Learning Through Service

Starting this year, the College’s Institute for Community Engagement and Civic Leadership is formalizing outreach to foster youth and developing best practices as part of a new program called Fostering Caring Connections.

Campus Support BadgeAcross all the College’s campuses, faculty and administrators are being trained to serve as campus support champions for young people through the Single Points of Contact program, a nationally recognized best practice model in supporting homeless and foster youth.

For many college students, the first day of school means moving into dorm rooms and meeting professors. When Selena Ortiz, 18, arrived on the College’s campus for her first day in September, she wasn’t sure where she was going to spend the night.

She had just been transferred to a new group home for young people aging out of foster care, and she wasn’t sure where it was. Students moving into campus apartments arrive with boxes and crates piled high. Ortiz could fit everything she owned into one suitcase. 

She soon started taking classes in the College’s Architecture, Design and Construction program. “The first semester was really hard,” she said. “Everyone in my program was older than me. And I was always hungry.”

Unable to be cared for by their families, some youth in the city live with foster families or in group homes until they turn 18. Many end up on their own, some becoming homeless. They may not have a caring adult to guide them through basic life skills, like paying bills, or through the complexities of higher education, like applying for financial aid.

Gradually, for Ortiz, her program’s faculty and students took her under their wings. “That’s my family,” she said. “They never made me feel like a statistic.”

The Institute for Community Engagement and Civic Leadership finalized the adoption of Spring Garden School, a K-8 school, less than a mile from campus. 

Backpack Drive  College admissions van delivered the backpacks
Staff and students assisting at the spring garden school

Dr. David Thomas, dean of the Division of Access and Community Engagement, envisions a mutually beneficial relationship. “We have more to offer to the city than degree and certificate opportunities,” said Dr. Thomas, who is also associate vice president for Strategic Initiatives. “We have a committed and passionate community of students, staff, faculty, and administration who desire to get involved and give back.”

Students Volunteering at a Community GardenPart of the College’s mission is to extend learning beyond the classroom walls and connect with the broader community. Faculty and staff engaged students in some hands-on learning exercises that allowed them to apply classroom theory to real-life, real-time challenges.

Margaret Stephens, associate professor of Social Science, teaches environmental conservation and geography, connecting lessons in the classroom to issues within the city.

The approach, called service-learning,  gives students a role in bettering society, and building their own skills and confidence as they serve others.

When State Rep. Donna Bullock and a panel of environmental leaders from across the city came to the College’s Main Campus to discuss green jobs and ways to combat environmental injustice, Stephens’ class was in the room, soaking up the differing views and learning strategies.

 Green Jobs Panel of Environmental Leaders 

Dr. Berna Dike-Anyiam, assistant professor of Computer Technologies, and her classes shared their skills by teaching computer literacy to people in the community. The popular “Don’t Be Afraid of that Computer” workshops help students reinforce their knowledge while giving back.Computer Literacy Workshop

Led by Dr. Lisa Johnson, assistant professor of Nursing, 18 students were trained to teach hands-only CPR to students and staff, part of the American Heart Association’s goal to multiply the number of individuals able to perform this life-saving technique. “We need to expand our classroom walls,” said Johnson. “Through these interactions, they learn how to be professionals and how to communicate with different audiences.”

 Hands-only CPR Training on Campus

Reentry Support Project Unlocks Hope for Communities 

Reentry Support Project Graduation

Making the transition from the criminal justice system to college often requires a supportive cast of individuals who see the true depth of your potential, sometimes before you do. 

More than 300,000 Philadelphia residents have criminal records, surveys show. For Dr. Generals,  the Reentry Support program is a service that helps to renew the community as it puts talented and capable leaders back into neighborhoods. 

“To hear those stories and see that these individuals who still have a will to be good citizens is completely and totally inspirational to me,” Dr. Generals said. “As an institution of higher learning, we have an obligation to meet them where they are and pull them to where they want to be.” 

In the spring, 35 new students started their academic journey through the project’s programs, according to Tara Timberman, the Reentry Support Project founder and coordinator. “We are proud to say that we had a zero percent recidivism rate among our enrolled students,” said graduate Jym Baker, who served as master of ceremonies at the program’s completion ceremony in the spring. 

More than 500 individuals are served each year through the Project’s academic and workforce development programs. This year, the program received the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency Byrne Justice Assistance Grant and was awarded the College and Community Fellowship Technical Assistance Grant.