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BTtoP Case Study: Kingsborough Community College
The Brooklyn Public Scholars (BPS) Project
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, and the Kingsborough Community College campus, located
in Brooklyn, New York, was dramatically impacted, disrupting classes and the lives of students, faculty,
staff, and members of the surrounding community. The campus at once became a disaster area but
also a sanctuary for nearby residents in trouble. Some students and faculty disappeared, and others
became homeless. As the college community literally picked up the pieces from this disaster,
administrators and faculty knew they were forever changed and thought differently about their
teaching and their students. “Who really are the students we teach, and what resiliency enabled them
to carry on?” they asked themselves. “How can we teach differently to tap the strengths of our
students and the community around us?”
Centering on the experiences of students who not only survived Sandy, but also on their everyday lives
in times of deepening structural disparities, the BPS Project places emphasis upon recognizing and
valuing the knowledge that working class, immigrant, students of color bring with them to college, as a
starting point for understanding the ways that they are already highly engaged in civic life.
Caitlin Cahill and Michelle Fine, co-PIs of the BPS, both at the Public Science Project, Graduate Center,
CUNY, developed a proposal in consultation with faculty and administrators at Kingsborough
Community College. Cahill’s unique position as a faculty member at both institutions supported the
partnership. Associate Provost Reza Fakhari was a key member facilitating the project for KCC.
Cahill has a background in community development and urban studies and teaches urban geography
and politics. She is a founding member of the Public Science Project at the Graduate Center of the City
University of New York in Manhattan, which encourages participatory action projects and research. In
2011, she helped launch the Charles and Stella Guttman Community College in Manhattan. That
experience convinced her that faculty development could be used to strengthen community colleges.
When she learned about the Bringing Theory to Practice (BTtoP) demonstration site grants, she
realized Kingsborough would be a good place to launch a new project to rejuvenate the faculty. The
CUNY Graduate Center (with the assistance of Distinguished Professor Michelle Fine) and Kingsborough
Community College formed a partnership and with BTtoP funding created the Brooklyn Public Scholars
A Call for Civic Engagement
Kingsborough Community College is located on a 71-acre campus that rests on a peninsula at the
southern tip of Brooklyn, a spit of land that juts into the water and is surrounded by Sheepshead Bay,
Jamaica Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean. The community college was founded in 1963 for the residents in
the area. It offers credit classes for approximately 18,000 students, non-credit courses in the liberal
arts, and career education for students with high school diplomas or GEDs. Fifty-eight percent of the
students enroll full-time and pay $1,575 in tuition. Forty-two percent of students are part-time; per
credit tuition ranges from $120 to $250. Seventy-five percent of students receive financial aid.
The student population represents 140 different countries and speaks 70 languages. Fifty-six percent of
the students are female, 87 percent are 29 years old or younger, 27 percent are younger than twenty,
and 48 percent are U.S. born. Matthew Goldstein, former chancellor of CUNY, once proudly noted that
60 percent of Kingsborough students transfer to four-year colleges; this rate is far greater than the
national average of 26 percent.
Partly in response to a national call for a greater engagement in learning among college students,
Kingsborough began rethinking its mission in 2008 to explore ways that students could become more
engaged through different kinds of educational experiences and service learning opportunities.
Administrators, including then President Regina Peruggi, became interested in creating more
opportunities for civic engagement for students and saw the need
for a civic engagement requirement. Faculty wanted to know
what this would look like and how they would be supported.
When faculty tried to do
The Brooklyn Public Scholars Project Mission
this work, they mostly
did it on their own… A collaborative partnership between the Public Science Project
They were not unified. (Graduate Center, CUNY) and Kingsborough Community College,
The Brooklyn’s Public Scholars (BPS) project builds the capacity of They had no faculty
CUNY’s Kingsborough Community College to engage with the
critical issues facing our students and working-class urban
this, no course releases,
immigrant communities, through “civically engaged” pedagogy
no recognition. We and public scholarship.
began thinking about
The BPS supports community-based teaching and engaged how to do this work in a
scholarship to expand opportunities for studying critical urban way that could be
issues. Cultivating new opportunities for ‘studying abroad in your
transformative for the
own backyard,’ the project focuses on teaching and research
campus. projects that engage with Brooklyn’s richly diverse communities.
The project builds upon faculty members’ own research projects
and interests to develop strategic partnerships with community
organizations for engaged scholarship.
When beginning the project, Cahill first looked at what Kingsborough was already doing. She
completed a study on service learning programs at Kingsborough and interviewed faculty to see what
support they would need to address service learning in a substantive way. She found that when faculty
tried to do this work, they mostly did it on their own. “They were not unified,” she said. “They had no
faculty development around this, no course releases, no recognition. We began thinking about how to
do this work in a way that could be transformative for the campus.”
According to Fine, the new BTtoP initiative was “organized around a faculty seminar and a substantial
group of courses in which civic engagement was deeply embedded in the coursework. We involved the
faculty in sharing critical pedagogies and thinking about how to connect the college to the larger
community. In particular, because Kingsborough has working class students, students of color, and
immigrant students, we were really interested in understanding how the gifts those students bring to
the university could be appreciated and cultivated in the classroom. It was a slight turn on civic
engagement, which often means that wealthy white children from a college move into a community to
help. Here, it was about building authentic reciprocal relationships between community and university
facilitated by resources that immigrant and working class students were bringing to the classroom and
Kingsborough put out a call “to an interdisciplinary group of faculty who would be interested in
cultivating classrooms in which civic engagement was at the
intellectual and ethical core of the class,” added Fine. Sixteen
Kingsborough faculty members expressed an interest. Jason VanOra,
In community an assistant professor of psychology, was one. “The BTtoP project at
Kingsborough started with Caitlin Cahill,” he said. “I remember being colleges, faculty are
in a meeting when she talked about this opportunity to be in a thought of as
community of scholars that would do civic engagement in their teachers, not scholars.
classes and also study its impact on students, on learning, and on
Their own scholarship
other educational outcomes such as persistence and engagement. I
is marginalized. Partly said, ‘Sign me up.’ I wanted to see if I could civically engage the
students in my Introduction to Psychology class.” what we wanted to do
was to think about
The Brooklyn Public Scholars project (BPS) was born and additional how scholarship could
faculty from sociology, education, biology, tourism and hospitality, occur in their classes.
psychology, and English were involved. BPS began in the fall of 2012
If they teach nine
as a two-year campus program to show what “community-based
engagement, public scholarship, and experiential education might classes per year, they
look like,” Cahill noted. “One of the first things we did was talk to often don’t have time
faculty members to set up a structure for a seminar that would be at for their own
the heart of the project.” scholarship.
That meant establishing a day for a seminar and obtaining course
releases and stipends for the participating faculty. The scholars were
given a choice of 1 course credit release per semester or $1,000.
“We wanted to explore what public scholarship means,” Cahill further explained. “We planned a two-
year program so faculty would think of themselves as public scholars and created a faculty
development seminar to model a process that we hoped faculty could then bring to their own
classrooms. We wanted an intellectually creative space in which faculty could have meaningful
conversations about what public scholarship meant to them, what were their concerns, and what did
they think the concerns of the students in their classrooms would be. We wanted them to think about
the opportunities and barriers to this work. We wanted them to think of themselves as scholars, which
is different from other schools,” she added. “In community colleges, faculty are thought of as teachers,
not scholars. Their own scholarship is marginalized. Partly what we wanted to do was to think about
how scholarship could occur in their classes. If they teach nine classes per year, they often don’t have
time for their own scholarship.”
Debra Schultz, an assistant professor of history, started out as one of the faculty participants and then
became director of the project. She said that the goal was “to work with faculty to do a couple of
things. One was to support individual faculty members in thinking through what it would mean to
include civic engagement as a graduation requirement starting with incoming freshmen in the fall of
2014. At the same time, the Brooklyn Public Scholars program wanted to give community college
faculty an opportunity to reflect on what they were doing as a form of public scholarship even while
working on practical questions such as how to write about it as a discipline and the larger questions of
what public scholarship means.”
To Schultz, public scholarship meant “knowledge creation in the
service of the public in general, in the service of communities Faculty seminars were
that touch the lives of students, in the service of Kingsborough as
the thrust of the project,
a community. I am personally interested in having a conversation
being able to struggle and about the history of race in the United States as a civil rights
historian. One half of our students are foreign born and try things, talk to
represent 140 nationalities, so the student body is racially and colleagues about what
ethnically diverse. But whether or not they were born here, their worked and what didn’t
knowledge of history and race in this country, including slavery, is
work…about the ways
very spotted. Yet because we are embedded in a community in
the traditional model of which there is gentrification and racial profiling, issues that have
historical and contemporary ramifications, we are attempting to service learning would
figure out ways to talk about them.” not work without
adaptation for our
The Thrust of the Project students because many
of them work full-time
BPS faculty participants met approximately once per month for
and go to school full-two years to find ways to promote community-based teaching
and scholarship. They discussed the theory and practice of time.
engaging in civic research. They looked at how to transform
courses in various disciplines and surveyed students about their
concerns and commitments. They also identified organizations
that could become community partners.
During that first semester, the faculty also identified the classes they would use and created proposals
for what they wanted to do. “For many of them, this was the first time they had done this kind of
work,” said Cahill. Cahill met with faculty one-on-one to help them create their proposals. To find
community partners, some faculty members connected with the Kingsborough service learning
coordinator, who many did not know existed. Still others explored different teaching strategies to
discover more about their students and how that could inform their teaching.
In the second semester, faculty were asked to implement their proposals in some way and to try some
sort of public scholarship intervention in their classrooms. Meanwhile, Kingsborough adopted a new
civic engagement requirement that became effective in the fall of 2014. Many of the BPS participants
implemented their ideas with this in mind, documented what they were doing, asked questions, tried
something new, and revised their courses. “The faculty seminars were the thrust of the project,” said
Schultz, “being able to struggle and try things, talk to colleagues about what worked and what didn’t
work, and have a process to refine a course over two years.”
The meetings often opened with the faculty answering questions about scholarship. What does civic
education mean? What is the most rewarding thing we are finding? What is the most challenging? How
can I connect to my own research? How can I understand ESL better? What are my students learning
challenges? Through questions such as these, they discussed various kinds of civic engagement
activities. “For me personally,” added Schultz, “it was talking about the dilemmas we faced and the
ways the traditional model of service learning would not work without adaptation for our students
because many of them work full-time and go to school full-time. We talked about different ways of
Another dilemma was the wide range of skills among students in one class. Some faculty addressed this
by organizing group work, pairing students, or creating mentoring relationships so that stronger
students could with weaker ones to foster a community of learners.
During the second year of the project, the faculty integrated community-based activities into their
courses. “A couple of faculty members posited the campus as community,” said Schultz, “and asked
what kind of experiential learning would the students find on campus.” Kingsborough has an urban
farm, for example. After Hurricane Sandy, Schultz took her class around campus to help clean up after
The BPS Classes
Approximately 30 classes were sponsored as BPS classes. Once the BPS project was underway, some
students interviewed community members on a variety of topics, including gentrification. Another
class looked for local heroes and then created markers in the community, for example, for the first day
care center, the person who organized against drugs, or the grandmother who got a speed bump put
on a street to slow down trucks.
There was a course on multicultural counseling and how different communities mourn, grieve, and deal
with trauma and depression. In another class, students visited a local farmer’s market in Brooklyn and
conducted cooking demonstrations. Others completed research on some of the people in the
community regarding issues such as health and cultural background.
Jason VanOra conducted his BPS project with George F. Hill, an academic advisor and case manager in
the Opening Doors Learning Communities, a program for first-semester, first-year students. VanOra
and Hill decided to link their courses: VanOra’s Introduction to Psychology and Hill’s first-year seminar
on the exploration of community and what it means for students to be a part of one. They designed
joint projects for which students received credit in both courses. The first joint assignment was a
collage; students worked in groups of four and discussed questions such as the following: What do you
think community means? What does it mean to be part of a community?
“We wanted them to start to think about what their responsibilities are to a community,” said Hill,
“why is it important, and what the community does for you. Students had varied responses. Some took
it to mean the neighborhoods they lived in, so one group talked about pictures of their neighborhoods.
Another group thought about the community on campus, travelled around campus, and found
resources. The goal in my classes is to connect the students to resources on campus to make them
more successful in college,” said Hill.
Students visited the urban farm located on campus, for example, to learn about food justice and why
the farm was created. Students then researched and wrote about other resources on campus, such as
the men’s resource center, women’s resources, and organizations that are part of student life, in the
hope of inspiring students to get involved in campus groups or experiences.
Students also interviewed other students who were identified as community activists. They read about
race and class, IQ testing, stereotypes, and the achievement gap. Students were asked to draw upon
psychological concepts in their writings about community and in their creation of the collage and how
psychology could be a vehicle for social change. “The students then wrote legacies,” VanOra said, “and
talked about what they learned about student engagement in a community beyond their individual
friends and families, a community that includes the college but goes beyond college. We called it a
legacy because we turned it into a book. The first reading assignment the next semester was what the
previous students had written.”
The legacy piece is something Hill has traditionally done in his other seminars; it serves as advice from
current students to upcoming students. But for the BTtoP courses, the legacy was focused on why it
might be valuable to be engaged in a civically-minded way on campus. Students wrote about what they
did, what they wished they had done better, what they learned about community, what civic
engagement meant to them, and why they thought it might be valuable for future students to
undertake similar endeavors.
Assistant Professor Indira Skoric teaches classes on immigration at Kingsborough. In the past, her class
would have centered more on theoretical discussions, and she would have been doing much of the
talking and directing the flow of discussion. For the BPS class, she allowed the students to be the focus.
Many were themselves immigrants, and they described their experiences and voiced their concerns.
“The idea was to have a place for immigrant and non-immigrant students to talk about immigration
reform,” she said.
Students discussed immigration reform with each other, but Skoric also invited speakers to class who
described the history of the immigrant in American society, for example. Representatives from Facing
History in Ourselves talked about immigration in America and the state of immigrants abroad.
Skoric created a web site called the Immigration Hub, an online space for students to voice their
opinions about certain aspects of the immigration experience and the issues surrounding immigration
reform. It was not mandatory, she noted, and it was anonymous. Students had a common log-in so
their privacy was protected. A question on the discussion board asked students for suggestions for
immigration reform. Another asked what tactics advanced immigration reform. Students had to
formulate opinions and state their cases.
Skoric also organized two Immigration Days with general speakers and student speakers. At the
October 2014 event, topics included the following: Current State of NY Dream Act Advocacy and Latino
Justice Initiatives in New York: How You Can Get Involved; Asylum Seekers and Work at Urban Farms in
Queens; An Update from CUNY Central on Supporting Immigrant Students; Deferred Action for
Childhood Arrivals Outreach for Social Services; and an open mic for students.
Meanwhile, the activities in class were “more than sharing thoughts,” said Skoric, as important as that
was. Students needed to learn a framework of skills: how to volunteer for organizations, become an
advocate, and become a good listener. Some skills focused on conflict resolution and negotiation and
how to organize, develop campaigns, build alliances, make presentations, organize events, and engage
in fundraising. Students learned how to help immigrants find resources in their communities. All of
these skills honed communication skills and enhanced knowledge of the issues. But to Skoric, “The
most important aspect was that students had a shared narrative about immigration reform from one
group of students who had that experience and felt safe to speak, make sense of their own
experiences, and then help others.”
In 2012, Jason Leggett, an assistant professor of political science, was working on a related civic
engagement project sponsored by the Association of American
Colleges and Universities called Bridging Cultures to Form a Nation. He
integrated the humanities themes of democratic thinking and
community into the curriculum of his class on the American legal
The BTtoP funding system. For BPS he expanded his project to examine the same issues,
also enabled the particularly ones related to immigrant access, such as legal rights and
citizenship. “I wanted to see different perceptions of the rule of law by faculty to create an
groups that were not getting equal access,” he said.
database of various
His students were required to learn three skills: legal research using
partners… mostly online sources, how to complete legal documents and forms,
“Often faculty don’t and how to conduct small scale mapping of neighborhood services,
such as immigration services, free and legal services, and public health know what other
services. His BPS students then conducted interviews with service faculty are doing
organizations. He compiled the data that students collected during
down the hall.”
two semesters. “I wasn’t studying students; I was studying with
students, and they became my fellow researchers. I also realized from
my students that legal access wasn’t the only difficulty immigrants
Students created maps of neighborhoods using Google maps and then added their research data. They
conducted workshops in their public libraries using a tablet interface. For example, one student heard
that his area of New York was a “food desert” but learned that this was not true. An urban farm in east
New York and a farmer’s market accepted food stamps. So he gave a video workshop, Food Stamps to
Farmer’s Market. He hopes to create a touch screen for New York libraries so visitors can access this
Leggett said students were shocked on two levels: first they were able to use their own interests and
their own communities for the class and second, they could follow their own suggestions and write a
poem, create a video, or draw a political cartoon. Leggett feels that students also acquired skills useful
in today’s and tomorrow’s workforce by learning how to use technology for innovation. “We turned
the e-portfolio [course] into a learning environment so that as they do their work, I can interact with
them and see their critical reflections. Instead of being that person up at the front of the room, I am on
the sidelines being more of a coach.”
The BTtoP funding also enabled the faculty to create an online community database of various
partners. For example, a faculty member can type in the words community gardens or obesity and
identify possible community partners or click on a map to see what organizations might be in the area.
Different resources, such as a curriculum or materials, can be uploaded so that other faculty can see
them. “Often faculty don’t know what other faculty are doing
down the hall,” noted Cahill.
“The faculty participating in BPS said there should be a way to
Once they started
build visible relationships among the faculty, students, and the
teaching in a new way, it community,” said Fine. “So there was a citizen science project, for
changed the way they example, where a biology professor had students track the first
were as educators and bud of a particularly rare plant and the first butterfly sighting. They
put that data in a national citizen science data bank. They also scholars. There is now a
tracked how environmental pollution might limit a bird’s access to cohort of faculty who
the Kingsborough site.”
have developed an
expertise at an Sustaining the Scholarship
institution and are an
amazing resource. The BPS program gave pre and posttests on civic engagement and
well-being in which students were asked if they were involved in
their communities and what they got out of their classes. The
assessment included a quantitative pre and post analysis of the
nearly 1,000 participating students. The faculty seminars were
documented to describe individual teachers and stories. The online mapping of university partners
served as another source of evaluation of the project. Cahill and Fine conducted an analysis to
determine where the institution-facilitated work was completed and wrote an overview of the courses,
the experience, and the faculty.
For VanOra, the result of the project was that “students were interpersonally closer with one another
than we had seen in previous groups. Their academic outcomes were better. The grades just on the
psych exams and the assignments that were not directly related to civic engagement were better. The
work unified them and helped them connect in a way they had not in other semesters. Going to the
farm and watching us try to dig and plant with them brought us closer together. They were closer to us
as faculty, they did better in terms of attrition, and the grades were good.”
Hill found that attending the BPS meetings and talking about different ways of thinking and different
ways of doing things was most helpful. “It was helpful in terms of thinking about our own project,” he
said, “but also for finding out more about other resources available on campus. For example, one of
the biology professors did a project with her class to research volunteer opportunities for students
interested in health care, nursing, or physical therapy. This kind of information helps me in my advising
capacity with students. It gives me more knowledge about what resources they can use.”
Fine notes that the faculty participated, not because they were compensated, which was inadequate,
“but because they loved it. They built a community of ideas and ethics, a place to talk about
scholarship and teaching and writing. It became very much a coveted space.”
Indeed, BPS became “a small community of faculty,” said Cahill. “Once they started teaching in a new
way, it changed the way they were as educators and scholars. There is now a cohort of faculty who
have developed an expertise at an institution and are an amazing resource. They are now running their
own faculty inquiry groups and bringing in other faculty. It is now up to the institution to value and
support the faculty to do this work and support other faculty.”
According to Fine, three …
Before you begin your report, be sure you have prepared by completing the
Applying Systems Thinking
interactive media activities, and carefully read and analyzed the following case study:
· Bringing Theory to Practice. (n.d.)
BTtoP Case Study: Kingsborough Community College
. Available from https://www.bttop.org/
Then use the following prompts to structure your report:
1. Describe aspects of a cultural web relevant to this scenario.
. Apply systems thinking to demonstrate the complex and interrelated nature of the organization’s various parts.
· Describe leadership behaviors exhibited in this scenario.
. Evaluate leadership behaviors exhibited in this scenario.
. Provide specific examples to support the evaluation.
· Describe ethical considerations relevant to this scenario.
. Analyze these ethical considerations.
. Reflect on your personal experience(s) identifying and addressing ethical organizational practices.
· Describe solution strategies that might help the organization continue to improve.
. Explain potential challenges when implementing these strategies.
. Explain approaches for addressing these challenges.
· Synthesize multiple sources into key themes or findings.
. Establish how these key themes or findings support a clearly discernible thesis or central idea of your report.
· Written communication: Your paper should be free from errors that detract from the overall message.
· Length: At least 5 pages.
· References: Cite at least eight relevant scholarly sources. Include a reference page at the end of your paper. To locate scholarly sources and review other resources for conducting scholarly research, visit the
Capella University Library
· APA Style and Format: Be sure to use current
APA style and format
throughout your paper, including citations on your reference list.
· ePortfolio: You may choose to save this learning activity to your ePortfolio.
· Font: Times New Roman, 12 points.
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