Section: News

Office of Community Partnerships strengthens Knox County relations

More classes are engaging with Mount Vernon and Knox County, thanks to the work of the Office of Community Partnerships. The College created the office in 2015 to explore how it can address the needs of the surrounding community while strengthening ties between the College and the surrounding area. The office is funded by a six-year $800,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a foundation that promotes higher education initiatives. The College will supplement this money with approximately $320,000 over the six-year grant period.

The office is located in the newly constructed Wright Center in Mount Vernon. One of the main initiatives of the office is to work with faculty to formulate curricula around the philosophy of  “community engaged learning (CEL),” meaning the courses incorporate experiences within the community, Director of Community Partnerships Jen Odenweller said. These courses provide real-world applications for concepts covered in the classroom.

As part of this mission,  the office helped design a chemistry seminar led by Professor Sheryl Hemkin. Hemkin’s students work in the community to “build educational modules that will … get middle schoolers to not start drinking or smoking, to make a better choice when presented with that option,” she said.

CHEM 401 started a program with the sixth grade at St. Vincent’s School, a private school in Mount Vernon. “We’ll be visiting them about three times, and they will come to Kenyon once,” Hemkin said. “I’m hoping we’re building some activities and inspiring some thoughts in the students that will help them understand … there are effects [of these substances] in the body.”

CEL classes stretch across disciplines. Professor of Dance Julie Brodie teaches a course entitled “Dance 240: Directed Teaching” where students go to nearby Columbia Elementary School to teach dance to kindergarten classes and run an after-school dance club.

“[Kenyon students] have the benefit of actually getting hands-on experience working with kids … most of these kids probably haven’t been exposed to creative movement,” Brodie said. In terms of the community, she said that “one of our goals is to not just teach dance but to actually use movement to support the curricular goals of the kindergarten teachers.”

This fall, the Office started a Community Engagement Specialist program where Kenyon students serve in paid positions as student liaisons between the work of the Office and the student body. Melissa Layton ’18, Sarah Aguilar ’19 and Emma Bakken ’20 now serve in this role.

“As a lifelong Knox County resident and senior at Kenyon, I have experienced both sides of the Knox County/Kenyon divide, so I am especially grateful for the opportunity to help cultivate the college’s relationship with community partners,” Layton said.

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