‘Programs and Ideas Come to Life Through People’: A Conversation With the People of the Spencer Center
The following is a continuation of the conversation with faculty and staff of the Samuel R. Jr. and Ava Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement, originally published in the October 2, 2007 issue ofThe Cupolaat Mary Baldwin College:
Cupola:Many colleges and universities have centers for community service and for international programs and travel. At MBC, it was a conscious decision to combine those two efforts in a single office. Why is that significant?
Ward:Both efforts are driven by the same impulse to get students out into the world, and that could be next door or that could be across the planet. I love the way [Dean] Edward Scott says, ‘We need to raise the roof over their heads.’
Owen:We’ve all seen the bumper sticker: ‘Think globally, act locally.’ There are many people here who do that and try to act in terms of their own lives here and also have a perspective that goes beyond nation-state boundaries. There are decisions you make, there are ways you phrase things that recognize cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity in global terms.
Ward:It helps to see how your own community is part of the globe. Important global issues are not just “over there and far away.” Many of your actions, many of your choices really do have a global impact.
Owen:I don’t think our approach is completely unique, but it is our conscious emphasis to say: ‘It is possible to experience another culture, it is possible to go beyond your nation-state boundaries, not just in the context of economics and business, not just being a voyeur of another culture and staying at a distance from it, but from a context of pitching in and helping. There are opportunities to feel and see and experience a culture from within.
Ward:I want to get back to this idea of not just going somewhere to take something away, fill up your own brain, to consume, visually and literally. I would really like to encourage students who come to the Spencer Center to think about what they can give the world that they travel in.
Dorries:Ideally, all travel abroad for students would include one-third education, one-third fun, and one-third service.
Ward:There is also a three-part rule of service learning, which includes background or theoretical learning, the experience, and reflection.
Owen:The distinction that makes a credit-bearing activity at Mary Baldwin is the element of formal, critical reflection. That can take place in discussion, in a presentation, in writing. We should be able to provide students with the conceptual tools they need to encounter those experiences, those people, those institutions and think through it in new and different ways.
Cupola:Why do you hope MBC can gain local and national recognition for its global and civic engagement?
Ward:We want to attract the kinds of students to the college who want to do those things, which makes it important to get the word out.
Shepherd:It’s important that the community know that we are doing everything we can to get our students out into the community and also to make the college welcoming to community members. They may not see that there are students volunteering at nursing homes, or at a day care center, but it is going on.
Dorries:Heather and Julie are going to be at countless community gatherings and meetings telling people that students, faculty, and staff are out in the community, we are expanding on our historic past.
Heather:Everyone knows the Miller Center at UVA., and having that kind of name association goes a long way.
Owen:I was very pleased, personally, to see it named in honor of Sam and Ava Spencer. They have given so much and they are so well respected. To me, he represents such an important part of this college and many people recognize his skill and wisdom as an academic leader of this college. The fact that the Center is named in their honor is a good indication of the kind of reputation the Center already has.
Ward:All programs are open to the public, and that brings people to the campus. This is a resource for the community, and people are welcome to come and be part of it.
The following are responses from Andrea Cornett Scott, associate vice president for enrollment and faculty fellow at the Spencer Center
Cupola:Why are global and civic engagement critical pieces of a today’s educational experience?
Cornett-Scott:One of the greatest lessons I learned during my college experience was what it meant to be a valuable part of a community. No matter what subject I was trying to grasp, I always realized that it was all a bit anemic unless the subject was viewed through the lens of being in relationship with the world. It is more than applying knowledge in a practical way; it is really about making a contribution to the world, leaving a place better than when you found it. I cannot imagine my life if I had not been given the opportunity to travel and meet people from different places, to explore cultural differences or various world views. I cannot imagine my educational experience if I had never been engaged in service learning or had the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes.
One day I was in the doctor’s office waiting to see a new doctor about a critical medical issue. While I sat there, I read and re-read the degrees on the wall. Somewhere in the midst of surgery talk and treatment talk, the doctor spoke to me about his work as a missionary in Africa. The more he spoke about the people, and the customs, and the rituals, the more at ease I became. The fact that he was the kind of man who was concerned about serving people moved me to trust that he cared about me. We talked about our shared cross cultural experiences. Our lives connected and he took my hand in his and he prayed for me.
When I going under anesthesia, I needed to be reassured that I would be alright. I thought back to that office visit, the day when I was fixated on the gilded degrees that hung on the wall. What I remembered most about his training had very little to do with the degrees on the wall. The thing that I focused on most was that he was a man whose education was rooted in making his community a little better than he found it.
Cupola:What do you hope a student experiences when she/he walks into the Center?
Cornett-Scott:I hope they realize that no person is an island. I hope they hear an old African griot whisper, “I am because we are and since we are therefore I am complete.” I hope they feel inspired to go out and tell their friends why it is important to be engaged with a world in new and exciting ways.
Cupola:What are the three most important things students need to know about the Center and the people associated with it?
Cornett-Scott:Everyone’s experience will be different and equally rich. Narrative is everything. The people associated with the center want to help students become their best selves.
Join the MBC family, community leaders, and the Spencers at the dedication of the Center October 11 at 4:30 p.m.