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Neighborhoods and Cities: An ACE Course

A review of Fátima's Academic Civic Engagement course this winter term.

A review of Fátima's Academic Civic Engagement course this winter term.

Over two years ago, during my first term at Carleton, I enthusiastically wrote about the prospect of taking my first Academic Civic Engagement class. ACE courses are designed with an approach to community-based learning and are sponsored by the Center for Civic and Community Engagement. They come in two formats: theoretical and applied, and since writing that original blog I have taken several courses in both varieties. Here’s a review of some of them.

Academic Civic Engagement: Applied

The vast majority of ACE courses offered each year are applied, which generally means that the civic engagement project is a central component of the class and there is direct involvement with a community partner or with the community at large.

My first-ever applied ACE course, though I didn’t know it at the time, was my Argument & Inquiry seminar, for which we were required to attend several live theater performances in Northfield and the Twin Cities. Other applied ACEs I have taken include Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy and Neighborhoods and Cities (which I talk about below), but my favorite by far has got to be Educational Psychology.

A group of kids run outside a small school building.
The 4th and 5th graders I’ve grown to love running around during an outdoor lesson!

For EdPsych, each student was partnered with a local K-12 teacher and asked us to shadow them for a few hours a week and report back on how our experiences connected to the concepts and theories we were learning about in class. I was lucky to be paired with a 4th and 5th grade teacher at Prairie Creek Community School who made my time there incredibly enjoyable and informative. So much so that I still visit her classroom once a week even after finishing the course, a field trip that continues to be one of the highlights of my week.

Academic Civic Engagement: Theoretical

In contrast to applied ACE courses, theoretical ones focus on (you guessed it!) theoretical exploration of social justice, positionality, and other similar issues and how students might engage in work toward positive social change. Because the ACE component is less visible, it can sometimes be hard to even realize you are taking a theoretical ACE course. For instance, I have taken (at least) two theoretical ACE courses: Multicultural Education and I’m a Stranger Here Myself, but I did not learn that these were ACE courses until researching for this very blog!

Masked students forming a line in front of the camera.
My I’m a Stranger Here Myself class after our end-of-the-term symposium.

SOAN 214: Neighborhoods and Cities

This term, I took my most recent ACE course; an elective in the Sociology/Anthropology department called Neighborhoods and Cities. What attracted me to this course was precisely the fact that it advertised itself as an applied ACE course that would be researching affordable housing and manufactured homes.

We were interested in learning about a proposed manufactured housing co-operative community that, if approved, would be built in Northfield and offer more affordable housing opportunities for local residents. To do so, the class split into four research groups, each of which delved into an issue or concept relevant to the proposed co-op project. In addition to a couple of guest speakers who told us about the project itself and about Rice County’s housing crisis more generally, each group interviewed several stakeholders, from real estate developers to contractors and city council members. We also attended a community hearing event to hear from and talk to residents about their opinions on the proposed housing project.

Finally, we put together all our research and presented our key findings to the Northfield Housing and Redevelopment Authority during a 2-hour meeting that also welcomed many community members. We hope that our research will help shed some light on the potential advantages and challenges of building a manufactured housing co-op in town and amplify the voices of those who could most benefit from such a project.

Viewed from the side, a student stands in the podium at the City Council. Three of his classmates stand behind.
My classmates confidently presenting to the HRA board! (See the blog’s cover photo for a snapshot of my team’s turn).

As a junior, Fátima (she/her) is excited to continue her pursuit of a SOAN major and (hopefully!) Educational Studies, Latin American Studies, and Cross-cultural Studies minors. Outside class, she enjoys her leadership roles with Fellowship in Christ and the Undergraduate Journal for Humanistic Studies. In her free time, Fátima likes spending time with her mentee, poorly playing the piano, watching cartoons, and desperately missing her dog, Cosmo. Meet the other bloggers!