diversity digest
Winter 01
Student Experience
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Trinity College Creates a True Learning Community
By Heather D. Wathington, Director of Programs, Diversity, Equity, and Global Initiatives, AAC&U


WHILE NATIONAL CONVERSATIONS ABOUND ABOUT HIGHER EDUCATION'S NEED TO RETURN TO ITS CIVIC MISSION, TRINITY COLLEGE IS LEADING THE WAY BY EXAMPLE. IN AN UNPRECEDENTED EFFORT TO REVITALIZE ITS SURROUNDING COMMUNITY, TRINITY COLLEGE HAS SHOWN THAT A SMALL LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGE CAN PIONEER EFFORTS FOR URBAN RENEWAL. EQUALLY AS IMPORTANT, TRINITY HAS SET ABOUT TRANSFORMING ITSELF AS IT SEEKS TO REBUILD ITS SURROUNDING COMMUNITY. ACKNOWLEDGING ITS LIBERAL ARTS FOUNDATION, STEEPED IN TRADITION, TRINITY HAS SOUGHT TO REVITALIZE ITS EDUCATION WITH AN AWARENESS OF 21ST CENTURY CONCERNS. BY CREATING AN "EXTENDED COMMUNITY OF LEARNERS" THAT REFLECTS NEW LEARNING CONNECTIONS BETWEEN THE COLLEGE AND THE CITY, TRINITY BELIEVES THAT THE COLLEGE HAS REACHED NEW HEIGHTS.

Located in the heart of Hartford, Trinity has been a part of the Hartford community since its inception in 1823. Over the last forty years, the college has watched its surrounding neighborhood fall into significant decline. In 1996, Trinity College announced a comprehensive $175-million neighborhood revitalization initiative for the community surrounding its campus. The College joined forces with education and health organizations, the public and private sector, local, state and federal government agencies and a number of community and neighborhood organizations who were equally committed to rebuilding a safe, viable, strong neighborhood. Together, the partners rebuilt an entire 15-block area and built The Learning Corridor, the central focus of the revitalization initiative.

Faculty operate from the belief that a liberal education is enhanced by connecting classroom learning to actual, related experiences.



Trinity College and its partners in the Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance (SINA)--Hartford Hospital, the Institute of Living, Connecticut Children's Medical Center, and Connecticut Public Television and Radio designed the Learning Corridor to be a part of "housing rehabilitation, neighborhood retail businesses, streetscape improvements, job training, recreation, and family services". These establishments and programs will extend out of the educational center to create a united, reinvigorated residential community.

Completed in 2000, The Learning Corridor is its own campus adjacent to Trinity College. The campus houses a Montessori Magnet Elementary School, Hartford Magnet Middle School, and two regional high school programs--the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and the Greater Hartford Academy of Math and Science.

In addition to believing that Trinity could transform its surrounding area physically, Trinity believed that the College also needed an educational transformation. Focused largely on the goal of maintaining the strength and responsiveness of a liberal arts education in a diverse, complex world, Trinity began a strategic planning effort in 1996 that represented a vision of Trinity's "liberal arts with a difference". The strategic plan emphasized the importance of global education, urban studies, cooperative learning, and the creative, informed use of technology. In 1998, the Kellogg Foundation supported Trinity's campus-community efforts with a $5.1 million gift to recast Trinity's approach to liberal education, help the surrounding troubled neighborhood, and integrate the former two projects into one seamless whole. Trinity has sponsored four major projects to build connections and blur the lines between community and campus.

One major outcome of the Kellogg grant initiative has been the creation of a "Smart Neighborhood". The "Smart Neighborhood" project bridges the digital divide between Trinity, who is technologically sophisticated, and its neighbors, who have little access to new technology. The initiative brings information technology and technical support together to make "technology part of the way the neighborhood views itself." As part of the Smart Neighborhood, Trinity created a neighborhood technology center. The center, Trinfo.café, offers a range of appropriate technology, training classes, and technical support for local residents, small businesses, and not-for-profit organizations in the area.

A second component of the "extended community of learners" actively involves students and faculty. Faculty have taken the lead in building the Community Learning Initiative. Faculty operate from the belief that a liberal education is enhanced by connecting classroom learning to actual, related experiences. This initiative is a classroom-based project that combines traditional coursework with service learning and "real world" application. Students serve the community through course-based collaborations with community partners. Begun as a pilot project, the community learning initiative is now a rich component of a Trinity education. The initiative maintains a full-time coordinator to facilitate the program.

The college also seeks widespread participation in a third initiative, the College-Community Innovation Fund. The Fund supports faculty, students, and local residents to collaborate together to devise innovative projects and/or courses that can be incorporated into the curriculum or the co-curriculum. Multi-disciplinary projects are strongly encouraged with special attention given to community arts, urban education, and city-related science matters.

The fourth initiative is the Trinity Center for Neighborhoods, which conducts research on questions posed by the community's neighborhood organizations. Research questions are developed to assist with community problem-solving and strategic planning. Faculty and students work with community partners to complete research projects that are responsive to neighborhood needs.

Although proud of its role in rebuilding the surrounding neighborhood, Trinity is most proud of its role as a contributor and a major stakeholder in the community. The leadership it has assumed in turning the community around is simply a part of the college's mission and responsibility. Former President of Trinity College, Evan Dobelle has said, "Trinity has assumed leadership of this effort because we have a profound sense of obligation to Hartford and we intend to honor it. And this obligation is not at odds with our fundamental educational mission. In fact, the two are closely aligned and complementary. It is vital to the College's future that our neighborhood turn itself around. We have led in this initiative because it is the right thing to do."


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