In response to a call from undergraduates, the
university's Center for
Social Concern is leading
an initiative to foster the development of academic courses
and for-credit projects infused with a
significant community service component.
The initiative, called Community-Based Learning at
Johns Hopkins, seeks to facilitate
interaction between faculty members and community
organizations in order to find ways that students
can simultaneously give back to the community and earn
The Center for Social Concern is the student volunteer
office on the Homewood campus, and it
currently has more than 50 groups that are committed to
serving the Baltimore community.
Bill Tiefenwerth, director of the center, said that
Johns Hopkins students have increasingly
approached him in recent years about facilitating service
"Students want to reach out to the community and help,
and they do, through volunteering,"
Tiefenwerth said. "But the types of learning opportunities
we are hoping to create here will allow them
to contribute in a more academically rigorous way."
Specifically, the initiative came out of the Provost's
Framework for the Future planning process,
intended to engage the university community in thinking
about what Johns Hopkins needs to do to
maintain its leadership in research, discovery and
education, while continuing to positively influence a
Jerome "Axle" Brown, a senior public health major and
a member of the Center for Social
Concern's student advisory board, was one of the students
who led the effort.
Brown said that he was inspired by his participation
in the Diaspora Pathways Project, a long-term initiative
designed by the Center for Africana Studies to better
understand the changing
landscape of the living African Diaspora, especially as it
pertains to the community in the greater
Baltimore/Washington metropolitan area.
Brown said he wished he had had more of these types of
learning opportunities available to him
when he was a freshman.
"A lot of students want to participate in courses and
learning projects that are for the benefit
of the community, and even want to pursue careers in this
area. That is where we are going with this
initiative," he said.
This summer, the CSC hired Lisa Morris of the
AmeriCorps Vista program to coordinate the
first 12 months of the initiative, which is funded for
Since August, Morris has connected with faculty who
have done work in the community or whose
subjects would tie in well with community-based learning.
Next month, she will convene a Community-Based Learning
working group composed of "invested" faculty, staff,
students and alumni who will help
lay out the vision for how such a program can be structured
at Johns Hopkins.
"Basically, we are setting up the process by which
faculty members and community organizations
can partner in order for a course to include meaningful
service to the community," Morris said. "We
also want to establish guidelines for what would constitute
a community service learning course at
As an example of the type of experience the Center for
Social Concern is trying to cultivate,
Morris mentioned the trio of Johns Hopkins professors who
are spearheading foreign language
learning at the Guilford Elementary-Middle School in
The pilot program, which started in January, features
full-time faculty from the Department of
German and Romance Languages and Literatures who are
teaching French and Spanish at a school that
previously had no foreign language component; for the lab
portion of this program, fluent French- and
Spanish-speaking Johns Hopkins students and local residents
come into the classroom so that the
middle schoolers can interact with them and learn about the
culture behind the language.
Morris said that such initiatives have taken place at
other universities. Specifically, she points
to the work of the University of Pennsylvania's Netter
Center for Community Partnerships that has
helped develop an extensive list of what it calls
"Academically Based Community Service" courses
offered each semester to both undergraduate and graduate
students. In one course, Penn students
collaborate with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on
a clinical research study titled the
Community Asthma Prevention Program. The Penn
undergraduates learn about the epidemiology of
urban asthma in the classroom and then go out to co-teach
asthma classes offered at community
centers throughout the city. In another Netter Center
course, called the Community Algebra
Initiative, Penn students conduct hands-on activities with
students at a local high school.
Morris said that the Netter Center offers more than 20
such service-learning courses each
"Down the line, I see Johns Hopkins developing a
similar list of for-credit courses offered
through the various schools within the university," she
said. "The goal right now is to offer support for
faculty who would want to have courses like these."
Morris said that the Center for Social Concern will
specifically offer how-to guides, connect
faculty with community organizations and facilitate the
process any way it can.
In the short term, Morris said the center would help
supplement current courses with a
community service component. Long term, the initiative will
develop a list of brand-new courses and
possibly even a community service-learning minor.
To learn more about the CBL working group or
community-based learning, contact Morris at