Social, Ethical Issues Topic of Community Engagement Class

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A new Harvey Mudd College course is helping students clearly understand their impact on society and its impact on them.

Weekly meetings for the pilot course, “Social and Ethical Issues in Community Engagement” include reflective reading, writing and discussion about the community service in which the students are participating.

“Often what happens with community engagement is you go out and do it, but then have no time for processing or making sense out of what you saw,” said psychology Professor Deb Mashek, who co-leads the class with Director of Community Engagement Gabriela Gamiz. “This class offers time and space for reflection on their experience and for connecting that experience with other aspects of students’ lives, including their values, their classroom learning and other experiences they’ve had.”

Students are required to already have a service placement to enroll in the class. “This is important, because so much of the class is reflecting on what’s actually happening with them out in the field,” Mashek said.

Inspiration for the course came last spring during a meeting of the Harvey Mudd Community Advisory Board, when board members discussed the importance of reflective experiences in personal growth. After the meeting, Mashek and Gamiz began to explore how they could offer such experiences to Harvey Mudd students involved in community engagement.

“Our conversation led to the current course,” said Gamiz. “We asked student members of our advisory board to provide feedback on possible topics for discussion, along with suggestions of what they would like to see happen in the class. That feedback led to the course description.”

Students also helped design the syllabus for the course and, in many ways, drive the class direction. For the first class meeting, students brainstormed topics and then chose selected readings. Topics they plan to cover include how to use your personal values as a starting place for your service experience, how to prevent burnout and how to build relationships with community partners.

Each week, students will read selected material and then reflect on that material through writing and discussion. “Students use their service placement as a lens to what the authors are saying, but also use what the authors have said as a lens for understanding what they’re seeing in the field,” Mashek said.

Mashek and Gamiz hope the class will signal to students that Harvey Mudd values engagement, and that more students will be inspired to get involved in the community.