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Community Encounters involves a significant amount of outreach to members of the Phoenix business, arts and public service community. This course is now a signature piece of the downtown experience. In this course, I take students out of the classroom and into the city of Phoenix to learn and experience the urban environment. Community Encounters is comprised of a series of site visits in and around Phoenix. My students and I visited a number of diverse sites including: Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation, Phoenix Department of Public Transportation, Arizona Humanities, Mayor’s Office, City Hall, Chase Field, The Orphium Theater, and Phoenix Police Department. I take great care in shaping this class to meet the needs of the downtown student population who are virtually all in pre-professional programs.
In this course I organized the site visits and provided students with the meeting locations. Part of the learning process was for students to find the location and meet the rest of our group. In some instances, this involved using public transportation and in other instances, it involved navigating a few blocks on foot. Although this might seem a trivial aspect of the class, students noted in their evaluations that being required to navigate the city was a formative learning experience and one that they found beneficial. They also reported benefiting greatly from the site visits and made contacts with community and business leaders that could (and undoubtedly will based on past semester reports) lead to internships, volunteer opportunities and employment.
The students also chose, organized and undertook their own site visits. Groups visited the Phoenix Medical Examiner’s Office, Wrigley Mansion, Heritage Square, San Carlos Hotel and 4th Avenue Jail. I received a phone call from their contact at the Jail to let me know how much he appreciated their visit and to complement Barrett on producing such articulate, conscientious and thoughtful students.
This kind of class is unique in that it is not hampered by the rigid boundaries of discipline, nor is it beholden to a rigid classroom structure. Experiential learning is dynamic and of great value to students but it is often difficult to design and assess. I spent many hours visiting sites, speaking with contacts, mapping out transportation options and considering student safety in the design of this course. I also conducted substantial research about community engagement so that my learning goals aligned with the experiential learning, I also spoke extensively with a colleague at another institution who engages in this kind of teaching before designing Community Encounters.