VCU Community Engagement News

Center for Community Engagement and Impact

Faculty were recognized for their innovative teaching practices and commitment to sustained community-university partnerships.

By Jenny Pedraza

The Center for Community Engagement and Impact has announced the 2020 Excellence in Service-Learning awardees. David Coogan, associate professor of English; and Marcia Winter, assistant professor of psychology, both in the College of Humanities and Sciences, were recognized for their innovative teaching practices and commitment to sustained community-university partnerships.

The award is given annually to two service-learning faculty members. Each awardee received an engraved plaque, a letter of recognition sent to their dean and department chair and a $500 stipend. Assistant Professors Jessica Collins and Peyton Rowe in the Robertson School of Media and Culture were awarded an honorable mention for their work with CreateAthon@VCU.

Valerie Iaconangelo, ’20, a psychology major and Service-Learning Teaching Assistant (SLTA) was awarded the Excellence in Service-Learning student award. Jessie Feng, ’21, a biology major; and Joanne Sims, a graduate student in sustainability planning, were awarded honorable mentions.

A long-time service-learning faculty member, Coogan created his signature course, “Writing and Social Change,” in 2011 and has since taught the course 10 times. The course works in conjunction with two VCU programs: Open Minds, a partnership with the Richmond City Sheriff’s Office; and Write Your Way Out: A Criminal Justice Diversion Program, a partnership with the Richmond Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.

“This course meets only in the community, specifically, at the city jail,” Coogan said. “All students—incarcerated and free—join together in a spirit of creativity, inquiry, and vulnerability, probing the problems that they have faced in life, the punishments that they have received, and the possibilities of change.”

One VCU student who took Coogan’s course said it “encouraged me to be introspective in a way that I have never been before, to ask myself hard questions, and to look at the world around me with a fresh pair of eyes. Bringing VCU students and jail residents together closes one of the gaps that divides our society. This is how communities heal and grow. I wish EVERY VCU student would take some sort of class like this.”

Winter’s course, “Developmental Science: Making it Real,” is in partnership with the Children’s Museum of Richmond. Students in the course run Seymour’s Living Lab (SLL) at the children’s museum, which allows families to engage in a variety of STEM challenges. Each semester, students identify a need that SLL has, and their final team project for the course addresses that need. For example, in the Fall, one team of students developed ways to make small modifications in the lab to ensure activities were inclusive to children with sensory sensitivities.

Winter’s partnership with the museum exemplifies best practices in developing and sustaining a mutually-beneficial and trusting relationship.

“First and foremost, I aim to always be addressing a need,” Winter said. “Every semester, I ask if we are continuing to meet their needs, what we can do to improve, and whether we remain an asset to them.”

During the spring semester as VCU moved to distance learning due to COVID-19, Winter asked her contact at the museum if there was anything the class could do to help them from a distance.

“They had a project in mind, and I modified it just a bit to enhance the learning value for students,” Winter said. “I think this will be a win-win, but it started with a question, and I think that is important for our partnership.”

Student award winner Iaconangelo served as the SLTA for Joseph Cates’ UNIV 111, 112 and 211 “Food for Thought” courses for five semesters. Most recently, her work with the course allowed her to partner with the Cornerstone Community Farm located at Fairfield Middle School. In addition to her involvement as an SLTA, Iaconangelo served as an intern and then as volunteer coordinator for The Daily Planet. She has been accepted into VCU’s Master of Social Work program.

“Val’s academic journey has truly been one of personal growth and development,” said Cates. “She saw the value in giving back to her community through her professional and academic career. The impact this genuine engagement has on the tone and tenor of student learning can’t be understated, and it is what all service-learning instructors dream of seeing: awareness becoming action and action becoming change.”

For more information, visit the Center for Community Engagement and Impact.

Categories Service-Learning, Uncategorized