CommUniverCity SJSU Selected as a 2019 Outstanding Leader in Experiential Education

SJSU students and faculty surveyed residents about mobility in the city at Viva CalleSJ.

SJSU students and faculty surveyed residents about mobility in the city at Viva CalleSJ.

CommUniverCity SJSU has been selected by the National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE) to receive the 2019 Outstanding Leader in Experiential Education: Community-Based Organization award. The program will be recognized at NSEE’s annual conference Sept. 24th in St. Pete Beach, Florida.

“It’s so gratifying for CommUniverCity SJSU to be recognized at the national level for the rich hands-on learning opportunities we provide more than 1,600 undergraduate and graduate students every year,” said Katherine Cushing, executive director of CommUniverCity SJSU and professor of Environmental Studies. “Every day, we strive to show our students how they can apply what they are learning in class to ‘move the needle’ on important social issues that matter to our neighbors.”

Cushing traveled to Florida to receive the award at the conference.

The program brings together city representatives, community partners and residents as well as SJSU faculty, students and staff to provide engaging service-learning opportunities for students to connect and contribute to the local community surrounding SJSU. Last year the program oversaw 42 experiential learning projects and is celebrating its 15th anniversary this fall. CommUniverCity SJSU focuses its work in three main areas: Engage, which focuses on improving community health, Learn, which promotes a college-going culture and Build, which enhances neighborhood infrastructure.

One such “learn” project is Engineering in Action, led by Michael Oye, a project supervisor and associate director of CommUniverCity SJSU.

SJSU students work on lesson plans for the Engineering in Action project.

SJSU students work on lesson plans for the Engineering in Action project.

“The Engineering in Action project allows our SJSU students to gain a valuable experiential education opportunity by explaining technical subject matter to non-technical people, a practice that many of our students will have to master in their careers wherever they work,” said Oye, who is also a lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering in the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering. “At the same time, students gain a broader perspective of the engineering profession in society, and children from the community have a chance to interact with role models.”

An example of an ongoing “engage” project is Growing Sustainability, where SJSU students focus on engaging school-aged children with hands-on activities designed to teach the importance of healthy living and environmental stewardship. The program includes garden education during school hours, an after school garden club and gardening workshops.

“I have always been passionate about environmental education and outdoor opportunities for underserved populations, but managing the Growing Sustainably program has opened my eyes to the impacts of hands-on experiential education on attitude and behavior change among participants, as well as the importance of place-based education,” said Alexandra Dahl, a graduate student in environmental studies and project coordinator of Growing Sustainability. “SJSU undergraduate student interns teaching the garden and cooking workshops are able to take what they learn in their college courses and apply them in real-world settings.”

One of the key tenets of the CommUniverCity SJSU is that projects are based on community-identified needs in the city. This is especially true for “build” projects. This year, SJSU students in sociology, political science and urban planning administered more than 1,500 mobility surveys to participants at Viva CalleSJ, an open streets event attracting more than 100,000 residents. The students analyzed the data and presented findings to City of San Jose staff members.

NSEE recognized CommUniverCity SJSU for its leadership in implementing education projects designed to meet community needs, engagement with the City of San Jose and local civic organizations to develop economic opportunities in underserved communities, as well as its advocacy for experiential education projects for students from diverse backgrounds.

By the Numbers (2004-2019):

115,556 residents engaged

21,130 SJSU students participated in projects

394,382 volunteer hours

$8.38 million (estimated value to the community)