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Skidmore College

Grant helps implement civic engagement across the curriculum

February 28, 2011

Skidmore College has been awarded a grant of $250,000 from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to create a comprehensive program of civic engagement within the curriculum. The program will build upon the work of the college's Responsible Community Task Force, charged with finding ways to strengthen the links between Skidmore's academic programs and the issues and needs of the local community.

The grant will provide direct support for Goal III of Skidmore's Strategic Plan, which emphasizes community engagement and responsible citizenship. As the plan states, Skidmore strives to be an institution that "empowers and inspires all of our students to make the choices required of informed, responsible citizens throughout their lives, and that itself acts as a responsible corporate citizen." The plan further states that Skidmore seeks to "develop, broaden, and deepen the College's connections to the local community."

With the help of the grant, Skidmore will review all its academic programs with eye toward increasing aspects that foster responsible citizenship and community engagement. The grant will enable the college to expand the roster of courses that entail community interaction, prepare faculty for new advisory roles, create a program of student mentors, and provide funding for faculty development in the area of community engagement. In addition, there is a plan for students studying abroad to become more involved in their "adopted communities" around the world during their time away from campus.


Alexandra Furman '09 collects a
sediment core from a beaver pond
for a study of the Saratoga Lake

While Skidmore already offers a number of courses that entail student service in the community or research pertaining to local issues, the goal now, with the help of the new grant, is to substantially expand these offerings. Among the service-learning courses currently offered at Skidmore is Sociology 329, "Criminal Justice," in which students volunteer at Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison. The students conduct workshops on conflict resolution and assist with inmate reintegration into the community. In Foreign Languages 221, "Spanish for the Health Professions," Skidmore students worked with service providers in the Saratoga Springs community to explain local health care options to Spanish speakers and to serve as translators in health care situations. 

Research on community matters is built into a number of Skidmore courses, including "Environmental Studies: Methods and Approaches," a capstone course in which seniors conduct research on local environmental issues. Recent research projects have examined protection of the area's watershed, storm water management, the preservation of local agriculture and farmland, sustainable home design, and the practice of composting.

The expanded roster of civic-engagement courses would be available beginning in a student's first semester at the college, through specialized versions of the Scribner Seminar, small seminar-style classes required of all first-year students. Older students will serve as mentors in the Scribner Seminars and other courses, with the goal of inspiring first- and second-year students to get involved in local, national, and international communities.

To help faculty gear up for their new roles, Skidmore will offer educational programs for teachers across the academic areas of the college. Seven faculty members, designated as "civic fellows," will be responsible for gaining more experience in the field and guiding others in developing the new initiative, and a faculty director will be appointed to oversee the entire project.

Said Susan Kress, acting president of Skidmore College, "At Skidmore we stress community involvement on many levels, and we believe that this should be reflected in the courses our students take, no matter what field they pursue This very important grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations will enable us to prepare students and faculty for new levels of community engagement, which we expect will benefit both the college and the local area."

The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, based in Jacksonville, Fla., are a national philanthropic organization established through the generosity of the late American industrialist Arthur Vining Davis. The foundations currently provide grants for private higher education, religion, secondary education, health care, and public television.

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