By, Valerie Lane, Assistant Director of Community Programs
Community Engagement Initiative, UD
Spring semester 2020 proved to be a season of firsts for the UD community. It was the first time professors were challenged to move 100% of classes online, the first Spring semester without an in-person graduation, and the first time our community has experienced a health pandemic. Not all firsts have been unexpected, however.
The first two students to graduate from the Community Engagement Scholars course of study completed all program requirements this Spring, a historic moment for the UD Community Engagement Initiative. Approved by the University Faculty Senate in May 2018, the course of study provides students an opportunity to focus their academic area of study on community engagement. Through required coursework, an immersion experience, 160 hours of community service, and an eportfolio, Community Engagement Scholars are driven to not only complete their major and minor, but to do so through a framework that integrates academic and co-curricular experiences.
Madeline Davidson and Caroline May, both students in the College of Agriculture, are the first two graduates of the Community Engagement Scholars course of study. Though the program has only been “official” for two years, students have been working on meeting program requirements since Fall 2017.
“I went into the public policy class my freshman year not knowing what issue I was passionate about,” says Madeline Davidson. She was a pre-veterinary medicine major, with a minor in chemistry. Graduating in just three years, Madeline is the first incoming first-year Community Engagement Scholars to complete the course of study.
“I knew I was interested in animal welfare and rights, but I was also eager to explore other important social issues,” she said. Through the Introduction to Civic Engagement course (SPPA100) and Introduction to Public Policy (UAPP110), Madeline discovered her passion for education policy as well. She continued, “In my first year I wrote a letter to a legislator about education policy in New York state, where I’m from. Then I continued to research and write about that issue in the public policy class.”
In addition to finding her passion for education policy, Madeline participated in an internship through the animal science program and the Delaware Humane Association that allowed her to help with vaccine clinics in Wilmington. Focused on serving low income communities, these clinics were an opportunity for people to get their pets vaccinated at no cost. “It was cool because the medical staff also gave people recommendations for health clinics that served them, the humans, as well. If people couldn’t afford to take their pets to the vet, then they likely needed resources for affordable human health care too,” she said.
Madeline worked these one-day vaccine clinics once a month, assisting the veterinary professionals and learning hands-on what it meant to treat animals. “It helped confirm that vet school was something I wanted to pursue, because I enjoyed working with animals so much,” she said.
One of the unique aspects about the course of study is how interdisciplinary it is. Because the program is open to students in all majors, (currently all seven colleges are represented in the 150+ students active in the program), students have the opportunity to learn from one another in and out of the classroom. Wildlife ecology majors are working with business students, and artists are collaborating with pre-med students. Even though Madeline and Caroline were from the same college, their interest areas were wildly different.
Caroline May majored in agriculture and natural sciences, working with Bright Spot Ventures farm and UD Cooperative extension during her undergraduate career. She entered the Community Engagement Scholars course of study as a sophomore, applying to the program after being admitted to UD.
During her summer immersion experience with Bright Spot Ventures, she was able to work on the urban farm located in Wilmington, as well as harvest and sell produce at community farmers markets in the city.
“It wasn’t just about farming and being sweaty all day. I got to go to the market and interact with the community, explain how to cook the produce, and swap recipe ideas,” she explained. Caroline speaks very fondly of her time with Bright Spot, “Once I realized there was a community aspect to agriculture and that you could connect, in person, with people about farming, I fell in love with it.”
Caroline won’t be going far after her undergraduate career is wrapped up. Upon completion of her final coursework she will be starting a master’s program in Agriculture Economics at UD. “I’ll be working on the community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, which I was able to begin working on during my undergraduate career.”
You can tell that Caroline was born to work in community farming. In her spare time, she reads books on how to start a farm and what farming means to communities. This wasn’t simply a degree for her, this is the beginning of her life’s work.
As for career aspirations, Madeline begins Veterinary School at Long Island University this fall, with aspirations of becoming a practicing vet upon completion of the program. Caroline is excited to continue her work with cooperative experience post-master’s degree, with the eventual goal of opening her own farm on the horizon.
Both young women have set the bar very high for future graduates of the Community Engagement Scholars course of study. Their commitment to community engagement and their willingness to be “the first” has allowed Community Engagement Initiative staff to develop the program way beyond simply “meeting program requirements.” For summer 2020, CEI is planning virtual service experiences students can participate in from home, book groups to keep students engaged and connected, as well as partnerships for student programming in the fall.
It’s clear Caroline and Madeline are no outliers. All Community Engagement Scholars have a deep passion for impact and understanding their role in shaping and contributing to communities. With ambitious education majors, community-focused accounting students, and involved environmental engineering projects, these students are utilizing their time at UD to engage.
If you are interested in applying to the Community Engagement Scholars course of study, please visit: https://www.cei.udel.edu/students/community-engagement-scholars