

Also in September, the Civic Engagement Office hosted a Grass Roots Organizing Weekend, or GROW, at nearby retreat center Fellowship Farm. Developed by the United States Student Association (USSA) Foundation and Midwest Academy, GROW is founded on the idea that although the issues students commit themselves to change over time, there are certain tried and true techniques behind successful organizers that can be taught and applied to a variety of campaigns.

As a follow up to GROW, the CEO will offer a series of workshops called “The Community Organizing Tool Kit” that will build on the principles introduced during the weekend retreat. Open to community partners, staff, faculty and students, workshop topics will include fundraising, meeting facilitation, membership recruitment and retention, developing community partnerships, grant writing, and community organizing.


Return to November 2005 Highlights





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