Niketa Brar: From classroom to community

Face it GW, it’s the year of change. Get on board, or get off the track.

After a few decades characterized by emerging skylines, rising populations and expanding boundaries, this campus has fallen into a rut.

In a competitive college market, standing alone with a sky-high price-tag in a downward sloping economy is not a good place to find yourself. GW requires a redraft of our image. But what does it take for an expensive school with a uniform of suits and BlackBerries to craft a new name for itself?

Service.

GW is seen as an avenue for students to pursue an education while still exploring their career ambitions through internships and work opportunities. But integrating our campus and curriculum into the community requires something extra.

Multiple schools that have built a strong reputation for leadership use service to shape that image. Just last month, Columbia University expressed an interest in expanding the community service requirement in its engineering department to all majors and interests. Tulane University integrates its 40-hour per-semester internship requirement into its classrooms by making use of the skills taught in each classroom out in the community. For example, foreign language students might find themselves in local clinics, translating between doctors and patients.

For a campus that raises and educates students with a strong interest in working in government, doesn’t it make sense to encourage those students to get involved in the communities their politics may one day affect? Political science majors aside, all students can benefit from working with the community they will go on to serve as engineers, doctors and corporate business executives.

Though the per-semester service requirements offered by Tulane may be too taxing on a student facing a particularly difficult set of classes or life challenges, a flexible service requirement would be more fitting. This would allow the student to choose a summer, weekends or a few semesters to complete the requirement at a place or multiple places of the student’s choosing. The service requirement would focus on getting them outside the mundane tasks of copying and filing, and into the world of public service.

Beyond giving students the opportunity to find an education in unexpected places, getting involved with a community probably unlike the one they grew up in gives students the opportunity to identify with people who may appear to be much different than themselves.

The psychology major working at a food kitchen may see herself understanding post-traumatic stress disorder better through a conversation with a Vietnam vet. The pre-med student could start seeing the needs in healthcare while working in a clinic. Aspiring policy analysts could begin identifying their interest areas while spending time in the poorest sectors of society.

The supplement to a student’s education from seeing the ideas they are taught in the classroom in the real world would be priceless. The diversification of student experiences would serve to fulfill one of the basic tenets of a college education. And the community would benefit beyond measure.

Perhaps we’ll finally prove to our Foggy Bottom neighbors that we are not drunken vandals who pee in their yards. Perhaps we’ll finally prove to ourselves that the GW on our diploma stands for much more than just a certified degree – it symbolizes a unique and fulfilling education.

The writer, a senior majoring in international affairs and political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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