Dr. Hill and students

Wofford announces new Center for Community-Based Learning

Story named director; Robinson named director of Interfaith Programs

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2015-11-30

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Wofford College has announced that its Center for Global and Community Engagement (CGCE) now will be known as the Center for Community-Based Learning (CBL) with Jessalyn Wynn Story being named director of the center. Story also will continue as director of the Bonner Scholars Program.

“We are shifting the goals of the CGCE – now the Center for Community-Based Learning (CBL) – to better align with Wofford’s strategic vision of preparing superior students for meaningful lives as citizens, leaders and scholars,” President Nayef H. Samhat says.

The new name emphasizes not only students’ engagement with community, but also the learning that takes place before, during and after that engagement. “The new focus is informed by Wofford’s strategic vision,” Story says, “because we are now asking, ‘what are the essential ingredients in informed, aware, effective citizens?’ Community engagement is one of those ingredients, but it’s not the whole recipe.”

She adds that other elements are “commitment and capacity to work with diverse others to achieve a common goal, familiarity with democratic values and principles, a defined and reinforced civic identity, and an understanding of the societal and public implications of one’s academic disciplines.” One role of the Center for CBL will be to help Wofford faculty and staff continue to deliver this type of learning, and in some cases, to deliver that learning directly, through avenues such as the Bonner Scholars Program, which will continue to be housed and staffed by the Center for CBL.

“Shifting the focus from ‘engagement’ alone to ‘community-based learning’ also underscores and celebrates the reciprocity inherent in our community partnerships, and positions us to collaborate more successfully with other institutional priorities, such as diversity and inclusion and student success,” Story says.

“We’ve been seeing this shift in our work for at least the past 18 months or so,” Story continues. “Last academic year, more than 50 faculty members from every discipline on campus participated in at least one discussion of civic literacy or civic inquiry. Just last month, in collaboration with Wofford’s Center for Innovation and Learning, we received a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to strengthen civic learning with educational technology, especially e-portfolios. The new name just makes it all official. We’re very excited about both the journey and this particular milestone.”

The Rev. Dr. Ron Robinson, the Perkins-Prothro Chaplain and Professor of Religion – who was integral in the establishment of the CGCE at Wofford and had been its director – now will be the director of Interfaith Programs in addition to continuing with his work as chaplain. Robinson also teaches courses such as “Religion, Literature and the Environment” and “Religion in the American South” in the Department of Religion.

Wofford’s work in interfaith engagement has grown significantly in recent years, and focusing on that area for the college continues to be important, Robinson notes. “We have been involved with several initiatives over the past few years. Our recent work on interfaith engagement has been funded by grants from various entities such as the Teagle Foundation and the Bringing Theory to Practice Project, affiliated with the Association of American Colleges and Universities.”

Also, the Halligan Campus Ministry Center now will be known as the Halligan Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. The center houses the office of the director of the center, the office of the chaplain, the Gathering Place, and space for student fellows and interns. Mickel Chapel and the masjid are located adjacent to the center.

Robinson adds that Wofford has worked closely with the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) in Chicago. Earlier this year, he and Dr. Katherine (Trina) Janiec Jones, associate provost for curriculum and co-curriculum and associate professor of religion, co-taught a new course called “Interfaith Engagement and Religious Pluralism.” They also took students to Washington, D.C., where they met privately with Shaun Casey, the U.S. Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs at the U.S. State Department; the Rev. Canon Gina Gilland Campbell at the Washington National Cathedral; and Sayyid M. Syeed, the national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances.

“Many of the students said after the trip that they had a better understanding of the relationships among the things that they study – about how, for example, knowing about religion is important both to international relations and to the increasingly pluralistic society in which we live,” Robinson says. “We look forward to continuing to work with the Center for Community-Based Learning as we encourage students to explore interfaith activities as well.”

Jones adds, “Interfaith engagement is one part – a vital part – of the broader concept of community-based learning and public engagement. Given the strong foundational work of the CGCE over recent years, we are now well-positioned to strengthen and eventually expand what we do, as an institution, to help students find their place and their voice in terms of public engagement and civic literacy. The good work of many faculty and staff colleagues, including – but certainly not limited to – Jessalyn Wynn Story, Dr. Ramon Galinanes (coordinator of the Bonner Scholars Program) and the Rev. Dr. Robinson has paved the way for us to create an even stronger, clearer and more multi-faceted infrastructure for student projects and interests as we move into the future. We are working creatively, and with excitement, toward thinking about community-based learning and public engagement from multiple perspectives, both curricular and co-curricular.”