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Office hours: Two peas in a parachute

Office hours: Two peas in a parachute

Michelle Tedford May 10, 2023

In Spanish, “El Puente” means “The Bridge” — a fitting symbol for two professors working across disciplines: Joy Willenbrink-Conte, lecturer in music therapy, and Nicholas Rademacher, professor of religious studies. Spring semester, in a new 12-week minicourse, their students are partnering with El Puente, an education center in Dayton for Latino families and students. The minicourse, Educating the Whole Person, explores UD’s distinctive strength at building community partnerships. It is funded by two grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and funds will be used by the students to create meaningful final projects for the partner organizations. Just as the course is bridging disciplines through collaborative teaching and attracting students of varied majors, it will also create a framework that could help ground all UD students in the study of the humanities, service to others and vocational discernment.

NICHOLAS RADEMACHER: Our first visit to El Puente exceeded expectations. Several schools had off that day, and so we ended up having about 14 kids in the after-school program. The UD students planned several activities, one of which involved a parachute, where everyone stands around and holds an edge.

JOY WILLENBRINK-CONTE: It was a way for the students to get to know the kids. So, for example, if your name began with a certain letter, you let go of the parachute and ran into the middle. The students also prepared a worksheet as an icebreaker. The kids answered questions about “my favorite color,” “my favorite animal” and “who I love,” among others. The kids then had an opportunity to stand up and share about themselves.

Professor Radmacher and Willenbrink-Conte

NR: We also talked in small groups. We got to learn about the kids, and they learned about us. The kids in my group guessed my age: 165 years old. They were so much fun. Our students were totally into it, and the kids were so happy to have the UD students there to play with them. It really engaged them.

JW: Our UD students, Nick and I are working with El Puente on a final project, where our students will be recommending bilingual and culturally appropriate reading materials to purchase for El Puente with the grant money. During that first visit with the kids, the students gathered some information that will help inform their decisions about the books and other resources. They learned about the kids’ interests, games they like, animals they are interested in. They also facilitated an impromptu dance party that the children loved. Part of a partnership is being flexible and responding to the needs of those around you.

The minicourse is centered around community engagement. That’s what drew me in as a faculty member, being able to work with a community partner and develop my own skills in that area as well as supporting students in learning how to more ethically approach community engagement for the future.

NR: It was the same thing for me. The mini-course title itself, Educating the Whole Person, thinking about education holistically, resonates with me. It has been an opportunity to get to know how the University of Dayton thinks about and does community-engaged learning: to learn who the community partners are and then partner with them in support of our respective institutional missions.

"Part of a partnership is being flexible and responding to the needs of those around you."

My approach to teaching and learning has been inspired by the educational philosophy of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, an immigrant to the United States and the first U.S. saint, who wrote about the “education of the heart.” This approach seeks to facilitate intellectual development and the formation of one’s heart and then putting that into action in service of others. That’s one of the reasons why I really appreciate the title of this minicourse.

What’s been exciting is being open to the process as it unfolds, being attentive to where each of us is individually in the process: faculty, students and the community partner.

JW: And it’s been challenging. It takes a lot of time to not push your own agenda but really to slow down the process and hear from the community partner, hear from the students, and to invite them to take ownership in the process. It has been a challenge, even with just a few students, to not feel rushed by the academic calendar and course timeline.

NR: The two students we have in our section are both music therapy students. What a blessing! They have a connection to Joy and a good working relationship with her. It’s nice to be in a class where that is already established, especially when you’re doing community-based learning because there needs to be cohesion within the class in order for that to function well.

JW: I do feel very privileged to work with our music therapy students. Many of them value that interaction with people different from themselves on a regular basis. They’re performing in ensembles, which often involves community interactions and travel throughout the Dayton region and beyond, and they are out in the community for their music therapy fieldwork training.

Something that I’ve been trying to integrate more into my regular classes is how the work they’re doing intersects with these bigger picture issues around human rights: racial justice, disability justice, etc. These needs of our world are really significant for music therapy students. They see how issues of justice intersect with the day-to-day work that they are doing in their capacities as future therapists, which is a position where you have a fair amount of power and privilege, and great capacity to impact someone’s health care experience.

NR: Since we are teaching just one of the four sections of this minicourse, it will be interesting to hear from the other instructors. What students are primed for this kind of course? It will be good to learn, especially since it’s the inaugural iteration of the grant.

I think when doing community-based learning, it’s important to have a collaborator, a co-facilitator of the class. It’s a lot of work, but you’re also bringing different skill sets into the classroom, which enhances student learning.

JW: When opportunities such as this come into my flight path, I think, wow, that could be really enriching. And I have to make sure it’s life-giving and something I’m passionate about, and that I don’t take on too much, because there are many wonderful opportunities.

NR: I’ve had really great ways of getting involved with what’s happening at UD since I came to campus two years ago. This is an opportunity to connect with people in other parts of campus. If I hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t have had a chance to collaborate with Joy and get to know the students who are in our classroom. I would say the overall balance is very energizing.

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