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Engaged Scholarship: Fellowship Expands Knowledge and Connections

Doctoral students Cadence Willse and Prabhdeep Kehal are the Swearer Center’s first Graduate Fellows in Community Engaged Scholarship. The Fellowship is an element of the Center’s College & University Engagement Initiative (CUEI), formerly known as the National Field-Building Initiative. This initiative aims to advance the fields of community engagement and social innovation through collaboration with students, faculty, community partners, institutions of higher education, and networks for community engagement and social innovation.

Recognizing graduate students as co-educators and co-creators of knowledge, the Center created the fellowship to bring graduate students into the Center’s collaborative and cross-disciplinary research environment: the goal is to “train and equip the next generation of engaged scholars with the tools and knowledge early on in their scholarly careers”, adds Georgina Manok, the Center’s program manager for research and assessment. The Center sees the fellowship as providing a path for graduate students at Brown to pursue research in higher education and a chance for the Center to “design a scaffolded pathway and strong mentorship to engage graduate students from their Ph.D. candidacy through navigating their post-graduate careers,” Manok says.

Kehal and Willse saw the fellowship as an opportunity to advance and deepen their current research and to expand the breadth of their field knowledge and their scholarly connections.

“I applied because, as a sociologist of race and higher education, there are not a lot of areas on campus where I can come together with other scholars working and studying higher education. I saw it as an opportunity to be in a community with people who were similarly committed to creating positive experiences for students during their time on campus. The fellowship is also very public-oriented in the sense that it is focused on holistically improving students’ engagement,” says Kehal.

For Willse, the fellowship “seemed like an excellent opportunity to expand on my own research on civic mobilization and advocacy in politics.” While in her own research she investigates these topics in the sphere of public K-12 education, this opportunity also afforded her a unique look into the “post-secondary space.” 

What catalyzes community engagement at colleges and universities? What are the avenues that enable this engagement to occur? These are among the many questions the fellows investigate through their projects at the Center. Participating in the work of the Center allows them to delve into the growing discourse on community-engaged scholarship; as Kehal adds, to consider “how to ensure this discourse enriches the experiences for the students and the communities we engage.”

With access to the Center’s extensive network of resident junior and distinguished scholars, multiple collaborators on and off campus, and its datasets related to community and civic engagement in higher education, the fellows have made valuable contributions to the Center’s national community engagement research portfolio and ongoing projects. They have helped to build datasets from the Elective Carnegie Community Engagement Classification data related to community engagement in higher education and have contributed to the design of a new module and reporting structure of the National Assessment for Service and Community Engagement survey ecosystem.

With one semester completed, as Willse shares, they are currently working on a paper on the role of community engagement in social innovation. For Kehal, the engagement they have with scholars across institutions is one of the most interesting aspects of the projects.

“I'm engaged in collaboration with multiple units, both on and off campus. It's really exciting to be able to work with people in different fields and at different universities who are all committed to the same goal”, Kehal says. 

Reflecting on the fellows’ contributions, Manok shares that Kehal and Willse have “added depth and a critical lens to our work especially in relation to diversity and inclusion, access, and equity” and have “provided disciplinary insights on our work through the lenses of sociology and political science.”

Mentorship is a key component of this fellowship. Both fellows agree they’ve benefited from the mentorship of Manok and from Swearer Center Executive Director Mathew Johnson. Willse shares, “I've really enjoyed working collaboratively with my colleague, Prabh, and I've benefited from a close partnership with the Swearer Center, particularly with my mentors [Johnson and Manok].”

Echoing this, Kehal feels that “They are the type of colleagues you want to work with, and they make even better mentors. I've felt valued at Swearer because of them and the community of people that work there, and I think that's reflected in the joy I have when I come to work.” 

The fellowship experience at the Swearer Center has been positive for Kehal and Willse. The experience has provided them with the opportunity to collaborate across disciplines with one another and with others, in the Center, across campus and in other institutions. It’s given them the opportunity to apply their own insight and expertise to the center’s projects, to obtain knowledge that informs their own scholarship, and to impact communities within and beyond Brown, as Kehal says, “It's also engaging me with another dimension of how you can do socially impactful work, and I think that is so important for anyone whose scholarship affects the public.”