Four years ago the D’Amour Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption launched our Course Innovation Academy, in which eight faculty members spend a year working on a new course design or the re-design of an existing course. We read literature on teaching and learning in higher education, observe one another’s classes, meet each month over dinner, and talk and think together. Each year the Academy faculty produce fascinating new courses to help engage their students in deep learning.
Professor Cinzia Pica-Smith was a member of that first year’s Academy, and in the spring semester she opened up the final project to students in one of her courses in Human Services and Rehabilitation Studies. She challenged them to come up with their own ideas about how to demonstrate and finalize their learning in the course, which was focused in part on learning about the challenges faced by migrants and refugees, and the impact of those challenges on their health and well-being (and how the students might help them if they encountered them in their counseling careers).
One group of students proposed the idea of a Migration Walk. They wanted to educate the community about the challenges faced by those who leave their homelands and seek refugee status in the United States. They wrote a story, based on what they had learned in the course, that followed a refugee-seeking family from their troubled homeland to finally achieving refugee status. They then mapped a walking route around our campus, and tied sections of the story to different stops along the way. They invited the campus community to join them, and the students stood and read out portions of the story as they led the group from station to station.
Four years later, the Migration Walk has become an annual event on our campus. This year it was tied to Founder’s Week, which celebrates the work that the Assumptionists (the founding order of Assumption College) do around the globe in support of migrants and refugees. The walk took place on Sunday, September 9th. As you see from the photos, the materials for the walk have become more sophisticated, and now include beautiful informational posters (and a bullhorn!). Attending the walk provides you the opportunity not only to engage with the moving story that Prof. Pica-Smith’s students created, but also to learn about the many obstacles that refugee-seekers face, and the many years (sometimes 10-15) that it can take them to overcome those obstacles and find refuge in our country.
What I find so powerful about this event is not only the education it provides to our community about this important issue, one that reflects well our Catholic commitment to help the stranger. Equally striking to me is that this event emerged when a professor gave her students the opportunity to devise their own projects. She trusted them with the freedom to create, and from that freedom came something more powerful than she could have imagined.
What would happen if each of us put that kind of faith in our students, and invited them to educate others about the important work that they have completed in our courses? What could your students create? And how could you provide them with the opportunity to exercise that freedom?