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

Authors: Gary Schnakenberg*, Michigan State University
Topics: Geography Education, Careers and professional development, Higher Education
Keywords: Place-based learning, undergraduate education, capstone courses
Session Type: Poster
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


At typical colleges and universities in the United States, students 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 defined ‘town/gown’ borders abound, leaving many students with attenuated connections to the lives of the area’s full-time, year-round residents and issues they and their communities face. 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 poster follows up on last year’s discussion of a pilot attempt to embed service- and community-based learning in a ‘capstone’ Senior Seminar course in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences at Michigan State University, which involves student teams working to bring geographical knowledge and techniques to issues of concern to citizens and local officials, and share results with relevant entities. The dual aims are to 1) provide real-life experiences for students, and 2) ‘give something back’ to the community that has hosted them for several years. The poster will feature results of follow-up interviews with participating students and officials, showing the extent to which the activity expands students’ geography learning and forges useful community connections. These reactions and experiences, contextualized within Place-Based Education (PBE) theory, will extend understanding and applications of PBE beyond its current K-12 emphasis.

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