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Steans is staying on top of distance learning

Steans Center spring project
This spring, associate professor of history and Catholic studies Karen Scott and her class conducted a service learning project focused on the global Vincentian response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In collaboration with the Steans Center, students in the class researched for then developed and publicly-shared a webinar detailing how Vincentians around the world are helping those affected by the coronavirus pandemic. (Image courtesy of Karen Scott)
​​​​As DePaul continues to explore distance learning, the Steans Center is working tirelessly to continue sustaining community engagement and service learning opportunities.

​A large aspect of the Steans Centers' mission is providing community-based service-learning opportunities for students. The center seeks to integrate meaningful community engagement with academic learning and purposeful civic learning. Working in a virtual classroom environment this spring quarter has posed significant struggles, as this work includes 60 courses per quarter involving more than 1,000 students. How do they continue to engage students, faculty and staff with communities and organizations outside of DePaul during this time of social distancing?

“We were slammed during the first two weeks before the term started," says Howard Rosing, executive director of the Steans Center. "We were trying to figure out what to do with all of these courses we had already set up for spring and new internships that were supposed to start."

He commended his staff for their ability to adjust to these unforeseen circumstances, mentioning their incredible adaptability to continue serving students and their community partners.

"Like many, our staff is working remotely but also thinking through what it means to do community engagement, curriculum and internships central to DePaul's mission," said Rosing. "How do we s​till help make DePaul 'DePaul,' even in this kind of situation."

In a typical quarter, the Steans Center coordinate with 70-80 community partners, enabling DePaul students to support existing services such as after-school and language exchange programs. Most of these opportunities have diminished this spring as staff, students and community members stay home, following social distancing requirements.

However, the Steans Center looked for ways to adapt. Center staff have created new online community engagement modules which faculty have incorporated into their coursework. Though it cannot perfectly replace direct service-learning, it is one way the Steans Center staff is making sure they continue to provide exceptional services to students and the community.

Julia Cary, a senior women's and gender studies major and Community Service Scholar, has modeled this adaptive approach to sustain her community engagement project. She gives much of the credit to her community partner site. 

“I have been able to continue doing this work in this time social distancing because the work the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression does," she says. "COVID 19 or not, the work is done collectively and collaboratively. The Chicago Alliance leadership intentionally ensured the work is spread out and continues to be a collaborative process, even while we are virtual."

The Steans Center staff remains committed to this type of collaboration and sustained engagement. 

​“Given our institution's deep commitment to mission, what is most challenging isat a time when many community partners can really benefit the most from our, we are sheltered-in-place," Rosing says. “Finding ways to remain engaged and supportive is critical. This will be our primary goal in the months ahead."