Young people today seeking a college education are faced with many tough choices, not the least of which is how to finance that education. If a higher education is to remain accessible and affordable, then today’s students need to become stronger, smarter and more effective citizens, notes Dr. Jill Schennum, professor of sociology at County College of Morris (CCM).
Selected by The Aspen Institute as a 2014 Wye Fellow, Schennum of Hope is looking forward to sharing ideas with faculty members from across the country on how to incorporate democratic thinking and citizenship into a liberal arts education. As a fellow, Schennum will be taking part in the Wye Seminar on Citizenship in the American and Global Economy in Maryland this summer. The seminar brings together college and university professors from diverse disciplines to share their ideas on how to relate teaching to the broad issues of citizenship in American society and beyond.
Co-chair of both the Bridging Cultures Initiative and Diversity Committee at CCM, fulfilling the historic goal of a liberal arts education to prepare citizens who can lead and serve society is of critical importance to Schennum. In 2012, CCM was selected as the only college in New Jersey to take part in the Bridging Cultures Initiative. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the initiative’s goal is to better incorporate diversity, civic engagement and democratic thinking into teaching and learning.
“In the liberal arts, we’re teaching students to think critically and responsibly, and what it means to be a citizen, and what it means to act on critical thinking,” says Schennum.
As part of the Bridging Cultures project, Schennum revised the curriculum for her Cultural Geography course to include concrete actions people have taken to address societal issues. Included among the students who were inspired by that course was a young woman who became involved in working on behalf of undocumented students. Once she graduated, that student then came back to talk to Schennum’s class about how she was able to take what she learned and put it into action.
“We need to show students how they can gain a voice in the democratic system and effect change,” says Schennum. “There are enormous issues facing society today, including the fact that so many students are suffering under the burden of student loans. They need to know how they can become a part of ensuring that a higher education is affordable rather than becoming a stratified system.”