April 23, 2020
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An $800,000 "Sense of Place" grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will help Kenyon establish a community engagement center in Mount Vernon.
The center will formalize teaching practices in experiential learning and field research, strengthen educational outreach, and promote civic engagement across campus.
Experiential learning — including service learning and community-based research — actively ties classroom curriculum to work in the community and has long been viewed as a high-impact method of teaching.
“The grant from the Mellon Foundation helps Kenyon continue to expand its progress in experiential learning, building a sense of place that graduates will take with them into the world,” President Sean Decatur said. “Through the development of a community engagement center, we can expose students to real-world ethical questions during their college years and encourage lifelong involvement in their communities after graduation.”
“The ‘sense of place’ represents the physical and emotional center of every liberal arts college’s distinctiveness and enduring identity,” observed Eugene Tobin, the Mellon Foundation’s senior program officer for higher education. “To its credit, Kenyon is revitalizing this venerable tradition by encouraging student-faculty community-based research, experiential learning and educational outreach efforts that will contribute to the social, cultural and economic vitality of Knox County. The community engagement center is a replicable model of how the students, faculty and staff of a private liberal arts college can make important public contributions.”
The funds from the grant will be used, in part, to staff the center, including an administrative director and an administrative assistant. The College will contribute approximately $320,000 during the grant period, which extends over six years. The center’s offices ultimately will be housed at the Buckeye Candy building in downtown Mount Vernon that the Kenyon College Board of Trustees is expected to approve for purchase in April.
In addition to centralizing communication about existing service learning programs such as the Off-Campus Activities Program in Psychology (OAPP) and the Partnership of East Knox and Kenyon College (PEKK), the community engagement center also will offer seminars to help faculty bring experiential learning into their courses.
Jen Odenweller, executive director of United Way Knox County, sees the community engagement center as the continuation of good relationships between the College and charitable organizations like United Way. “At a very broad level, working together and building relationships with faculty, staff and students is very exciting,” she said. “We have a partnership opportunity to engage the needs in our community with hands-on learning for students. That’s a win-win relationship.”
Provost Joseph Klesner stressed that the grant allows good work started by faculty, students and community members to continue to grow. “We have good neighbors here, and we have remarkably good relations with the community,” he said. “We want to be able to build on that and make sure both sides continue to benefit.”