Starting in the spring, some classes will have a new designation indicating which ones will interact with the outside community.

Students at the University of Iowa can look forward to new courses related to community engagement and partnerships starting in spring 2022.

The UI Community Course designation, available to students on MyUI starting October 8, identifies classes that work with community partners to connect UI courses to communities in Iowa City and beyond.

Peter Gerlach, assistant professor in the International Studies program at UI, said he will be hosting a community-focused course next semester under the new designation. The course will be in partnership with the Refugee and Immigrant Association, a nonprofit organization based in Iowa City and founded primarily by refugees from Central Africa.

He said he liked the new designation for students because it makes it easy for them to identify opportunities for unique community learning experiences through courses like his.

“How often does one of your classes take place at town hall and how often do you ask a very relevant and relevant question to the elected officials of the class you are taking? Said Gerlach. “It’s not very common.

He said his course involves engaged learning with refugees and immigrants in Iowa and will provide students with experiences of interacting and listening to migrants sharing their stories.

“Where I think the course has the most depth is in firsthand testimonials and working directly with refugees and immigrants,” said Gerlach. “We invite a lot of guests to the class.”

Gerlach said he would bring in experts from IU, statewide expert coordinator Mak Sućeska from Des Moines.

Gerlach said the guests would help make this course much less traditional than the other offerings. At the start of the semester, students are often hesitant to take his course, he said, due to its drastic difference from almost all other UI offerings.

At the end of the course, he said, the students are happy they decided to take it.

“You don’t write a final paper, you don’t take an exam,” Gerlach said. “In fact, the work you do prepares you to support an organization that exists in real life. [and] has real needs.

Nick Benson, executive director of the UI’s Office of Community Engagement, said the creation of the new designation was student-driven.

“I think over the last few years the students have certainly indicated that this is in their best interest,” Benson said. “I would say that the students are really the driving force behind this course designation. “

Benson said the designation gives students the opportunity to understand what a particular community-engaged course is as they enroll.

“Students, faculty, and community partners benefit from the work done on the Community Engagement course,” said Benson. “It starts with understanding the needs of the community and also understanding the learning objectives of the course, and community-engaged classes come together at the center of these two things.”

Noel Mills, UI graduate student and assistant in the Office of Community Engagement, said these courses help students gain valuable hands-on experience in the community.

“These experiences are experiences that you can talk about on your resume, in job interviews,” Mills said. “These are experiences you can reflect on and use in your career. I don’t belittle other courses, but having a community-driven course experience is more than just getting the grade or credit.

She said part of the mission of the community engagement office is to get students out of the classroom and help them engage in the community in mutually beneficial ways.

She added that she believes that developing community-based courses can be a way for institutions like UI to stand out and provide unique and beneficial experiences for students.

“We have to be able to offer student experiences like community courses where we have specific value at the University of Iowa that you can’t get from other places,” Mills said. “I see it turning into something we’re really proud of. “

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