Monday, August 4, 2014

The Chuck Green Fellowship: Education outside the classroom

For the past seven months, I've been fortunate to take part in the Chuck Green Fellowship. The fellowship, an offering of the Political Science Department, is probably one of the most interesting opportunities Macalester offers. It has certainly been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my Macalester career.

The Chuck Green Fellowship is named for a now-retired political science professor who has long believed in the importance of students working in communities and with nonprofit organizations to create social change. After he retired, a group of his former students endowed this fellowship to ensure that his teachings and philosophy would live on.

Only 12 students a year are selected for this fellowship, which ensures that a close-knit community is formed as we go about our work. The fellowship consists of two parts: a spring-term class in which we learn about organizational social change and a summer work component in which we apply the knowledge to a project at a Twin Cities nonprofit.

The class was nothing like none other I've taken at Macalester. It was small: just the 12 of us plus a faculty facilitator. Throughout the semester, we learned about different theories and methods of enacting social change, and how to apply them to nonprofit organizations. Plenty of guests came to offer their wisdom, including Macalester President Brian Rosenberg and even Chuck Green himself.

We students were given an incredible amount of control over the direction of the class. At the beginning of the semester half the syllabus was blank, allowing us to propose our own assignments and topics and work them into the syllabus. This freedom resulted in some incredibly engaging classes and thought-provoking conversations, many of which were led entirely by our fellow students.

Each of us had to connect with a nonprofit organization that worked in an area we were interested in, an organization we would then work for over the summer. We all received assistance from the the Internship Office and Career Development Center in finding these organizations, as well as help and advice from political science professor and Chuck Green fellowship facilitator Julie Dolan. Many of the skills we learned in the process, such as professional networking and developing contacts, will be useful later as we look for jobs.

After finding an organization to partner with, we began developing an action plan outlining the scope of our summer work. Then for ten weeks, we worked full time at our partner organizations. Each of us received a generous stipend to cover our living expenses, and we had the option of living in free campus housing.

I worked at a nonprofit called Transit for Livable Communities (TLC), an organization that advocates for improved public transit systems, bike trails, and other sustainable development in Minnesota. I worked mostly on the Move Minnesota campaign, which is pushing for increased transportation funding from the state legislature. I helped develop their summer field plan, coordinated volunteers, staffed events, and researched various topics for the campaign. TLC was the perfect fit for me, since I’m a geography major interested in urban studies and transportation. Through this experience I learned how nonprofits and organizers work to change public policy, and how many layers of politics and bureaucracy must be impacted to create meaningful change.

Once a week, all 12 fellows gathered for dinner with Professor Dolan to discuss our projects and give one another support and advice. Perhaps the most valuable component of the fellowship was learning from each other. Our group members had a wide variety of academic backgrounds, interests, and projects, which made for a rich experience when we shared our perspectives. Other projects this summer included human rights education in schools, Latina economic empowerment, food accessibility and security, and refugee resettlement. Hearing about everyone else's projects and why they were passionate about them was eye-opening.

At the end of our 10 weeks of work, we gathered for a banquet at the Alumni House with our organizational partners, giving us a chance to thank them for this wonderful opportunity, and to gather together as a cohort one last time.

I was drawn to Macalester largely because of its urban location. Over the past two years I've fallen in love with the Twin Cities and become aware of how the metro area is a kind of classroom. The courses that have forced me to leave campus and explore the Twin Cities have been my most rewarding ones, and have taught me the most about how to become an engaged community member. The Chuck Green Fellowship reinforced this.

Two of Macalester’s core values are academic excellence and civic engagement. The Chuck Green Fellowship perfectly meshed those two values, and that experience will definitely shape the rest of my time at Macalester.

- Joe Klein ’16