18 Agassiz Circle
Buffalo, NY 14214
1880 S. Winton Rd.
Rochester, NY 14618
Medaille College presented a unique way of experiencing the city of Buffalo to its class of first-year students in fall 2009. Working in groups called learning communities, first-year students extended their learning beyond the classroom with projects that explored the history, ecology, technology, and urban landscape of Buffalo.
Through collaboration with local government and community-based organizations, over 300 freshmen and several dozen faculty created projects that were then presented to the campus community in an exhibition, the Community 101 Fair. For the first time, the entire incoming class of first-year students at Medaille were placed into cohorts called learning communities, each of which had a team of faculty and staff as instructors, and guides for their projects.
“As students connect to the story and the institutions of Buffalo, their creative energies and talents, as well as those of their teachers, are brought to bear on important local issues,” explains Brad Hollingshead, Ph.D., associate dean for foundational learning and assessment. “Indeed, the first-year learning communities—with our unique twist of using them to integrate academic and civic learning—not only help students persist and succeed academically; they also lay a foundation for the kinds of collaborative, interdisciplinary work that our students will need to be able to do once they graduate.”
Faculty are pleased to see how students engage with their subject matter. “One of the major purposes of the learning communities is to offer students an opportunity to interact with the Western New York community,” says Alan Bigelow, Ph.D., professor of humanities. “In my classes, students are writing a series of research papers on topics including Attica prison, Love Canal, Wegmans, the Zebra mussel problem in Lake Erie, the Buffalo Zoo, the Mayoral race, and the Science Museum. They are venturing out into the community, a community which some of them were born in, and others are seeing for the first time.
“Everybody has a story: History, Genealogy and Narrative.” Students explored the history, values and diversity of Buffalo by interviewing senior citizens at the Northwest Buffalo Community Center. Students recorded seniors’ stories and made videos which will be archived and given to the participants.
“American Landscapes.” This group of students imagined what Buffalo would look like if landscapes were designed to be less “McDonaldized” and more geared toward environmental stability.
“Roots and Routes.” Students investigated how our culture obtains its food, analyzing industrial food sources and local, grassroots efforts by the Growing Green Program, which is sponsored by the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP). This non-profit organization on Buffalo’s west side benefited from a fundraiser, initiative by students, to raise money to create a scholarship for a MAP intern.
“Life is a River.” Working with the Niagara/Buffalo Riverkeepers, students learned about what government and local organizations have done to restore the Buffalo River, and researched the long-term consequences of Buffalo’s industrial heritage. They brought this knowledge back to campus, and conducted a college-wide survey on conservation, and hope to increase awareness of the harmful effects of some everyday household items to the environment.
The instructors were knowledgeable and welcomed class discussions, with
respect for each student's contribution. I've learned how to be a more
effective leader. My capstone class gave insight on how to combine all
the education learned to operate a business. That's when I realized how
much I had sharpened my knowledge.