Katherine R. Rowell - Passion Statement

Outstanding Community Colleges Professor of the Year National Winner
Katherine R. Rowell
Professor of Sociology
Sinclair Community College

In reflecting over my 15 years as an undergraduate educator, I believe my key contribution has been exploring and developing ways to reconstruct learning experiences outside of the college classroom. This "experiential-based learning" builds on the philosophy of John Dewey, an influential educator who advocated learning-by-doing rather than dogmatic instruction.

Service learning is one teaching method that I embraced early in my career. Since 1996, I have required students in my Social Problems course to volunteer with me at various homeless shelters in the Dayton, Ohio, area. I also take my students on a one-day "lobbying" trip to Columbus, Ohio, where they meet with state legislators. These experiences, along with classroom discussions, help reinforce the importance of civic engagement. It also gives these community college students, who often feel disenfranchised and powerless to affect change in their communities, a sense of empowerment, knowing that they can make a difference when they get involved.

The success of this type of education is clear. Many of my students say they plan to remain involved in community issues. During the summer, numerous former students join me in volunteering at shelters. In the past three years alone, more than 10 of my former students have gone on to become community activists. The majority of students say the opportunity to work together outside of the classroom was the most valuable learning experience of their lives.

Another effective experiential-based strategy is cultural/sociological field experiences. Many community college students have limited cultural capital-usually because they don't have the time or money to visit museums or other learning institutions. To help address this challenge, all of my classes include a visit to a local cultural event or attraction. For example, in my Cultural Diversity course, students visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, while students in my Comparing Cultures course visit the SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park in Dayton and learn about indigenous populations.

Finally, for the past two years, I have led students, many of whom have never been outside of the United States, on a three-day intensive visit to Nogales, Mexico, as part of my Global Poverty course. The trip gives students an opportunity to learn what it would be like to live in a developing country. The program is such a success we have a long waiting list of students for next year.

This type of learning can't take place in a classroom. Experiential-based learning is a very powerful pedagogy, and I have witnessed firsthand the differences it has made in the lives of my students, especially those who work full time and have family obligations.

I have learned that experiential-based learning is as powerful for the teacher as it is for the student and that the best teaching is when I learn as much as, or sometimes more than, my students. Each time I serve meals at a shelter with my students or visit a museum with them, I walk away with a greater understanding of the world we live in. In the end, I have come to understand that teaching is more about learning than it is about teaching.

In the words of Dewey, "Experiences, in order to be educative, must lead out into an expanding world... This condition is satisfied only as the educator views teaching and learning as a continuous process of reconstruction of experience."