Political Science Now

Unscripted Learning: Cultivating Engaged Catalysts

Chapter 19: Unscripted Learning: Cultivating Engaged Catalysts

by James SimeoneIllinois Wesleyan University, James Sikora, Illinois Wesleyan University and Deborah HalperinIllinois Wesleyan University 

The Action Research Center at Illinois Wesleyan University provides a model of community-based action research that opens civic engagement opportunities to students from disciplines across the campus. A pedagogy focused on project-based, problem-based, and place-based learning is outlined and four project clusters in the Bloomington–Normal community are charted. This chapter uses student vignettes to illustrate how undergraduate civic engagement capacity can be scaffolded beginning with novices and culminating with mastery. We include formative assessment rubrics that can be used to teach students to see themselves as “engaged catalysts” for their communities.

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About the Authors

James Simeone is professor of political science at Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU). His specialization is in American political thought and American political development. He teaches a senior seminar in American exceptionalism. His recent publications include “Reassessing Jacksonian Political Culture: William Leggett’s Egalitarianism” in American Political Thought. After many years of trial and error with community partners, he cofounded the Action Research Center (ARC) in 2003 with James Sikora. His current ARC projects include a sustainability education program at the campus Peace Garden and an Algebra Project with the Boys and Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal. He oversees the Advocacy Minor at IWU and teaches its core class “Engagement & the City: Millennials and the New Citizenship.”

James Sikora is professor of sociology at Illinois Wesleyan University. After stints in the Marines, managing Kroger stores, and years as a student, he earned a PhD in sociology at the University of Illinois-Champaign Urbana. An applied researcher, his professor-administrator-consultant career over the last 45 years has focused on bringing students and their learning into the community, whether working with corporations or public-private nonprofit organizations. He served as president of the Illinois Sociological Association and chaired the American Sociological Association’s Committee on Teaching. Teaming with James Simeone and Deborah Halperin they developed the Action Research Center for undergraduate students as citizen-scholars and project managers use to integrate theory, research, and leadership skills for community social change.

Deborah Halperin is the director of the Action Research Center (ARC) at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois. ARC facilitates the alignment of university resources with community engagement opportunities. Deborah represents the university on community-wide coalitions addressing housing, health, and civic engagement. She teaches courses in community-based research and grant writing. She also oversees partnerships with local government, community development organizations, and nonprofit agencies. Deborah has over 25 years of experience in nonprofits, a BA in sociology, and an MS in human services administration. In 2015, Deborah presented her vision for Empowering Young People to Get Stuff Done at TEDxNormal.

Teaching Civic Engagement Across the Disciplines / Copyright ©2017 by the American Political Science Association