Community Engagement and Scholarship in Action

This semester, Composition and Rhetoric graduate students under the tutelage of Professor Mary P. Sheridan have worked with a variety of community partners as part of their Community Literacy seminar to learn about the complex but rewarding realities of engaged scholarship.

Over the course of the seminar, students learned what being community literacy scholars entails. The student projects ranged widely and were shaped by both their expertise and that of the community partners. The projects included the following: instituting a Family Literacy night co-sponsored by the Jefferson County Public School’s LEEP program; designing literacy workshops for women who are processing the trauma of domestic violence and rape at the Center for Women and Families; creating a "pitch flick" for the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth; and partnering with UofL’s Tammi Davis and Christine Sherretz (College of Education) to gather digital stories from JCPS Partnership elementary schools, stories that were shown at the Gheens planetarium so that these “at risk” fourth graders could see themselves among the UofL stars.

Harley Ferris, a second year Ph.D. student in Rhetoric and Composition, says the following about his experience: “I think it's vital that institutions connect their scholarship to actual work being done in their communities, and as an emerging academic, I was thrilled to practice this. Attending to community literacy in this way allowed me to put all the reading, writing, and thinking about theory to the test, to see it play out in a real situation. More than that, however, I was able to observe first-hand how multiple constituents--administration, faculty, and students from both UofL and Atkinson, negotiated these complex relationships amid a common goal.”

By all accounts, student-community collaborations were very successful. We are proud to report that three A&S graduate students earned awards that will benefit their community partners:

  1. The Neighborhood House will receive $1,000 for their Feed Me Right program, an award made possible by the UofL Office of Community Engagement. According to graduate student Jamila Kareem, the Feed Me Right program is a "food literacy project" focused on proper nutrition, which includes feeding students in grades 1-12 and their families, providing cooking classes for youth and their family members, and offering field trips to this same group.
  2. Women in Transition (WiT) will receive a $1,000 award from the UofL Office of Community Engagement. According to graduate student Reagan Sova, WiT is “an organization dedicated to political and cultural education for poor people, so that they may join with others in developing intellectual courses of self-defense against systems of oppression.” The grant money will be used to grow the youth program at WIT, which provides academic mentoring and collaborative educational activities for at-risk youth. To learn more about WiT, listen to Sova’s interview with WiT founder Professor Jennifer Jewell.
  3. The God's Pantry Food Bank will award $500 to the Lafayette Youth Service Center for their work with Kids Can Fight Hunger! This project was spearheaded by Ph.D. student and high school teacher Susannah Kilbourne and her Lafayette public high school students’ “rhetoric at work” project, a project Kilbourne developed in the Community Literacy seminar.

Says Professor Sheridan, “These community partnerships are critical to successful and meaningful engaged scholarship in that they deepen students’ methodological and theoretical understanding of engaged literacy work, and reinforce how UofL and our local community are both better for such engagement.”