October 3, 2016

Lecturer Stresses Importance of Community Learning in U.S. Academia

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Nadinne Cruz, a leader in the field of community-based learning, delivered the first lecture of Cornell’s Engaged Speaker Series Friday. Cruz delved into the significance of her Filipina-American heritage in her work and stressed the need for a broader approach to U.S. education.

“As an immigrant who has spent the majority of her life in America, I lay claim to my Americanness,” Cruz said. “If the country wants to maximize its potential, it should look for ways to globalize instead of keeping others out.”

This notion of the “other” Cruz said followed her through her years within elite educational institutions, including Stanford University and Swarthmore College, where she headed award-winning public service projects.

“Academia is an essential element of learning, but it’s only a small portion of what comprises a comprehensive education,” Cruz said. “However, there has been a gradual trend of formal academics moving towards the center of the spectrum of education, while other essential elements are marginalized at its expense.”

Cruz also reflected on her struggles in bringing her work to the center of the academic world, which she has been dedicated to for 35 years. She said these struggles included doubts expressed by elite universities about the integration of community-learning into the academic curriculum, as well as the politicization of community engagement across the country.

“There remains an urgent need to revisit how we assess community engagement,” she said. She added that institutions must move away from analyzing quantitative factors and shift to a qualitative analysis of community service.

The solution to the marginalization of non-academic elements lies in “de-centering the university,” according to Cruz.

“Instead of engaging in a competition for importance with academia, we must encourage collaborative learning between community-based and academic forms of education, such as espoused theory and practical theory,” she said.

Cruz highlighted the importance of encouraging qualities like courage, compassion and persistence in today’s youth.

“In the end, our societal progress depends on our moral compass,” she said. “We must ascertain what kind of world we want to create and address how we can then collaborate as educators to realize our vision.”

The Engaged Speaker Series is a collaborative program organized by the Office of Engagement Initiatives and Public Service Center.