Getting Potomac Fever: Increasing Civic Engagement Through Experiential Learning Communities
26 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2010
Date Written: February 7, 2010
Drawing upon the literature on experiential learning, learning communities, and the scholarship of civic engagement, this paper assesses the outcomes of the Washington D.C. Summer Study Program developed by the College of St Benedict and St. John’s University. We are especially interested in examining the extent to which students who undertake this two month, eight credit internship learning community experience engage with politics and political life. Do students learn more about the US political system, its operation and opportunities? Are they more enthusiastic about public policy and politics? Do they increase their level of trust in government or their feelings of efficacy? In addition to these questions, we examine what the students’ experiences mean for them in terms of the integration of past and future course material, and how students use these experiences to examine their career goals, to develop their own career path, and to learn to live and work independently and responsibly in an urban setting. Data gathered from a survey of the program’s interns is compared with an initial survey of 200 students who have not yet undertaken internships either inside or outside a learning community model, as well as data from interviews with students, site supervisors, and faculty, and student archival data from the three decades old program. The study demonstrates that while there are numerous tradeoffs and costs, internships embedded within a learning community create unique benefits not available to the more isolated individual internship model.
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