By Mackenzie Rafferty
On Friday, September 16, the UConn Office of Public Engagement (OPE), in collaboration with Dr. Kimberly Bergendahl, held a student-run Constitution Day discussion in the Dodd Research Center. As a student of Dr. Bergendahl and the communications assistant for the OPE, I was able to explore service learning not only in relation to my job, but also as a participating political science student.
I’m a third year Political Science and Communications dual major at The University of Connecticut. My passions are writing, reading, and understanding human history in hopes of better understanding our future; politics and communications are a perfect match for me, which makes my job at the Office of Public Engagement very rewarding. This semester, whether by fate or sheer luck, I enrolled in Constitutional Rights and Liberties course with Dr. Bergendahl. Seemingly by chance, the Office of Public Engagement reached out to Dr. Bergendahl and her constitutional rights and liberties course to help organize and lead their Constitution Day celebration.
This rare opportunity completely altered the teaching style of my class. For the first time in my academic career at UConn, I was able to participate in a service learning course, which happens to be one of the main values of UConn’s OPE and more importantly, one of the five main goals of the University. This experience gave me an entirely unique opportunity to be a part of the service learning pedagogy.
Taken directly from our mission statement, the Office of Public Engagement at UConn is driven to “assist in the development of engaged citizens through coordination, advocacy and capacity building for engagement activities.” One of the main ways the office fosters this civic engagement is through service learning, as well as engaged scholarships, university assisted community schools, partnerships, and collaborations with community and partner programs.
The office provides resources for students, faculty members, and professional staff to further UConn’s impact on local communities in hopes of nurturing long-term relationships with communities and partners. Constitution Day gave our class the opportunity to take part in a service learning course, which really highlighted the importance of community and civic engagement.
Service learning, as described by the OPE’s website, “is a pedagogy that promotes the formation of collaborative, sustainable partnerships between the university and the community.” Through student and faculty collaboration, the university is able to bring attention to pressing societal issues. One of the main goals of service learning is to allow for students to develop as active learners and members of the community, who also strive to take their education into their own hands.
What service learning offers is an entirely unique teaching and learning strategy that actively works to integrate meaningful community contributions with instruction and individual reflection. This strategy works to enrich both the teaching and learning experience, while also introducing concepts of civic and community responsibility to students.
My constitutional rights and liberties class had first-hand experience in engaging community engagement thanks to the service learning pedagogy. Our responsibility was to organize and hold a student-run discussion and presentation on the Second Amendment. In preparation for the day, our class met with Julia Yakovich, the director of service learning initiatives for the OPE, to discuss what our objectives should be for the presentation. Collectively, we decided that it was important to give a brief overview of the history of amendment, while also discussing modern application, and the future of the amendment.
These in-class discussions really changed the dynamic of the classroom—for the first time, students were really engaging in conversation where their ideas carried responsibility and weight. We were allowed to openly express opinions and cultivate a larger understanding of the amendment that represented classroom sentiments. We also knew that our conversations would have power outside the classroom; our ideas were to become a presentation that directly represented us in our community.
This style of conversation helped the class arrive at goals for the presentation. We knew we wanted to keep the presentation very neutral and informational. As political science students, we understood the controversy attached to the discussion of the second amendment; we wanted to ensure that any debate would factual and educational.
Three days after our initial in-class meeting, Constitution Day arrived. The presentation went smoothly, and we were joined by fellow students and faculty members. By the end of the presentation, the floor opened for questions and discussion. Many questions were raised in regards to the future of the second amendment a variety of viewpoints and opinions were heard. The discussion was extremely civil and showed the growing interest students had in regards to the Second Amendment.
We were also joined by CT State Representative Gregg Haddad of the 54th Assembly District. Haddad ended the presentation with a few personal comments. Embracing his opinion on the future of the second amendment, he discussed how the amendment has personally affected his political experiences. Representative Haddad’s commentary was important in fully embracing service learning. Haddad’s commentary allowed for the students to see how the research and presentation related directly to the community.
Dr. Bergendahl, in collaboration with her Constitutional Rights and Liberties course, the OPE staff, and Representative Haddad worked together seamlessly to create an experience that transcended the classroom—students worked together with faculty to a create meaningful product that emphasized civil responsibility and touched members of the greater community. The presentation was a great representation of the mission of The Office of Public Engagement with thanks to the service learning pedagogy