Project Based Learning at the Student Initiative Center

It’s not your typical college course. The students don’t meet in an average classroom. The course objectives are sweepingly broad yet intimately personal.

And these unorthodox approaches to learning are precisely why the Passion and Purpose class at Chabot works, says instructor Eric Heltzel. The course description states that students engage in “exploration and discovery of personal passions in the context of social and family relationships, serving the wider community, and analyzing and understanding higher education.”

The class meets in the Student Initiative Center, which is a non-traditional classroom setting. As opposed to a lecture hall, the open space and mixed seating encourage dialogue and interfacing of ideas. This not only helps with student learning but the pedagogic practices of the instructors. “Teaching this class has been a professional development opportunity for the professors involved,” says Heltzel. “It is a participatory process. I’ve become a more agile, creatively driven teacher.”

Students garner more from Project Based Learning than they might in a typical classroom setting. “The concepts of Project Based Learning get students into the community, doing something substantive with what they learn,” says Colleen McHugh, a student, and participant. “The students walk away from these learning experiences with practical, real-world knowledge.”

Through its innovative approach to learning, students in the Passion and Purpose class have developed their ideas into real-world initiatives and change. All of the water bottle filling stations on campus are their thanks to an initiative of the R.A.G.E. club on campus, which stands for Revolutionaries Advocating Greener Ecosystems.

R.A.G.E. is also responsible for the community garden on campus as well as the food pantry that the college hosts. The latter initiative proved an excellent learning experience for the students. “They found out about hunger and food insecurity on campus,” says Heltzel. “They researched these factors and designed a presentation. They went before the student senate and presented at college board meetings.”

Daniella Criollo, a psychology major at Chabot, first took the Passion and Purpose class in 2014. Her passion was education. This somewhat vague starting point led to her pursuing ways in which she could help students learn about the college experience and what it takes to get there.

Criollo saw a need: local Hayward high school students were not enrolling in community college like their counterparts in other school districts. She developed an initiative that put her inside the classroom with these high schoolers, and assessing student needs and showing them how to complete all the forms needed for registration, enrollment, and financial aid. This guerilla matriculation is the perfect example of Passion and Purpose objectives: how an amorphous inkling can develop into a real-world initiative that solves problems and changes lives.

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