Mellon Grant Forges Stronger Ties to Community
Occidental College has received a $200,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to forge new community partnerships through its arts and humanities program. Funding, which is payable over two years, will allow the college to develop and improve upon courses and programs that will help students connect to and participate in the cultural, historical and artistic life of Los Angeles.
Support from the Mellon Foundation allows Occidental to take its commitment to community engagement to the next level,” said college President Theodore R. Mitchell. “The importance of community-based learning is due in part to the changing nature of the student body and faculty and of Los Angeles itself.”
Today nearly 40 percent of Occidental’s student body and more than a quarter of its faculty are people of color. Additionally, the surrounding communities of Highland Park and Eagle Rock reflect the diversity of the Los Angeles region as a whole.
The development two years ago of Occidental’s Center for Community Based Learning (CBL) and the hiring of a long-time community organizer to establish a richer set of relationships among faculty and community groups strengthened the college’s commitment to a community-based learning approach, Mitchell added. Last year, the college had 60 CBL courses, a threefold increase from 2001.
With Mellon funding, department chairs and faculty members will participate in intensive summer workshops in which they will explore new teaching methods to better integrate community-based learning into arts and humanities courses. Also, a campus-community program coordinator will be hired to ensure logistical support to make community linkages productive.
In 2003, a faculty committee – with community and student participation – identified community engagement as one of the three core goals of the college’s strategic planning process (together with interdisciplinary education and international programs). From that process the committee decided a targeted approach to the arts and humanities could help further institutionalize an innovative approach to learning throughout the campus.
A number of CBL courses and programs are in the planning and development stage or have been offered on one occasion and need further work to make them part of the curriculum. Classes offered include one on Korean history and culture, in which students worked with local organizations such as the Korean American Museum, the Korean American Coalition and the Korean Cultural Center of Los Angeles. Another course centered on architecture and urbanism in Los Angeles and led students to work with local and preservation architectural groups such as the Los Angeles Conservancy.
“The expansion of this program will both enrich the academic experience of students in the arts and humanities and establish valuable partnerships with community groups and institutions that will also benefit from the relationships and products that result,” Mitchell said.