Center for Community Engagement

Explore the spring 2013 semester community-based learning courses


January 2013—story by Jenny Morgan, photo courtesy of professor Anna Martini

This spring is going to be another banner semester for community-based learning at Amherst.

With fifteen courses to choose from, students will delve into topics ranging from desegregation in Cambridge, Mass. to hydrogeology in local watersheds. They will create original music, theater, and research.  They will explore, teach, and learn from local communities.


In Performance and Place, students will put on performances in unconventional spaces and consider the relationship between space and community. Students in the American Studies course Building Community will explore how best to support diverse, healthy communities by working on semester-long projects in the community.

The spring semester’s lineup spans eight academic departments and includes one colloquium. It features two brand new courses—Spanish for Community Engagement and Theater and Performance as Sites of Social Change in the Americas— as well as the return of previously new courses, including Building Community and the Immigrant City.

Community-based learning courses add complexity and urgency to students’ critical grasp of social, political, and cultural issues by connecting the intellectual rigors of academic study with the needs and expertise of the community. Research projects and questions designed in close consultation with local, regional, national, or even international organizations hone student’s skills while producing truly and immediately useful information and analysis.

Browse the full course list below to see everything offered this spring. Contact Sarah Barr, director of academic programs, with any questions.

Building Community (AMST-221)

This course investigates the practice and ideal of community in America both on a national and a local level, asking students to engage in specific projects aimed at strengthening the public sphere and fostering community life. We will consider the nature and limits of democracy, the meaning of belonging, the experience of stigma and exclusion, the concepts of civic responsibility and public discourse, and the conflict and compromises inherent in political advocacy. This course will pay particular attention to the struggles of often-marginalized groups to build healthy and just communities.

Cities, School, and Space (COLQ-332)

In America, a child’s address, more than any other factor, often determines what kind of public education he or she will receive. This research seminar blends urban history with educational policy to explore how spatial relationships have shaped educational opportunity since World War II. Class meetings will alternate between seminar-style discussion and an intensive, hands-on study of one particular community–Cambridge, Massachusetts–noteworthy for the innovative strategies it has utilized to desegregate its public schools.

The Craft of Speaking II: Spoken Expression (THDA-225H)

In this second course in the craft of speaking, students learn to shape and speak text to powerful effect. Students build on prior work to extend vocal range and capacity while learning component principles of spoken expression.

Democracy and Education (ENGL-356)

The focus of the course will be on education within the United States.  Many Americans believe that a free public educational system is crucial in a democratic society.  What concretely does this mean?  The question has shaped a persistent and unresolved debate throughout American history to the present, as it will our work together.

Design Studio (THDA-360)

An advanced course in the arts of theatrical design. Primary focus is on the communication of design ideas and concepts with other theater artists. Also considered is the process by which developing theatrical ideas and images are realized. Students will undertake specific projects in scenic, costume and/or lighting design and execute them in the context of the Department’s production program or in other approved circumstances.

Design Studio II (THDA-363)

This course is a continuation of THDA 360, an advanced course in the arts of theatrical design.

Directing Studio (THDA-340)

This is a practical course in navigating the myriad positions and tasks that directors master to lead collaborators toward completed theatrical interpretations of dramatic texts. Studio exercises are employed throughout as each student director produces and directs two medium-length projects. Topics of focus include the articulation of coherent artistic intent, the role of the audience in performance, and the use of space, sound and light.

Hydrogeology (GEOL-301)

As the global human population expands, the search for and preservation of our most important resource, water, will demand societal vigilance and greater scientific understanding. This course is an introduction to surface and groundwater hydrology and geochemistry in natural systems, providing fundamental concepts aimed at the understanding and management of the hydrosphere. To learn more, read the CCE's feature story on Professor Martini's community-based research.

The Immigrant City (HIST-251)

A history of American cities in the industrial era, this course will focus especially on the city of Holyoke as a site of industrialization, immigration, urban development, and deindustrialization. We will begin with a walking tour of Holyoke and an exploration of the making of a planned industrial city. We will then investigate the experience of several key immigrant groups – principally Irish, French Canadian,  Polish, and Puerto Rican – using both primary and secondary historical sources, as well as fiction. To learn more, read the CCE's feature story on this course.

Materials of Theater (THDA-112)

An introduction to design, directing, and performance conducted in a combined discussion/workshop format. Students will be exposed to visual methods of interpreting a text.

Performance in Place: Site Specific (FAMS-342/MUSI-352/THDA-352)

The focus of this studio course will be to create performances, events, happenings and installations in multiple locations both on and off campus.  This course is especially designed for students in dance, theater, film/video, art, music and creative writing who want to explore the challenges and potentials in creating performances outside of traditional "frames" or venues (e.g., the theater, the gallery, the lecture hall, etc.). At the center of our inquiry will be questions of space, place and community.

Reading, Writing, and Teaching (ENGL-120)

Students, as part of the work of the course, each week will tutor or lead discussions among a small group of students at Holyoke High School. The readings for the course will be essays, poems, autobiographies, and stories in which education and teaching figure centrally. Among these will be materials that focus directly on Holyoke and on one or another of the ethnic groups which have shaped its history.

Spanish for Community Engagement (SPAN-200)

This course is intended to enhance language skills and share knowledge of local Spanish-speaking communities. Organized around field-based learning, the material, shaped into modules, will connect students with pre-existing community service organizations in Holyoke, Springfield, and other nearby urban centers.

Theater and Performance as Sites of Social Change in the Americas (THDA-151)

This course examines key ways by which theater and performance have contributed to enrich processes of social transformation within specific socio-political contexts throughout the Americas. Students will study exemplar cases in which theater and performance have participated in and affected the political life of countries and communities, trying to raise public awareness about issues such as state violence and trauma, memory, migration and globalization, indigenousness, neoliberalism, gender and the right of citizenship.

Words and Music for Theatrical Performance (MUSI-260/THDA-280)

Conducted as a collaborative workshop among student writers and composers, this course explores the close relationship between words and music. While working together on new music/text pieces for the stage, we will seek to arrive at various definitions of "music theater." In addition to ongoing creative assignments, we will examine existing works in various genres, including songs, musical theater, opera and other experimental forms.