Rhodes Students Learn New Definition of “Street Smart”

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Publication Date: 12/17/2008

Critics of higher education have complained in recent years that institutions pay inadequate attention to measuring the effectiveness of their teaching methods or, in other words, to determining how much their students learn. This is, perhaps, particularly true of “experiential” learning programs that are increasingly popular on campuses across the country.

Rhodes College has recently received a $280,000 grant from The Teagle Foundation to join forces with Niagara University in New York and Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania to develop methods to assess community-based learning programs and use the assessment data to improve the programming. All three institutions are highly regarded for their work in strengthening their communities while providing learning opportunities for their students.

An important objective and constant theme at the college is to synergize classroom experiences through solving real-world problems. Close involvement in the history and current life of Memphis adds a unique dimension to the academic experience at Rhodes. According to Dr. Russell Wigginton, a historian and Vice President for College Relations, “Because of our location, we have a unique opportunity to take something perceived as a negative (racial strife in Memphis) and turn it into something positive, creating an educational experience for our students and many others. In creating these programs, we are not trying to oversimplify race relations. Instead, we hope to articulate historical issues and encourage dialogue on how the civil rights era influenced Memphis, and how it continues to impact the citizens of our city.”

At Rhodes, the significance of the Civil Rights era and its influence on society today is an important part of life. It intersects student experiences through the Crossroads to Freedom digital archive project; the Memphis World photo collection; excavation of the Ames Plantation; and restoration of Zion Cemetery, the city’s oldest African American burial ground.  Through the college’s collaboration with the Stax Museum and the Mike Curb Institute, it also helps preserve the distinct musical traditions of the South and the impact of music on its culture, history and economy.

“We believe that a national peer group and clearinghouse for the assessment of civic engagement and its connection to learning outcomes is increasingly vital as institutional and external pressures for accountability increase,” according to Dr. Suzanne Bonefas, Director of Special Projects at Rhodes.

Based in New York City, The Teagle Foundation provides leadership for liberal education, marshalling the intellectual and financial resources necessary to ensure that today′s students have access to challenging, wide-ranging, and enriching college educations.