The mission of the American Studies Program is “to bridge CCCU campuses and Washington, D.C. through intensive professional and academic engagement with leading institutions, professionals, and the local peoples and cultures of the nation’s capital in ways that challenge students to connect biblical faith with public life and vocation.” Seeking to give students a holistic and experiential education during the fifteen weeks that they are in D.C., ASP advances engagement with “the local peoples and cultures of the nation’s capital” through its Neighborhood Engagement program.
Washington, D.C. is a diverse and multi-faceted city, and the purpose of the neighborhood engagement component is to ensure that each ASP student gains a comparable amount of exposure to the people and cultures of both federal Washington and the neighborhoods of D.C. As part of the Leadership and Vocation course, students engage their new community in D.C. through “Bus Days” and volunteer work with social service organizations; they are also encouraged to visit multiple churches in the area throughout the semester. The shared objective is to hold as many conversations as possible with residents of different neighborhoods. The shared goal is to learn more about the different ways in which power and poverty reside side-by-side in this city and what this means for our understanding of leadership and vocation. ASP staff provides an orientation to Neighborhood Engagement during the first week of the semester. Through news articles and features on real D.C. residents, students learn about the issues and challenges facing the city.
Spring 2014 student David Jung tutors at Little Lights Urban Ministries.
Work with social service organizations promotes neighborhood engagement from yet another perspective. ASP requires each student to volunteer at least 24 hours during the semester with a D.C. organization that provides social services to city residents. During the first two weeks of the course, the ASP staff schedules the work times for the students, thereby providing an introduction to a few of our trusted service partners and ensuring that the students receive an orientation to each institution. After the first two weeks, each student is responsible for scheduling his or her own volunteer hours for the rest of the semester. In recent semesters, ASP has encouraged students’ involvement with a tutoring/mentoring ministry focused on under-served youth and families in D.C. and several organizations serving Capitol Hill’s elderly citizens who still live in their homes. Students are also allowed to seek volunteer opportunities with other organizations, as approved by the faculty. As part of the 24-hour requirement, students attend at least one Advisory Neighborhood Committee ward meeting in order to learn more about the local government of D.C.
“Bus Days” are organized city excursions whereby students (in groups of four to six as pictured at the top of this page) discover the less explored features and history of different D.C. neighborhoods. Our core emphasis is on personal interactions with people living or working in these neighborhoods. As the name suggests, the predominant way of getting around the city is by bus. There are three Bus Days each semester, occurring at the beginning, middle, and end of the term. Each Bus Day is less structured by the staff than the one before, giving students more freedom to explore as they grow more confident and experienced in navigating their way around the city.
Spring 2012 students help an elderly neighbor.
Students are encouraged to reflect on their experiences and to incorporate them into the lessons that they learn from class assignments, track work, internships, and mentorships. Both the Initial Project and the Final Project (papers written during the first two weeks of the semester and the last two weeks, respectively) require the integration of stories from students’ neighborhood experiences. The Initial Project, in particular, asks students to write about the different faces of power and poverty in the city, including a personal interview with a local leader, and how these city experiences and personal interactions shape their plans and goals to use the city to further their leadership development this semester.
ASP recognizes the limitations of students’ ability to serve people and meet needs in the brief time that they have in the city, especially given their other work and academic commitments. In fifteen weeks, the students’ role is small—but significant. Our trusted partners welcome our assistance, as they are often understaffed and facing great need. In this sense, we “help.” That said, we avoid the posture of one coming to D.C. to fix D.C., as so many people do. Rather, we require students to explore and volunteer because we have many things to learn about leadership and vocation from our neighbors, these organizations, their leaders and staff, and especially the people they serve. Our hope is that students learn to value good leadership in organizations of all sizes and to recognize our responsibility as Christians to be involved in our communities and to seek the welfare of the cities in which God has placed us.