Photo by Regina Bynum

Benjamin Franklin wrote that the end of all learning was “an inclination joined with an ability to serve mankind, one’s country, friends, and family.”

These values, according to President and founding Director of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships Ira Harkavy, are illustrated through the work of Academically Based Community Service courses. 

ABCS courses allow students and faculty to partner with West Philadelphia schools and community organizations. During the 2016-17 academic year, 70 ABCS courses were offered across eight schools and 31 departments, by 63 faculty and staff members.

“The activity of ABCS courses exemplifies what the founder of this University said was the purpose of a university,” Harkavy said. 

Last Friday, students and faculty came together for the 14th annual ABCS summit to emphasize the importance of integrating learning and public service. 

The afternoon began with a showcase of ABCS courses led by students and staff. Individuals from different courses explained their research and reflected on their experiences.

Professor Fariha Khan, the associate director of the Asian American Studies program, talked about an ABCS course she teaches called “Asian American Communities.” 

Each week, the class discusses factors that have helped develop a specific Asian-American community. Leaders from these communities then speak to the class about their work and organizations. Every student in the class is required to do a community-based project with one of these organizations.

“It’s really a course where you’re not sitting in the classroom talking just about those people,” Khan said. “You’re actually seeing what they’re doing, what their lives are like, and what their work is like on a day to day basis.” 

A student in the class, College senior Caroline Kim, discussed her work with the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs.

Kim said the work “has really been about government being responsible and reflective of the diversity of our growing country, and especially with Pennsylvania itself." 

Her experience involved organizing and attending town hall meetings across the state for various groups. This included a meeting for the Indonesian community in Philadelphia.

The summit also featured a five-student panel moderated by ABCS Coordinator Jenny Bae. Throughout the discussion, students explained how these classes affected their academic and career interests.

Panelist and College senior Leopold Spohngellert talked about how his involvement with ABCS courses and the Netter Center has allowed him to expand creative writing in low-income schools. 

“I have really spurred interest in using creativity and storytelling to get students excited and generate literacy education through those avenues,” he said. Spohngellert, who plans to join Teach For America after graduation, said he hopes he can continue to inspire students through the medium of storytelling.

College senior Cory Johnson’s work reflects how the impact of an ABCS course goes far beyond one semester. 

One of Johnson’s courses last fall involved volunteering at a preschool. Though the course ended, Johnson’s work with the school has continued.

“This work has led me to write my capstone about early childhood education and the importance of it, and I have now been recently hired to continue in that field,” Johnson said.

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