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Newton students join with community to explore local issues
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Georgia State University’s Newton Campus has a history of community engagement. In a past project, students helped to record information from a local cemetery. Kaleb McDaniel, left, chalks the oldest grave in a Newton cemetery as Keisha Robertson records the information on a cemetery recording form. (Photo by Bill Roa)

COVINGTON, Ga.— Students at Georgia State University’s Newton Campus will delve deeper this fall into issues and needs affecting Newton County communities in regard to health, poverty, civic engagement, lost history and juvenile justice.

The campus-based community engagement initiatives join college students with county nonprofits and schools to assist the organizations in meeting their individual goals while also meeting the students’ coursework requirements. The project is supported through the campus dean’s office and Perimeter College’s office of Academic Community Engagement, with assistance from the Newton County Community Partnerships/Family Connection.

Some work already has been done through a pilot project in assistant professor Mary Beth Davison’s summer Anatomy and Physiology class on the Newton campus.

On Aug. 22, at 10 a.m., in the Newton Campus auditorium, six teams of students from professor Davison’s class will present their summer research from the pilot project. The student teams worked with the Gwinnett/ Newton/Rockdale County Health Department, Project AWARE, the Newton County Schools mental wellness program and Atlanta Habitat for Humanity.

As part of their work with the health department, students collected data for the Community Health Improvement Plan. With Project AWARE, they developed a program for Newton County teachers about self-care mindfulness and mental wellness. Joining the students for the presentation will be some of the community partners to discuss how the partnerships were set up, as well as plans for the fall.

“We are recognizing that this is being put together as a two-step process,” said Mollie Melvin, project coordinator with the Newton County Community Partnerships, who helped coordinate Davison’s project. “There are deep learning opportunities … . Our intent is to show (other nonprofits and instructors) how flexible and impactful these projects can be,” she said.

Other class community engagement projects this fall are:

Barbara Robertson’s Honors American Government class, which will promote voter awareness and voting in the community through voter registration drives and information tables as part of the college’s Constitution Week activities Sept. 17-20. Robertson is an assistant professor of political science on the Newton Campus.

Karen Wheel-Carter’s Social Science & the American Crime Problem course, which will focus on mass incarceration and the impact on juveniles. Students will work with the local juvenile justice system to increase awareness of the problem and opportunities for reform. Wheel-Carter is a professor of criminal justice and associate dean on Dunwoody Campus.

Hosanna Fletcher’s sociology course, which will work with the Newton County Housing Authority, tutoring children there and helping with grant research and administration for the authority. Fletcher is an instructor of sociology.

Rob Alderson’s Honors history course, which offers students the opportunity to explore the work of former Newton County resident Dinah Watts Pace, who formed the first African American orphanage in the county. Students will do research in the community about Pace and the racial and societal makeup of the period. Alderson is a history professor.

Jane Hercules’ Public Speaking course, which will conduct research on local poverty, health and senior citizen issues within the community. The students will interview residents and key nonprofit leaders about these issues and will present their findings in November. Students in the second semester will take the data collected and develop related educational materials for the community. Hercules is an assistant professor of communication, and the Newton Campus associate chair of the English, Arts and Humanities department.

The community-based research projects, will continue through the 2018-19 academic year and beyond. They build upon a history at the campus that has partnered student, faculty and staff with the local community, said Dr. Laurent Ditmann, Newton Campus associate dean.

“At the time the campus opened in 2007, the college reached out to communities in a variety of ways,” Ditmann said. “We had a robust series of service-learning projects that connected classroom learning to community needs. We are excited to once again have new opportunities to work with members of the community to connect student learning and real-world needs.”

For information about community partnerships, contact Mary Elizabeth Tyler Boucebci, ACE community-based learning coordinator, at 678-891-3174.