students walking in downtown dc

Title:City as Classroom

Author: by Jeffrey Donahoe
Date Published: May 26, 2020

Experiential learning

What makes the CALL appealing? Georgetown students consistently say they wanted to come to the university because it’s in the nation’s capital—indeed, a global capital. But really getting to know the city isn’t easy. As alumni will attest, the Georgetown neighborhood’s location and limited public-transportation options make it a challenge to get to other parts of the city. Then there’s the “Georgetown bubble”—the geographic location of campus and the astonishing amount of valuable and diverse activities available on campus, which can be a disincen- tive to leave the Hilltop.

So, students who apply to Georgetown want to go to school in D.C., but then get here and often don’t leave the neighborhood. Four years later, the city that attracted students can be a stranger.

“I hadn’t spent a lot of time in the city before I started the CALL,” says Alexa Eason (C’20). “In only these three months, I have seen more of the city than I have in the first three years I have been at Georgetown.”

“Georgetown students are only nominally involved with one of the greatest cities,” says Renny Simone (F’21), who participated in CALL in its first semester. “They don’t engage with it. They don’t feel like they are temporary residents here.”

English department professor Matthew Pavesich worked with Vice Provost for Education Randy Bass to design CALL over the past two years and has taught in the program both semesters. “We are trying to solve two problems,” he says. “The fact that the university doesn’t help students to break ‘the bubble’ as much as we could and that internships, when students are able to get them, are really distinct from their academic experience.”

While CALL takes students away from daily life on the Hilltop for a semester and creates some psychological distance, Pavesich notes that every class at the CALL is a Georgetown class taught by a Georgetown faculty member, and the students take the classes only with other Georgetown students, “so students still make those important, formative bonds with each other and with their professors.”

“It still feels like Georgetown, but completely different,” says Billy Torgerson (C’22), who participated in the initial fall 2019 semester. In addition to the unique D.C. focus, Torgerson liked taking a break from living on campus, which in his experience “has a busyness and stress level that you can’t escape,” he says. “It can be a healthier experience downtown.”

For example, Torgerson walks everywhere or takes the Metro. And he and his roommate, Renny Simone, better control their eating habits by grocery shopping downtown and cooking in their residence-hall apartment. (“Renny cooks, I microwave,” he admits.)

Georgetown helps subsidize students’ housing (at a residence hall for a New York University semester-in-Washington program), public transportation, food costs, and other expenses.

Going big

Under the leadership of Vice Provost Bass, CALL was developed over two years at The Red House, home of the Designing the Future(s) of the University initiative, which serves as a research and development engine and incubator for new ways for Georgetown to teach and students to learn.

Bass and the Red House staff are trying to create an overall education experience that’s responsive to our era. “The world has changed faster than universities,” Bass says. “We need to provide students an education that is maximally responsive to the complexities of our times.”

Academic institutions have more diverse student bodies today, and Georgetown is no exception. Students can longer be expected to adapt to the traditional structure of the university. “We have to reimagine the university to adapt to a new population, which includes students from under-resourced backgrounds and students with different learning styles and expectations,” Bass says.

Finally, education must be responsive, equitable, innovative, and financially sustainable—all of which drive programs like the CALL.

Bass and Pavesich spent months meeting with department chairs, directors for undergraduate studies, and faculty, as well as holding focus groups with students. “We knew we wanted to create an applied-learning immersion for students, but that meant working against the grain of campus culture in some ways,” Pavesich says.

Student feedback from focus groups was interesting, he adds. Students said, “‘I can’t take classes that don’t help me progress to my degree.’ ‘I’m not sure about taking a full semester off the Hilltop, especially if I’m going to study abroad as well.’ ‘It might be difficult to separate from campus culture.’”

Overcoming internship challenges

The CALL requires each student to have an internship, an innovation in keeping with the program’s experiential learning model that also aligns with Georgetown’s commitment to access and affordability.

Often students at Georgetown and other universities are able to take internships because they have a family connection helping them find one, or because they don’t need a paying job. Many internships are unpaid, and additional challenges include Georgetown’s location, few public transportation options, and demanding class schedules. An internship can mean taking an Uber or other ride-share to go across the city during rush hour. Even grabbing a sandwich downtown for lunch has a financial impact, says fall 2019 semester CALL participant Kitra Katz (C’20). “These may sound like small things, but they add up, and lots of students are juggling money here.

“Taking an internship can start to feel more like a privilege than a reasonable expectation,” she adds. She is grateful that CALL organizes the class schedule around the internship.

“The CALL is an opportunity for Georgetown students who are driven to do an internship but don’t necessarily have the resources to intern for free,” says Cory Young, a Georgetown history doctoral student who taught Slavery and the American North in CALL’s fall 2019 semester, a class that meets the university’s core-curriculum requirements.

With credit-bearing internships, CALL students continue to make progress toward graduation requirements. And the CALL semester costs the same as a Hilltop semester, with no interruption to financial-aid arrangements.

“It’s a good example of Georgetown offering sincere support to students of all economic backgrounds,” Young adds.

The CALL model also ensures that students don’t have to choose between an internship and coursework, according to Jessica Richards (C’20). “An internship is hard because being a student is a full-time job,” she says. “The CALL’s for-credit internship means I don’t have to take away from my academics to invest in the D.C. community.”

Similarly, Andrew Abad (C’20) notes, “I joined the CALL because I wanted to interweave professional development and networking with my academic studies. Specifically, that the internship was part of my academic schedule, not an add-on.”

“I wanted to practice being an adult,” he adds, referring to a greater responsibility to get himself around the city and managing his time more independently.

Based on their interests, CALL students are assigned to an advisor from Main Campus’ Cawley Career Education Center for one-on-one career and internship exploration. “The idea is for them to really talk about what they are interested in and then get personalized attention,” says Abigail Lewis, CALL director.

Lewis team-teaches a weekly internship seminar with Amanda Friday, a career counselor at the Cawley Career Education Center. The seminar is an added layer to the required internship, allowing students to reflect on and share the experiences they are having in their internships. “This kind of intentional and shared reflection doesn’t often happen when students find an internship for themselves,” Friday says.

“It was nice to be able to come back and debrief and discuss what we were all experiencing at work,” says Abad.

Friday notes that all Georgetown undergraduates have meaningful interaction with career education staff, but “the structure of the class along with the rich discussions students have through their internships lead to deep conversations.”

“Part of my role is to help students really understand and create meaning around their work experiences,” says Friday.

City as text

Staff from the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching, & Service (CSJ) helped moderate the internship seminar last fall; this semester they are extending their expertise to the community-engagement segments of CALL’s required City Seminar, which studies the life of Washington often unexplored by the average Georgetown student (or for that matter, many District residents). Last fall, Brandes took the class to meet community advocates and grassroots organizers who are working on social issues affecting their neighborhoods, such as voting access and jobs training.

“I help them explore what civic leadership is today,” Brandes says. “These students will be thrust into civic leadership roles, so it’s
important to build reflective dialogue skills.”

Back on January’s tour of historic Eastern Market, Brandes encourages students to read the city as a text. Junior Ivan Jimenez notes the proportion of chain stores versus small local stores.

“There is more to being in D.C. than the federal side. When we think of Washington, we think of the Capitol, the White House, the Supreme Court,” he says. “Even when I applied to CALL, that’s what I thought about.”

“But it’s where 700,000 people live, people whose backgrounds and motivations are diverse. In CALL we are learning to navigate beyond the touristy areas.”

Senior Kitra Katz, part of the first CALL semester, thinks back to the downtown dorm where she and the rest of the Georgetown students lived with New York University students taking a semester-in-Washington program. “They were seeing D.C. for the first time.” But she adds that, even though she’d been in Washington for three years, “in some ways, so was I.”

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