Forming as a Course-Based Project
Authored by Lori Kniffin
Advisor of Academic Programs, Staley School of Leadership
Kansas State University
Project Organizer, Facing Hunger in Manhattan Kansas
The Facing Project: A Service-Learning Approach
The Facing Project has numerous learning opportunities for students. I find that many college students feel like members of the university community, but do not feel responsible to the greater community. They still consider their home town their community and neglect their civic duty to their college town. Through The Facing Project, they can get to know individuals, organizations, and existing systems currently address the issue within their college town, and can actively exercise leadership to share stories of the unheard voices.
You might be coordinating this project from a central engagement office or taking this on as a faculty member. Either way, it is important to connect with other classes and departments on campus to collaborate on the project. The project has opportunities for students to learn writing, budgeting, grant-writing, event planning, theater production, and other specific skills. It also has vast opportunities for students to develop as leaders and as citizens in their community. Partnering with other courses or students can only give you more support and create more learning opportunities.
The first step is contacting faculty members in related fields to see if they have an interest in partnering. You might reach out to classes in writing/English, business, nonprofit management, leadership, or theater. Also depending on the content of your project it might make sense to connect the social issue to certain departments. You might look at a human nutrition, family studies, or sociology department to engage in the interview process.
There might also be student organizations or individual students who could learn by working on this project. For instance, in our Facing Hunger project, we had a student who wanted to complete her nonprofit leadership internship who was also passionate about hunger and storytelling. She played a vital role in the project and was also able to develop many of her nonprofit competencies by working directly with nonprofit organizations in our community.
Take a moment to list some potential departments, classes, or students that might be good partners for your project.
Since the project has so many aspects, it is important to consider which components meet the learning goals of specific courses. You might have multiple courses in one semester working on different parts of the project. Or you could have classes over a couple semesters make progress on your timeline.
Each instructor or student should first determine the learning goals of working on this project.
Create a list of learning goals for your course. Include academic, personal, and civic learning goals.
If you have multiple faculty members, students, or student organizations involved in the project, it will be important to have a mechanism for communicating. That might be through weekly meetings, google documents, or other digital forums. This mechanism should also be open to community partners throughout the process. Preferably, you would convene interested members before committing to the project to assess interest and resources. Likely as the project progresses, you will learn of others to engage in the process.
Recommendations for beginning this work
- Students can either be overwhelmed by the budget or get excited about fundraising. It is important to know if you want any of the fundraising or grant writing to fall on your students. You should consider if this meets their learning goals. It is important to plan your budget at the beginning of the project to guide the possibilities. The books and event will have costs associated.
- As with other service-learning efforts, be ready for a change in teacher evaluations. For students who feel uncomfortable with ambiguity or non-traditional learning, they may have a hard time adjusting expectations. Conversely, this work can energize and engage students in deep and powerful ways eliciting comments on your evaluation that remind you why this work is so important.
- I recommend planning at least two months in advance before beginning your course to have discussions with The Facing Project, determine fundraising strategies, and fully understand the Toolkit and overall project requirements. This will allow you to use the full semester or year to work on your project rather than figuring out logistics.
- You must determine the balance between your work on the project and the work of your students. I suggest setting a specific framework for them to work within, and then allowing them much flexibility to complete that component. That framework should be guided by your learning outcomes. As students are completing the project, they should be completing frequent critical reflection.
Recommendations for making the most of your project
- Grades should not be associated with the success of the project. It should be associated with the learning that occurs throughout the process. This can be done through critical reflection methods. If students are truly working with the community, then they will begin to understand the success of their project is more important than a letter grade. Community members could be invited to help assess the success of the project and provide feedback to students.
- Find ways within your community and university to utilize the books directly. In our Introduction to Leadership Course, students are introduced to the issue of hunger. Some students struggle to connect to the purpose of their hunger-focused service-learning project. Sharing the stories of individuals facing hunger helped them to connect to purpose and understand why our local food pantry needs canned goods.
Working with The Facing Project as a service-learning experience allowed my students to meet and interact with numerous community organizations and members. Being part of this long-term project was at times frustrating and at other times beyond rewarding. They were able to learn from individuals facing hunger in our community, create a book that they can use to share what they learned, and develop personal, academic, and civic skills. I encourage you to engage in this work with your students, campus and community colleagues, and community members.
Ask yourself: What’s our story?
Facing Hunger in Manhattan, Kansas: A Case Study of The Facing Project through Service-Learning
The Staley School of Leadership Studies at Kansas State University has a mission of developing knowledgeable, ethical, caring, inclusive leadership for a diverse and changing world. Our programs and interdisciplinary minor are filled with students from every College from Agriculture, to Engineering, to Education and more. The Staley School also hosts many programs at the university such as Alternative Breaks, HandsOn Kansas State, and International Service Teams. Our unique combination of programs and academics naturally seeks engaged learning opportunities such as service-learning. This often creates an optimal environment for work on community issues, such as hunger. An issue like food insecurity is not just the work of the farmer or scientist, and the solution does not reside in just one sector. Complex challenges desperately need leadership from the space in between.
In the fall of 2013, the Staley School started the Facing Hunger project. There were many pieces of a web coming together around the issue of hunger in Kansas at that time. Kansas Campus Compact had chosen this as their primary issue a couple of years prior, and they started an annual state-wide dialogue generating interest from other universities and communities. They also helped coordinate volunteers for the Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit in 2012. The Staley School of Leadership Studies had an ongoing partnership with our local food pantry, the Flint Hills Breadbasket, for the last decade. However, this primarily consisted of direct service, namely collecting canned food. Our elective course for the nonprofit leadership focus of the minor also delivered meals locally for several years. HandsOn Kansas State in partnership with Harvesters hosted a mobile food pantry once a semester, bringing a semi-truck load of food to our campus. This synergistic work among multiple classes and programs called us to think beyond just direct service. The Facing Project offered a guided opportunity to learn about hunger locally and create awareness in our community.
The anchor of the Facing Hunger project was the junior level course in our minor Leadership in Practice. Over two semesters, students brainstormed, planned, and implemented many elements of the project. The fall semester approached this project through the strengths of their majors. They split into committees of marketing, website, stories, and fundraising. The spring course our partners at the Flint Hills Breadbasket provided a tour and overview of their operation and help create the opportunity for our students to visit with clients on site. Students interviewed the storytellers of our project and put those stories to paper.
The student learning outcome of the Leadership in Practice course is students will understand facilitating change in self, others, and community. Our student development outcome is students will exercise leadership to facilitate change in self, others, and community. Additionally, the course is based on the principles of Adaptive Leadership- diagnose the situation, manage self, intervene skillfully- energize others (KansasLeadershipCenter.org). It was hard at times to balance the product of the project and the learning opportunities. Part of Adaptive Leadership is taking smart risks and accepting failure. If students were given clear direction and safety nets, then they had less opportunity to practice leadership in this course. In the end, the risk reaped many rewards. Here are some student comments from their final course evaluation.
- Social change takes time, knowledge, learning, and so much more, not just from myself or another single individual, but as a whole conglomerate of a community, whether that’s a community floor, building, campus, city, state, or country.
- Our class has been able to work through issues ranging from lack of vision and direction, to frustration with each other, and frustration with knowing how to make progress. In the beginning of the class I was very skeptical of how we could all get our Facing Project completed. It seemed impossible that such a large group could really make progress. In the end we were not only able to all get stories written but we are also able to have a lot of learning happen along the way as well.
- Everyone in some way is part of the mess that society has created, but a way to help fix that is for everyone to realize their part of the mess and make movements to change that.
- I really believe in what The Facing Project stands for and what it will teach to the Manhattan community about the struggles within the I want to see this project through to the end and possibly take it to the next level. I think that the next step could be taking The Facing Project to a state level to show the hunger issues within the state of Kansas as a whole.
At the end of the spring semester, we had all of our stories. We had a student who wanted to complete her nonprofit leadership internship who was also passionate about hunger and storytelling. She played a vital role in the project and was also able to develop many of her nonprofit competencies by working directly with nonprofit organizations in our community. She compiled a website that narrated her mastery of nonprofit competencies. She wrote about her experience with The Facing Project for 12 of 16 competencies: strategic thinker, relationship builder, collaborative decision-maker, entrepreneurial achiever, effective communicator, high-integrity, adaptable/agile, interpersonal sensitivity, passionate about this mission, strategic planning, event planning, and risk management. Here are some reflections on her learning experience:
- There is purpose, an appeal to the common good, in believing that standing next to a neighbor and taking an honest look at one’s community can be translated into real efforts to build a stronger community.
- Collaborating with others, letting their ideas hold equal weight and pull at your own, is much messier and more time consuming than working independently, but it is worth it.
- I was able to exercise ethical fitness by first being able to name the ethical dilemma, the right v. right, I was facing.
- The thing about authority is that it is so efficient. If I am the one doing the work and making the decisions, it is easy to create exactly the product I want and to know what work needs to be done to make it happen. If however, I am striving to exercise leadership, to cast vision, and invite others to contribute their strengths to the work then the process involves much more time and give and take. The result, however, is a product beyond what I could individually conceive, plan, or achieve.
- Reflecting on the mission of this project, I eventually realized that the book was not an end in it of itself, but rather a beginning—the spark we hoped would ignite a conversation and eventually bring change to our community.
Another student in the nonprofit leadership minor practiced skills of grant-writing. She worked with a nonprofit faculty member to create a proposal that was successful in securing funding for the printing costs. The same faculty member was able to advise the Staley School and the Flint Hills Breadbasket to seek additional funding through our local community foundation. These funds also helped us pay for the community event and The Facing Project consulting fees. A staff member at the Staley School who often has one foot on campus and the other in the community connected us to key community members and organizations for the project. The relationship building process occurred all year and continues today. We met a local pastor who works with a network of social service agencies, community members, and church volunteers daily. He invited the Leadership in Practice students into an event called Everybody Counts which originated as a way to serve and more successfully assess the homeless population. When it finally came time to share our stories, we learned the talents of a local director and the generosity of the volunteer actors and community theater.
As we approached the LIVE event and book release, we more strongly knew this was not the end. The event signified a milestone in our work, but there are many more possibilities to strengthen our community. Our Facing Hunger books are now used in the Introduction to Leadership Concepts course to help students understand the issue of hunger prior to engaging in service. Another Leadership in Practice course read stories from the book and compiled a video highlighting four stories. The partners we collaborated with continue to work with those experiencing hunger every day. Our students exercise leadership for their own purposeful passion. The storytellers continue their stories.