Wednesday, February 26

Civic engagement minor combines hands-on volunteer work with academics

Although Mark Prandini grew up in a family of teachers, the idea of a career as an educator didn’t strike him until his third year in college.

Now a fourth-year political science student, Prandini said he discovered his love for teaching through an internship he did for his civic engagement minor.

As part of the minor program, Prandini spent three consecutive quarters volunteering at the Challengers Boys and Girls Club in Los Angeles, where he led children from disadvantaged communities in activities that promoted positive and productive living.

The civic engagement minor, created by the Center for Community Learning, fuses the classroom with hands-on work to introduce students to their responsibility as citizens of a community, said Douglas Barrera, coordinator for the civic engagement minor.

“Civic engagement isn’t just doing work and physically being out there,” Barrera said. “It’s a more academic consideration, what it means for our democracy and education. But it is a different way of going about getting an education, rather than sitting in a lecture hall.”

Through a combination of research papers, classes and community-oriented internships, the minor creates a new meaning for the words “community service,” said Brian Walker, a political science professor who teaches a course for the minor.

Walker teaches seven pathways to social justice, highlighting aspects of public service ranging from military service to government office and private businesses. By examining classical Eastern and Western views on service, Walker said he hopes to dispel stereotypes of service created in the modern American world.

“People now have a passive attitude to citizenship ““ they want to consume the pie without baking the pie or harvesting the apples,” he said. “But the services don’t come from nowhere, and if we expose them to classical ideas, then they’ll move to be active for the rest of their lives.”

In classical culture in the East and the West, the idea of serving others and aiding the government was expected in an organized political body, Walker said. However, the modern view that such acts of charity and philanthropy are optional creates a passive group of citizens and prevents the government from functioning at optimum levels, he said.

By combining theoretical studies of public service with hands-on volunteerism, the civic engagement minor pushes students to apply theories to their responsibility as citizens, Prandini said.

Prandini, who went to the Boys and Girls Club four or five days a week for nine consecutive months, said he discovered his desire to serve the community through education as a result of the minor.

“Working at an institution like Challengers made me realize in the future I want a career where I feel significant and passionate about what I’m doing,” Prandini said. “You learn that we are more the same than we are different, and that’s valuable.”

Already in its fifth year, the minor may continue to grow to provide students with unique opportunities to learn about themselves and their role in the world they live in, Barrera said.

“If students can make (volunteering) part of their academic work and regular scholarly work, it takes service to another level,” he said. “Instead of going and giving a couple hours a week at a place, you’re thinking about how this can be part of your academic work, and it’s important that young people are spending time engaging in outside issues.”

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