Ceremony Celebrates Community Engagement in the Classroom

April 29, 2019

A ceremony held on Friday, April 26, celebrated and recognized St. John Fisher College’s campus-wide commitment to community engagement and service-learning.

Administrators from Nativity Prep with Abdulhady Home and Hiran Khatri.

Hosted by the newly established Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, the ceremony honored students, faculty, and community partners for creating collaborative learning environments that foster community engaged scholarship. Last year, more than 2,800 Fisher students spent a combined total of over 393,000 volunteer hours in a wide range of community service programs.

“Fisher’s civic and community engagement programming, now housed at the Institute, provides an important platform through which students broaden their educational experiences,” said Erin Barry, director of the Institute. “Community engagement enriches students’ lives, advances the College’s mission, enhances the spirit of collaboration across campus, and strengthens our community.”

The Community Partner Civic Engagement Award is given to a community partner that has demonstrated a commitment and passion for addressing their organizational needs and supporting the academic and civic development of students through strong partnerships and community engagement. This year’s recipient, Nativity Preparatory Academy, is an independent middle school with a character-driven mission that has embodied these principles of reciprocity.

The school has participated in multiple partnerships with Fisher, including a morning fitness program called BOKS Kids, run by First Generation Scholars and student volunteers, a service-learning Chemistry of Cooking project to teach the scientific method using problem-based learning, and a resiliency education program to teach social emotional skills called Seeds of Success. First Generation Scholars also have provided tutoring in math and English for multiple semesters.

“This partnership has grown because of the strong support and commitment from Principal Maria Cahill and Director of Student Support Services, Meredith Smith,” said Elizabeth Rizzolo, assistant director of the Institute.  “Our interactions with Maria and Meredith, and others at the school, have embodied what we strive for when developing community partnerships.”

Ron Sicker (center) with students from his promotion management course.

The Reciprocity Award, given to Ron Sicker, visiting instructor in the School of Business, praised his service-learning collaboration in which there was an exceptionally high level of benefit to both the community partner and the Fisher students and faculty member.

“Service-learning works best when there is equal commitment from the three legs of the stool: the students, the faculty, and the community partners,” said Dr. Lynn Donahue, assistant director of the Institute, as she presented the award.

Since fall 2014, Sicker has partnered with clients in the community to add value to his promotion management course and to the community through generated promotion plans and marketing documents.

A partnership with St. Mark’s and St. John’s developed through Sicker’s class offered the opportunity for teams of students to create strategies to promote their urban garden program. The students created exceptional work that was professionally developed, well received, and is currently being used to promote the organization’s E.D.E.N. garden initiatives.

The Student Service-Learning Civic Engagement Award was given to two students this year, Meghan Allan and Niles Natali. The award recognizes students who have demonstrated outstanding work in a service-learning context.

Allan and Natali, both students in Dr. Patricia Tweet’s sociology course, Helping Professions in Action, successfully delivered program services to young adults with disabilities who are enrolled in Cerebral Palsy of Rochester’s “Transitions” program. 

“With great creativity, sensitivity, and teamwork and with each other and the CP Rochester staff, Meghan and Niles befriended and helped eight young adults their age and older develop the skills and insights they need to become independent and healthy young adults,” said Tweet. “These two students accepted the challenge of being a small team of two walking into an organization and working with clients and staff they had never even heard of prior to the beginning of the semester. Both demonstrated the cultural competence that is the goal of this Cultural Contrasts Core course.” 

The First Generation Scholarship Award recognized two students who demonstrated dedication to their own work in the program and inspiring service efforts within others. This year’s award was given to Hiran Khatri and Abdulhady Home.

Outside of their service through the scholarship, Khatri and Home made an effort to improve attendance at Nativity Prep by creating a program to provide bikes for the students. They note that having a bike would help solve problems with absences that are caused by transportation issues, and would add an incentive to go to school. 

“As a former student at Nativity, Hiran remembers well how he benefited when he was able to receive a bicycle to facilitate his own transportation to and from the Nativity Prep,” said Dr. Richard DeJesús-Rueff, emeritus vice president for student affairs and adjunct faculty member, in presenting the award. “As of now, they have reached out to Doyle Security and R Community Bikes for support of this project, and have created plans to start fundraising to pay for the costs of the program. Their goal is to provide all the bikes to Nativity by the spring of 2022.”

Professors Dr. Jill Swiencicki and Dr. Deborah Vanderbilt with Cindy Ramos and her peer mentor.

The Service Scholar Award was given to Cindy Ramos, a freshman who professors said is always seeking ways to “expand her gifts” and “boldly impact her community.”

Ramos was praised for being an active member of campus; she performed in the campus production of “The Laramie Project,”  completed community service at the courthouse through Friends of Strong, and worked with Habitat for Humanity in Orlando, Florida, during spring break. In her first-year Learning Community, professors Dr. Jill Swiencicki and Dr. Deborah Vanderbilt said they can always count on Ramos to “respectfully add her perspective to the conversation, even if the topics are sometimes quite controversial.” 

During the ceremony, the Institute honored Dr. Kristen Love, visiting assistant professor of inclusive education in the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education, with the Faculty Award for Service-Learning, praising her outstanding teaching or collaboration in a service-learning context.

Just this year, Love integrated community-based learning into four of her classes. Students in her adolescent development course mentored youth with disabilities from the West Irondequoit-Webster-Brighton Postsecondary Program; critical literacy social studies graduate students supported families within the VOA WNY Guest House program; social studies methods students taught the Seeds of Success resiliency program in two RCSD No. 57 second grade classes; and her STEM methods students created science curriculum for RCSD No. 45.

This year, the Institute gave honorary awards to individuals, Vanderbilt, a professor of English, and DeJesús-Rueff, who both helped pave the way for community engaged scholarship at the College.

When a working group was formed in 2006 to research the feasibility of service-learning for the College, Vanderbilt served on the core working group that researched the field, surveyed interest, successfully proposed for local and federal grant funds, and ultimately operationalized a service-learning program. 

“During her 10-year tenure as co-chair of the Service-Learning Advisory Board, she provided insight, leadership, and out of the box thinking,” said Donahue.

DeJesús-Rueff played an integral role in the formation of the First Generation Scholars program, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary at the College. Although he retired from his role as vice president for student affairs, he remains very active on campus as an adjunct professor, the coordinator of Sustained Dialogue, and in his continued role as the Academic Director for the First Generation Scholars.