In addition to being an assistant professor at the Center of Learning Innovation, I am University of Minnesota Rochester’s (UMR) Civic Engagement Scholar. I embody the role of a nepantlera (Anzaldúa, 1987), a bridge crosser and guide, to facilitate and nurture connections between UMR and the Rochester community. In this dual role, I tap into my academic training and expertise in community-based participation and action research to assist UMR faculty, staff, and senior leadership to foster sustainable, mutually beneficial partnerships and initiatives. Inhabiting this state of nepantla keeps me quite busy. Some days I find myself consulting with other UMR faculty as they develop new Community Engaged Learning (CEL) courses or restructuring current courses to incorporate service-learning activities. Other days, I am teaming up with researchers, inside and outside of UMR, conducting community-based research projects. I often find myself working closely with Jenny Casper, UMR’s Director of Community Engagement and Career Development, collaborating on new community-focused learning opportunities for our students.
Since UMR is “committ[ed] to empower students to be engaged citizens and collaborate with the local community to solve healthcare challenges” (UMR’s Public Engagement Action Plan, 2015), my role as an educator is to coordinate and teach CLI 2522–Community Collaborative (CoLab). CoLab is an upper-level Community Engaged Learning (CEL) course at UMR that connects students, faculty, and community partners to develop projects that improve health outcomes (individual, social, community) in the Rochester community.
CoLab invites students to cross borders and engage on an educational journey shaped by critical community engagement. As an ethos and practice, critical community engagement is not just the logic and practice of working towards an ideal of community change. Instead, to engage critically means to work alongside individuals and groups to understand, map out, and target unjust conditions that have disallowed communities from sustaining healthy and just futures.
CoLab introduces students to sets of knowledge, vocabularies, and methods and connects them to community-engaged and community-led opportunities that will help them develop practices as health science professionals that are consciously connected to the lifeworlds of the communities they serve. A pedagogical goal in Colab, conscious connection helps students gain an awareness of how social issues manifest as health problems and introduces them to ways they can be accountable and intentional in their ongoing commitment to challenge structural, disciplinary, symbolic, and affective forms of oppression and dispossession.