Place, Space, and Service: Connecting a ‘Senior Seminar’ Capstone Course to the Community

Authors: Gary Schnakenberg*, Michigan State University
Topics: Geography Education
Keywords: Undergraduate education, service learning, community
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: 8223, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


At large universities and many colleges in the United States, students commonly live in settings that may be in the community where their institution is located, but not necessarily of it. Across the country, ‘Collegetown’ neighborhoods, ‘student slums,’ and clear ‘town/gown’ borders abound, leaving many students with attenuated and temporary connections to the lives of the area’s full-time, year-round residents. Such circumstances amply illustrate Gruenewald and Smith’s (2014) assertion that “[the] process of formal education in schools and universities is often totally isolated from the immediate context of community life” (xiv); this runs counter to a focus of geography as helping to understand places and place. This paper discusses a pilot attempt to provide service- and community-based learning in a ‘capstone’ Senior Seminar course in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences at Michigan State University. In this course, students work in teams to address issues of concern to citizens and local government through the application of geographical techniques and knowledge, and share results with relevant local entities. The aim is to provide real-life experiences that students can use to leverage the still not-well-understood discipline of geography, and ‘give something back’ to the community that has hosted them for several years. Reactions and experiences from both students enrolled in the course and community members contextualized within Place-Based Education (PBE) theory will extend understanding and applications of PBE beyond its current K-12 emphasis.

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