The Center for Community Partnerships (CCP) is the heart and soul of Penn’s commitment to civic engagement. It is also the arms and legs. Led by Director Ira Harkavy and an extraordinarily dedicated staff, the center has galvanized faculty, staff and students in a decade-long effort to reach out to Penn’s West Philadelphia neighbors and heal the town/gown rift that for too long divided “us” from “them.”
For its 10th anniversary celebration, the center organized an international conference titled “Universities, Schools and Communities: Partners for Effective Education, Community Building and Democracy,” on April 7 and 8. For two days, educators and activists filled the meeting rooms in Houston Hall with panels, speeches and discussions.
In her greetings to conference attendees, President Judith Rodin said, “In the past 10 years, the center has accomplished much, helping to transform Penn and the lives of our faculty, of our students and neighbors. We have seen faculty and students from diverse fields and disciplines focus their teaching and research on helping to solve real-world problems with our local schools and communities.”
The center has pioneered the idea of academically-based community service (ABCS). Penn faculty, staff and students have joined together with local educators and community members in more than 130 programs at 33 different West Philadelphia schools. There are approximately 125 ABCS courses at Penn, with about 40 offered in any academic year and nearly 700 students participating. Penn’s leadership in this area was recognized when it received the top ranking in service learning in U.S. News and World Report.
Faculty and students work with local public school teachers to develop for-credit opportunities that give Penn students hands-on, real world, problem-solving experience in West Philadelphia schools while making a real difference in the community.
Among the outstanding contributions are a fresh fruit and vegetable stand that helps students learn about nutrition, developed by Professor of Anthropology Emeritus Frank Johnston at Drew Elementary School, and an ongoing lead awareness and testing program organized by Professor of Earth and Environmental Science Robert Giegengack at Shaw Middle School.
From the beginning, there has always been a strong interest in replicating the Penn experience. Universities from around the world have used Penn as a model for their own efforts to unite university and community and encourage students to understand and embrace social responsibility.
At the conference’s International Panel on Higher Education, Civic Responsibility and Democracy, panelists provided a global perspective on the growing recognition that preparing students to contribute to a democratic society and participate in the conversation that underpins it is a mainstream educational activity.
Sir David Watson, vice-chancellor of the University of Brighton in England, spoke of civic engagement as a core value for universities. Panelists from England, South Africa and Australia each spoke about new government directives that have added service to the community to services to business and the economy as university mandates.
In South Korea, the concept of service learning a just beginning to be introduced. Moon Yong-Lin from Seoul National University explained that in his country students, not academics, are the leading advocates of democratization, and that it is professors and administrators who need to get in touch with ordinary people.
In explaining his 24-hour, several-stop-over journey to get to Philadelphia for the conference, Jo Lazarus of the South African government’s Joint Education Trust explained “It is hard to say no to Ira. He is an inspiration for us.”
Originally published on April 17, 2003