Of the faculty members honored with Distinguished Faculty Awards at the 39th Faculty Convocation on Sept. 2nd, fully half are service-learning instructors and community-engaged scholars, spotlighting the importance of experiential learning at VCU.
The three honored were:
For Katie Elliott, the associate director of the VCU Service-Learning Office (now housed in the Office of Institutional Equity, Excellence and Success), seeing professors she’s worked with earn this recognition was “impressive but not surprising.” She explains, “In order to provide relevant experiential learning opportunities, these faculty are by definition innovative, flexible, creative, adaptable, and deeply invested both in the success of their students and the success of the community.”
The Service-Learning Office, working together with VCU REAL (Relevant, Experiential, Applied Learning), helps faculty develop teaching strategies that engage students in organized service activities and guided reflection. Faculty involved in service-learning collaborate with community partners to integrate hands-on service activities that address societal needs into their courses, connecting knowledge and practice.
Dow exemplified that approach with a course he developed on COVID-19 contact tracing that enlisted students in working with the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps. “Alan, along with co-instructor Elizabeth Micalizzi, developed the class last spring as soon as it was clear the pandemic was going to be a long-term concern, and started getting students involved in Fall 2020,” says Elliott.
Much of Guidry’s recent scholarship also addresses COVID-19; she published an article on COVID-related misinformation in 2021 and one on vaccine hesitancy in 2020. Her recognition as a community engaged scholar at VCU goes back to 2015 when she won a Community Engagement Award for her open online class, “Global Health and Social Media.”
“These are the kinds of scholars and teachers who are able to identify a large-scale need, peel off a manageable piece of it and then build infrastructure and processes for addressing that piece,” says Elliott. “Their students then benefit from participating in the process and contributing to the work.”
Rowe developed some particularly effective infrastructure, establishing the CreateAthon@VCU in 2008. The popular experiential learning event leverages the talent and creativity of VCU students to develop marketing, public relations, and social media content for local non-profits. Over the 13 years of the program, more than 1,100 volunteers have delivered an estimated $2.4 million in pro bono assistance to 130 Richmond-area nonprofits.
To support their work, both Rowe and Guidry received project grants from the Service-Learning Office on their way to their current accolades ($1,000 for Rowe in 2013 and $750 for Guidry in 2019). “Our job is to remove obstacles for teachers and scholars devoted to community-engaged work,” explains Elliott. “The grants we provide aren’t huge but sometimes all it takes is $200 to push some of these projects from an idea to reality.”
Experiential learning not only attracts high-quality faculty, it also has a significant impact on the students who participate: the graduation rate for service-learning students is up to 20% higher than those other students (2014 cohort).
Other distinguished faculty honored at the convocation are listed below. For a complete program for the event with more detailed information on each honoree, please click here or refer to this VCU News story that includes embedded videos featuring each honoree.