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CoAS Reaches Out to Philadelphia Schools

By Maia Livengood

October 2, 2010 — Most Drexel students are aware that establishing ties to the Philadelphia community is a mutually gainful relationship, essential to the success of both. And many of us at Drexel feel a very real affection for the city, too. As an extension of that awareness and attachment, the Drexel Writing Center (DWC) and the Drexel Chapter of the Society for Physics Students (DUSPS), have devoted time, energy, and resources to student-centered initiatives in the Philadelphia School District.

The DWC recently partnered with the Philadelphia School District, the Mayor’s Office of Education, PhillyGoes2College, Parks and Recreation, and Temple University to participate in the SLAM (Summer Learning and More) Dunk Senior Project initiative. The trial program ensured the graduation of 37 Philadelphia high school seniors in the summer of 2010.

The SLAM program was specifically geared towards seniors who, for any particular reason, were three credits shy of graduation. It was, in essence, the last “push” for those on the cusp. Students were expected to participate in a service-learning project, culminating in a final writing assignment.

The beautification of the Cobbs Creek watershed was selected as the service component of the project, and students were asked to write a three- to five-page, mindful reflection about their experience with the initiative, and more broadly, about themselves.

Students kept a journal during their time at the watershed, and were encouraged to reflect on their “story,” and who they would like to hear it. They would pause several times a day to do these reflections, so that at the end of their service engagement, they had pieces of authentic and timely material. The smaller entries included prompts, developed by CoAS professors Drs. Karen Nulton and Rebecca Ingalls, such as: What do you hope to gain from today’s experience? What concerns do you have? What impresses you about your group? What challenges you? How does this specific project today feel similar to what school was like in the past? How does today’s school experience feel new to you? These entries constituted the bulk of the content in the students’ final paper.

To provide further support, Nulton and Ingalls offered the DWC as a resource for the students. Online contact with peer readers was made available to those who requested help throughout the process.

“Never [has] someone shown so much interest in [me],” said one participant. “I am really grateful for this educational opportunity.”

Ingalls, who has worked as a literacy tutor in the past, commented that the experience was equally rewarding for those who volunteered to help: “A more relevant, authentic education is more meaningful; it keeps students and faculty grounded...and it’s humbling work—there’s a lot to be learned from the people that you’re mentoring; you aren’t just dispensing, you’re receiving knowledge as well.”

To continue their enrichment work, the DWC, along with Drexel’s Office of Civic Engagement, has shaped a new program with four local universities. Each will partner with a Philadelphia high school to further support literacy development.

Drs. Ingalis and Nulton
Drs. Ingalis and Nulton

The SLAM Dunk project was prompted by a suggestion made by Eli Goldblatt, a professor of Temple University, at the annual WPA conference (Council of Writing Program Administrators). There was apparent interest in the program; many, including Ingalls, agreed on the importance of aiding high school juniors and seniors with the college application process, and in particular, with daunting admissions essays.

With the help and coordination of future Americorps employees, a network will soon be established for qualified students (peer readers) to meet one-on-one with local high school students to help them brainstorm, write, and edit a reflective essay.

But the English department is hardly the only group on campus reaching out. The Drexel Chapter of the Society of Physics Students (DUSPS) began their own community engagement program in 2008, establishing an increasingly positive partnership between the student organization and Independence Charter School in Center City. Since that time, DUSPS members have met with seventh and eighth graders on a bi-weekly basis, presenting physics demonstrations on topics ranging from energy and magnetism to astrophysics. In March, the young students will begin preparing for the ICS Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, for which they will be given a specific task, such as getting a ball into a cup using “Mouse Trap”-like systems (which are designed in incorporate applied physics). The competition will be held at Drexel in Behrakis Grand Hall in late May, and serves the dual purposes of engendering excitement and interest in the field from an early age, as well as introducing the Independence students to a university setting.

SPS Volunteers
SPS Volunteers

"[It has been] really cool introducing [the students] to things that they’ve never had the opportunity to see before, getting them excited and interested in these topics, and having them ask questions,” said Wendy Harris, DUSPS Director of Outreach and a pre-junior in Drexel’s physics program. “When they present their final projects, it’s definitely a strong sense of accomplishment for both us and the kids.”

DUSPS has been integral to the annual Kaczmarczik Lecture, too. Members lead high school student groups on tours of the physics department, and later present a variety of interactional demonstrations, again hoping to instill an appreciation for physics and awareness of the possibilities for future study.

Last spring, the DUSPS used funding from the Marsh W. White Award (which they received for the fourth consecutive year) to present "Hollywood Physics: An Outreach Event,” at Abington Friends High School. The event explores the use of “good” and “bad” physics in blockbuster films, such as Spiderman, as a basis for discussion. This year, the group plans to host the Hollywood event at Drexel, opening the presentation to students of all majors.

SPS Rube Goldberg Competition
“It’s fun to answer questions that the media often brings up, explaining why it works [or doesn’t work] in a physics context,” said former DUSPS President Amanda White.

Through these outreach efforts with Philadelphia schools, Drexel will further establish a sense of connectedness and community, continuing to weave itself into the fabric of integral city resources—both as a knowledge-base to tap, and as a means of facilitating hands-on learning for its own students.


For more information about the DWC, please visit http://drexel.edu/engphil/drexelWritingCenter/peerReaders.asp. For more information about DUSPS, please visit http://www.physics.drexel.edu/students/organizations/sps/?page=about


Maia Livingood '12 is a Business Administration major with concentrations in Finance and Economics, as well as an English minor. Working for the College of Arts and Sciences, she has developed a strong interest in publication management and hopes to build upon the experience throughout her professional career.

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