Tuesday, September 28, 2010

CCEL hosts Speed Dating of a different kind

Faculty and non-profits partner to benefit students, community
By Stephanie Wonchala
Consortium Library Room 307 was alive with the hum of speed dating this past Friday, but no one mentioned long walks on the beach.
Hosted by UAA’s Center for Community Engagement & Learning (CCEL) and the Center for Advancing Faculty Excellence, speed dating-formatted conversations took place to bridge the gap between campus and city. In five minute discussions, UAA faculty and Anchorage non-profit organizations discussed each others’ topics of interests, how university students could become involved, and each field’s pressing issues.
Representatives ranged from the Alaska Literacy Program and Alaska Family Services to Catholic Social Services, United Way, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, UAA’s School of Nursing and UAF’s Cooperative Extension.
 “A cohesive university outreach program would be very meaningful since non-profits are so understaffed,” said Becca McClure of Food Bank of Alaska (FBA). By working with FBA, students and faculty would see the many different faces of hunger. “Some stereotypes are blown out the water,” McClure said. “Only 20% of hungry Alaskans are actually homeless.”
Dr. Tracy Burke, Associate Professor of Social Work and host of UAA’s Food Stamp Challenge asked specifics. How could students further their relationship with the Food Bank of Alaska? How could UAA classes be matched up with FBA events? Similar discussions at other tables took place, all bursting with ideas to benefit students, community and faculty teaching.
While connections between academic programs and community needs were being discovered on the third floor, CCEL staff hustled on the second in preparation for their Open House event.
Following speed dating participation, attendees were welcomed to CCEL’s offices with sparkling pomegranate punch, meticulously arranged cheese and cracker plates and vibrant flowers.
CCEL’s Program Coordinator Shauna Dunn could be overheard amongst the excited chatter. “We promote community engagement,” she said. “Service courses that take students out of the classroom and into the community.”  Dunn shared a service learning project led by Dr. Frank von Hippel in which UAA biology students sampled Chester Creek water, proved pollution, and initiated a clean-up of the creek.
The possibilities of bettering the learning process for students and faculty while improving Alaska’s communities are numerous.
 “Everybody told me they made great connections,” said Dr. Judith Owens-Manley, CCEL’s new director. “They are looking forward to continuing the dialogue.”

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