What does it mean to be from a place? How does our hometown shape who we are? In HONR 299: Homegrown, students utilize creative writing, ethnographic fieldwork, archival research, and service-learning to explore the role of place in individual and community identities. Course projects focus on City-as-Text (CaT) walkabouts in the Greater Lafayette Area, as well as creative non-fiction assignments that allow students to reflect on their own experience with place and community. Students also help run a creative writing workshop through a local after-school program and produce an anthology including each participant’s best work. In this way, they support the local community by helping area youth develop their imaginations, their writing skills, and their own sense of community.
The course was developed and run with the support of two grants: the Honors Engaged Learning in Practice (HELP) Grant provided by Indiana Campus Compact, and a Service Learning Faculty Grant provided by the Center for Instructional Excellence at Purdue University.
The course culminated in the creation of an anthology of the children’s writing, a wonderful reading at the Bauer Center, and some amazing final projects. The service and scholarly work conducted by my students was extremely impressive, and I was elated that it received external attention. Four of the eleven final projects – an extensive, multi-method research project in the form of creative non-fiction — will be published with a feature in the upcoming issue of Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research. Their service work was also featured by the Purdue University Honors College on two occasions: “Honors College students inspire Lafayette youth through storytelling” and “Honors College class brings community-minded literacy activities to Bauer Family Resources.”
While the external recognition was indeed heartening, I was most encouraged by students’ feedback during and after the course. In the Purdue University evaluations, completed by 64% of enrolled students, the course averaged a 4.4 and the instructor a 5 on a 5-point Likert scale of excellence. All students who completed the evaluation strongly agreed that the assignments were related to the goals of the course, that the course encouraged critical thinking, and that the instruction encouraged questions and the expression of ideas.
In the written feedback, students emphasized the variety of learning contexts as having a positive impact, particularly the CaT walkabouts and the service experience at Bauer Community Center:
- “I very much enjoyed the different ways in which we analyzed the significance of home and related it to the city of Lafayette. We engaged these topics through discussion of readings, CaT walkabouts, interactive classroom activities, and community service at Bauer. Analyzing the key perspectives of a certain place was much more fulfilling when using a variety of methods to do so.”
- “For me, the greatest thing about this course was how much variety it offered us. It was amazing that we got such an in-depth experience in so many different areas; literature, writing, oral communication, service-learning.”
- “I also really really loved going to Bauer, and I hope that I can find similar opportunities in the future. The writing workshop was so enlightening and working with the kids was a great experience.”
- “I loved the Bauer community experience.”
The final comment synthesizes much of the above, while also reflecting my hopes for what this course could become:
- “Dr. Watkins does a great job at creating an inviting and engaging learning environment. He excels at getting students to communicate with one another and is wonderful at facilitating discussion. The way he designs and chooses assignments is obviously in our best interest, and each and every one connects and builds to help us in the creation of our final project. The opportunities that he gave us in this class were honestly unbelievable, and I think that this class is the epitome of what the Honors College represents. He truly emphasized interdisciplinary learning, a concern for others and our community, and self-discovery and improvement. He made the class challenging to the point where it helped us learn and think more creatively and critically, but not to the point where we dreaded it or became too stressed about it. He really made this class a great experience.”