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FSP and Community Engaged Learning

When planning your First-year Seminar (FSP), you have the opportunity to incorporate a Community Engaged Learning (CEL) component to your course. As you may know, TCNJ requires that all students complete 8 hours of community engaged learning before they graduate. Community Engaged Learning provides students an opportunity to contribute their skills and energies to a community organization that works to improve the Trenton-Mercer County region and the lives of its residents. CEL at TCNJ takes many forms, but roughly half of students complete this requirement through activities related to their FSPs.  The other half of students complete this requirement through an 8 hour service activity on a weekend, unrelated to their academic coursework. The Bonner Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at TCNJ, housed in the Center for Community Engaged Learning and Research, coordinates CEL activities at the college, and will work with you if you choose to include CEL in your FSP.

Incorporating Community Engaged Learning into your FSP can add to your students’ educational experience, provide depth and richness to your course by demonstrating the “real world” relevance of your course topic, and contribute to a community organization’s development and growth.  The projects that students engage in emerge from the themes of the course in combination with the needs and interests of various non-profit community partners. For instance, some FSPs that developed CEL projects include:

  • A course on “The Power of Water” took students to Union Beach, NJ, to participate in recovery efforts from Superstorm Sandy. They also conducted oral histories with residents of Toms River, NJ, and Point Pleasant Beach, NJ, to document people’s experiences of Superstorm Sandy and “the power of water” in their lives.
  • A course on “Morality, God, and Free Will” visited a local prison to engage in dialogue with inmates at the prison, exposing the students to concrete question about criminal justice, morality, and social norms, while providing an intellectual opportunity for inmates otherwise unavailable.
  • Students in a course on “Children and the Arts” received training on instructing children on art projects (dance, poetry, music, visual), visited elementary students in Trenton, and had the students come to TCNJ’s campus to develop art projects that related to a theme the elementary students had chosen (in this case, community change).

These course activities were developed through the efforts of individual FSP faculty and staff of the Bonner Institute. In conversation with you, Bonner staff will develop a relevant and appropriate project with community partners for your particular FSP course and content.  Bonner staff members coordinate transportation and logistics for CEL activities. The Bonner Institute’s goal is to work with you to develop projects that meet learning objectives of your class, that meet the needs of off-campus community members and organizations, and that enrich the learning experience through hands-on activity with community members.

Most FSPs with CEL components incorporate a graded assignment that gets students to reflect on their CEL activities in relation to the FSP course content. Bonner Institute staff can recommend models for this type of assignment, and work with you to develop effective reflective projects, if desired.  In addition, the Bonner Institute can help arrange transportation for course-related activities for FSPs with CEL components. For non-CEL FSPs, limited field trip funding may be available through TCNJ’s Liberal Learning office.

If you are interested in developing a CEL component for your FSP, please note this when submitting your FSP description to the FSP coordinator, and a Bonner staff member will get in touch with you over the summer to begin planning your activities.  Alternatively, feel free to contact the Bonner Institute directly to discuss ideas and possibilities for your FSP course.  For more information about FSPs and CEL activities, please contact Heather Camp (hcamp@tcnj.edu; 609.771.2108) or visit the CELR Center’s website at http://celr.pages.tcnj.edu, and the faculty-focused pages available here.

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