Patten Mahler, Assistant Professor of Economics, has spent the past three years teaching her CentreTerm ECO 352: Policy Analysis in our Community course by sending her students out into the Danville community to collaborate with community partners on projects ranging from health policy to economic development. Inspired by her graduate work in policy and analysis, Mahler modeled her course after graduate-level public policy courses, yet tailored both the content and structure to undergraduate students. With the help of Ellen Prusinski in the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), Mahler was able to identify community partners in Danville who were interested in working with Centre students.
During the first two years of this course, students in Mahler’s ECO 352 course were partnered with the community relations department at Ephraim McDowell, where students focused on projects related to health policy. After the director of that department retired last fall, Mahler began searching for new community partners. She was introduced to Tom Poland, member of the Board of Directors for the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership (EDP) and Heart of Danville at a community-based learning event hosted by the CTL.
This new partnership paired nicely with the direction Mahler wanted the course to take by aligning the community-based partnerships more toward economic development rather than health policy. After working with various businesses within the EDP, Mahler was able to establish relationships with five organizations that not only had a need for students to work with their organization, but were genuinely excited to serve as co-educators and have Centre students work with them on their ideas and projects. Mahler solicited a variety of project ideas from the EDP that were important to them, giving students an opportunity to make an impact in ways they saw fit.
Students in the class were divided into groups of three and picked from the suggested projects. Groups this past year worked on projects such as:
• Early childhood education
• Bringing millennials to downtown Danville
• Business incubator at Centre
• Moving Perryville forward
• Making Danville businesses friendly and innovative
• Visitors and convention bureau
Students in each of their respective groups and projects conducted research and ultimately created a comprehensive, evidence-based proposal for the EDP, which was presented at the Danville City Hall during a public forum. Students were able to present their ideas and respond to questions from the community. Mahler said that the community really supported the students and that the community was impressed by the level of thought and work that was put into their proposal. Mahler states, “a lot of comments simply had nothing to do with the content of the presentation but the quality of the presentations, which is something I really work with the students on – thinking about these other skills, soft skills.”
Mahler emphasized the importance of identifying projects that students can actually participate in. In order for the projects to be meaningful, both the community partner and the students need to be interested, invested, and willing to work together to solve a problem. She also stressed that these community partners really care about the students and want to work with Centre College students on projects that enrich the community.
Similarly, students in her classes appreciated that the material was applied. The students were able to take an economic model typically taught from a classroom perspective and see how they could apply it to real life situations. Students gained great exposure to community members who are doing wonderful things in Danville and also were able to help and get to know the people in the community. Mahler hopes this development of relationships between students and community members will serve as a model for the types of community engagement and relational interaction students will encounter in the communities they may eventually belong to once they graduate Centre College.
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