Beeta Ansari

Beeta is Ashoka U’s Exchange Director, the world’s largest global convening for social entrepreneurship education.

Faculty Hero: Rebecca M. Townsend

Rebecca M. Townsend, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication at Manchester Community College, talks about her journey to find connections, between the needs of her students, college and community

Rebecca M. Townsend is featured as a part of Ashoka U’s new blog series, “Faculty Hero,” that tells stories of outstanding faculty members, leading changemaking initiatives at their colleges and universities around the world. Check back for a story of a new Faculty Hero on the Ashoka U Blog!

1) Describe the changemaking class, program, or project do you lead. How is it distinctive in higher education?
Over the last five years, I have helped to found the Institute for Community Engagement and Outreach at Manchester Community College, coordinating faculty work in civic and community engagement. Working with various community partners, MCC trains people to become moderators of public discussions, on issues ranging from the achievement gap, economic sustainability, and the integration of people with disabilities into the civic life of their communities.

A major project I developed is the Partnership for Inclusive, Cost-Effective Public Participation (PICEP2), an initiative that calls for students to learn how to facilitate public discussions in a culturally-sensitive way. Students then share results with regional planners and officials at a semester’s-end symposium.

The model balances the need for government officials to reach the people they call “hard-to-reach” – youth, minorities, and people with low incomes – as well as the community members’ and groups’ needs to have their voices heard.

This unique collaboration has an ability to transform the community college students from being seen as “takers” in the public eye to being recognized as the real assets they are to the community. It also meets student needs for a relevant, engaging education, increases civic engagement, and strengthens communities

2) How does being on a college campus amplify or affect your work (in a way that might be different if you worked elsewhere)?
Learning is central to our mission. My goal as a faculty member is to cultivate student growth and development. I can help create an atmosphere where community service learning is expected as a mode for student growth.

I cannot demand that growth. I cannot command students; they have the right to say no. Grades do not work as an incentive or threat for all students. Employment in a private company has the incentive of advancement, or the threat of losing one’s job. I am not a manager of employees.

3) Tell us about a result that you’re most proud of (including social impact and/or impact on students).
Students in my service-learning focused classes were more likely to earn a degree or certificate in the time since the class they had with me, 12% vs. 5%.

After participating in this project, one Latino student went from self-described “slacker” to student government president. His academic work improved, and he is working as an intern with a U.S. Congressman’s office.

4) What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other faculty or staff thinking about getting involved in social innovation?
Often people have dreams and ideas, but no one to connect them with institutional structures or other people who can help them ignite their ideas. The advice I provide is to start where you are. Think about what you do, what you want and need to do, what the community needs and wants.

Then, make connections – between concepts, places, people, energy. Develop personal connections in the community through civic and social society. Volunteer. Learn to see the world from others’ perspectives.

More information about Rebecca will be featured on social media this week, so make sure to like Ashoka U on Twitter and Facebook! Check out Ashoka U’s blog each week to see new stories of phenomenal faculty heroes making a difference in their institutions and the world.