Two educators honored for engagement projects that involve students, serve Kansas communities
Monday, May 12, 2014
MANHATTAN — Kansas State University is recognizing two faculty members for developing student-driven projects that use service learning to benefit Kansas communities.
R. Todd Gabbard, associate professor, director of graduate programs and associate department head of architecture in the College of Architecture, Planning & Design, and Laura Kanost, associate professor of modern languages in the College of Arts and Sciences, recently received Kansas State University Excellence in Engagement awards. The awards, established in 2012 by the provost's office, highlight K-State Research and Extension members' and campus faculty members' excellence in engaged scholarship via research, teaching and/or outreach.
The Excellence in Engagement Award includes a plaque and a $2,500 stipend that can be used at the faculty member's discretion. The provost's office funds the awards.
Gabbard and Kanost were selected among a pool of applicants by a review committee of both on- and off-campus engagement stakeholders.
"We thought Laura's and Todd's projects were particularly strong in addressing the elements of engagement," said David Procter, director and professor in the Center for Engagement and Community Development. "For example, there was a very clear and strong partnership between campus and communities. Both projects addressed a very important need and involved students in very interesting and powerful ways."
In 2012, Gabbard began Small Town Studio as a way to engage and collaborate with rural communities in Kansas through student-generated design and visualization services. Small, rural towns are generally underserved by architects, planners and designers — professions that are significant to a community's visualization. The project creates an excellent opportunity for the college's fifth-year students, Gabbard said.
"The students' engagement in the background work necessary to make an architectural project viable, such as communicating with clients and stakeholders, building community consensus and addressing project implementations, will be of tremendous help as they move toward the professional world," he said.
Small Town Studio has provided services to the Kansas communities of Blue Rapids, Colby, Cuba, Jamestown, Pittsburg and Eureka, which has been the most prominent partnership. More than a dozen projects have been completed or are ongoing with Eureka. The town also has set up the Eureka Studio, which will pursue student-generated projects at the end of the semester and be a source of jobs for Kansas State University graduates.
Kanost launched the project "Language and Culture with Community: Conversation, Bilingual Leadership and Translation through Service Learning" in 2007. It has grown to revolve around three Spanish courses she teaches that incorporate service learning as a means to enhance education and build students' confidence in their Spanish skills. The program is the first of its kind at the university.
The courses Spanish Conversation and Introduction to Spanish Translation involve students conducting a service learning project in local communities, such as mentoring an English as a second language student or translating documents for the Crisis Center. The Spanish in Action Connecting Across Topics — or CAT — Community has first-year students put their language and leadership skills to practice by conducting service work in both Manhattan and Costa Rica.
"When working as a graduate teaching assistant, I learned that many students only used their Spanish skills inside the classroom," Kanost said. "This really held them back from progressing in the language. By integrating a service learning component, it gets them out of the conventional classroom and into a community where they can use their Spanish to accomplish a goal in the context of a relationship. I've seen a measured increase in students' confidence about their Spanish skills and an increase in their motivation."
According to Procter, the number of applicants for the Excellence in Engagement Award has increased yearly since it was first introduced. He said this highlights the campus community's desire to conduct meaningful engagement-related projects that benefit Kansas residents and underscores the university's proud history as a land-grant university.
"We're very fortunate to have the provost's office making it possible to recognize some of the excellent engagement work through teaching and research that's going on at K-State," Procter said. "I think Kansas State University does tremendously well in engagement-related work compared to many of our counterparts. We have a long history of working with communities, agencies and individuals as a land-grant university, and it's nice to be able to honor that."