Grasping opportunities for life-long learning
Incorporating a community-based focus into class-work transforms abstract course concepts into lasting academic and public gains. Education Professor Christine Cress studies how applying knowledge and skills to community challenges leads to collaborative problem solving. Her research demonstrates that at all levels of education these connections significantly increase student learning, retention, degree attainment, and preparation for active and meaningful participation in civic life.
Christine Cress sees community-based learning as a critical component in finding equitable solutions to local issues and global challenges.
Cress is a professor in the Graduate School of Education’s Educational Leadership and Policy department, where she developed a master's degree specialization and graduate certificate program in “Service-Learning and Community-Based Learning.”
She’s also a nationally renowned scholar for community-based learning across the academic disciplines. This pedagogical approach helps students learn to apply their knowledge and skills in making meaningful contributions to society.
Cress’ research has shown that academically focused community connections motivate students to stay in school and earn their degree, increase their cognitive and cultural skills and knowledge, and effectively prepare them as future leaders.
But a successful approach to service and community-based learning consists of more than just using local organizations for an enrichment experience, or sending students out to work for free.
“Simply ladling soup for an hour does not end hunger and building a single home does not end homelessness,” says Cress. “We need future graduates and citizens who are informed and motivated to create systemic change.”
Taking scholarship into the community benefits all involved: students get to apply academic knowledge and skills to real-world issues; partner organizations receive short-term assets in direct service and products; and, communities gain engaged citizens.
Unresolved challenges, where different individuals and groups have a stake in the solution, present incredible opportunities for learning, says Cress.
Take, for example, a project to install new playground equipment at a local park. This simple but laudable service goal required the college students to learn disability access, child safety, and environmental law; city and county ordinances and approval processes; fundraising strategies; and, conflict mediation techniques with residents and neighborhood associations.
Such varied perspectives and the spectrum of hard decisions illuminate student learning. Abstract classroom concepts become public decisions that create a vested interest for citizens, students, and faculty alike.
"When faculty, students, and community collectively leverage their expertise, the outcomes are lasting educational and community success," says Cress.
Professor Cress' Profile:
Read more about outstanding Portland State faculty.