What is the CREST Fellowship?
The Capital Region Engaged Scholar Teacher (CREST) Fellowship was formed to build regional leadership in community engaged teaching and scholarship through networking, professional development and mentorship.
Fellows from Capital Region colleges met monthly to discuss how to add experiential learning and community engagement to their courses and committed to redesigning a course for the Spring 2020 semester with additional support through bi-weekly webinars and weekly check-ins among course-redesigning mini-teams.
Highlights of the fellowship included:
- Access to national and regional syllabi, project descriptions, mini-presentations.
- Interaction and collaboration with community partners throughout the process.
- Regional mentors to aid in partnership development, problem shooting, preparing for pitfalls, etc.
- Cross-institution fellow matching based on common pedagogical and/or issue area interest.
- Course-design stipends and access to mini-grants to support logistical implementation.
2019/2020 CREST Fellows
The 2019/2020 fellows from UAlbany were Dr. Wonhyung Lee and PhD Candidate Griffin Lacy, who both faced the additional challenge of teaching during a pandemic. Learn more about their courses below.
Dr. Lee has long been a supporter of experiential learning, but in Spring 2020 she was forced to rethink her usual methods to translate the experience to a virtual setting. RSSW 794 was a class of 8 Masters in Social Work students, the final project of which worked with the new S.T.E.A.M. Garden in Albany. As the Garden converts the formerly vacant St. Patrick’s Catholic School into a co-working space and an incubator for businesses, it is also reshaping not only the physical space but also its role in the community. The students in RSSW 794 partnered with the S.T.E.A.M. Garden for three of its goals: (1) researching existing social entrepreneurship curricula, (2) developing outreach materials to local business owners, and (3) outreaching to those businesses to assess their needs and wants around what the Garden can offer.
The first team identified several points to consider for developing the future social entrepreneurship curriculum, such as the relative appeal between a team-based approach and an individual approach, a healthy balance between knowledge and practice, and any financial sponsorship options for future clients. The second team developed an electronic version of the S.T.E.A.M. Garden brochure for marketing. With the shift to remote learning halfway through the course due to COVID-19, the third team pivoted their focus from all businesses to restaurants to see who was open and providing take out/curbside pick-ups and what resources they needed to keep their business viable during the shutdown. From these phone surveys, they identified several resources that can be helpful for businesses to succeed during the pandemic. For example, the students found many small/immigrant-owned businesses did not have websites through which the public often find information during the pandemic. The ability to sell and utilize gift cards was another resource many small businesses did not currently have in place and were uncertain how to enact. These findings were presented to the S.T.E.A.M. Garden and were added to SupportsmAlbany.com as resources for local businesses.
Students from each group presented their findings over Zoom in short presentations. Compared to the other experiential learning presentations before COVID-19, the Zoom version was much shorter and felt even unfair to the efforts that the students put into the project. Dr. Lee noted that it will be a continuing challenge to find a format to celebrate the last day of virtual class in both a meaningful and effective way. Through the unexpected twists and turns that she encountered, Dr. Lee said that the CREST was there to help and guide: CREST fellows not only inspired her to redesign the course but also provided rich discussion on new ideas and tools to adjust after the shutdown. With the right support in hand, experiential learning is still doable and will continue regardless of the changing environment.
Through the CREST Fellowship, faculty were provided the support to redesign an existing course to incorporate experiential learning. Due to the shift to remote learning halfway through the semester because of COVID-19, further modifications had to be made, which are not reflected in the below documents.
Thanks to the multi-university, interdisciplinary networking opportunities afforded through CREST, instructor Griffin Lacy M.S., in collaboration with co-instructor and Educational Director of the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center, Dr. Scott Kellogg, was able to redesign their 8-week experiential learning course on “Social Sustainability and Environmental Justice” that became remote due to the COVID-19 school closings in Spring 2020. Together with Scott, they combined the course redesign with their previous two iterations of their collaborative 6-credit UAlbany summer experiential learning program “Ecosystem Justice and Research with Youth in Urban Environments,” originated by UAlbany Professor, Dr. Joanna Dreby in 2018, to create a reimagined in-person summer experiential learning program entitled “Pandemic Resilience and Climate Justice.” The new course design focused on the current global environmental and public health crisis, involving students from around the region to address local issues associated with COVID-19 and food insecurity. Accepted students were awarded an AmeriCorp Fellowship through Siena College’s ACE program, which provided a stipend and educational award. Fellows used this to offset the tuition costs of the 6-credit course while working as a service-learner for 35-hours a week at the Radix Center.
The Radix Center, a non-profit organization located in Albany’s South End, has been working for a decade to address issues of food insecurity and social inequity, which have been further exacerbated by effects of the global pandemic. Each morning of the program, fellows worked with the Radix Center staff on urban farm chores and in the community gardens. In the afternoons, fellows met outside, socially distanced and masked, to discuss relevant student-led readings followed by group research and project development. Students worked together to create a collaborative participatory action research design, on topics of environmental racism, community garden access, food and housing security, and neighborhood leadership. They also coordinated with local food pantries, with the goals of having a lasting impact on the food desert of the South End, as well as increasing Albany’s pandemic resilience overall. The last two weeks of the program involved students working with over a dozen Albany High School students who participated in Albany’s Summer Youth Employment Program.
Focused projects by participant-researcher teams included an IRB participatory action research (PAR) design protocol submitted to the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Science, with Principal Investigator, Dr. Stacy Pettigrew (Executive Director of the Radix Center), on food insecurity in food deserts during a pandemic, as well as the development of a guide for safe in-person enriching class experiences during a pandemic. The projects were presented in a public Zoom research conference and a Twitter research summit.
The contrast of the fully remote spring class versus the in-person summer course highlighted to Griffin how much being physically in the same space added to the student experience, even with social distancing and other safety precautions. Students reported that the daily group discussion was among their favorite aspects of the program, along with youth mentorship, and were proud to be able to fulfill their socio-emotional need for action and change during a time of crisis by tackling environmental racism as well as the pandemic on a local level. The summer class laid a framework for safe outdoor instruction during the pandemic, employing socially distanced setups for discussion, handwashing, mandatory masks at all times, and a separate space for eating. In the second half of the program, students were divided into “pods” of smaller groups of people, teaming up with the Summer Youth Employment high school mentees, while continuing social distancing and mask protocol to reduce exposure.
Without the networking opportunities of the CREST fellowship, and the visibility of Scott and Griffin’s course, which was identified by Dr. Ruth Kassel from CREST as a potential AmeriCorps site, Griffin believes their in-person experiential learning summer course would likely not have happened--a loss to the students, the Radix Center, and the Albany community, particularly in the South End. The cross-institutional connections built through the program allowed for recruitment of students from area colleges including Siena, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Skidmore, Dickinson, Tufts, Russell Sage, Clarkson, and more, as well as UAlbany. By involving students in the selection of readings for the syllabus and outdoor classroom procedures, as well as all aspects of designing their community-based PAR projects, students were given ownership over their learning experience and were able to implement applied social science research and see it take shape in the real world.
Given the outdoor nature of the program, students in ASOC 299/399 were among the first to experience in-person classes during COVID-19, adding an additional element to be addressed in the syllabus. Alternative research presentation methods, including a Twitter Summit, were utilized and can be found at the link below.