pic of students
PWR 91 students and instructor, Winter 2017. From left to right: Grant Means, CELC, Michaela Derby, Jackie Huddle, Matt Rusk, Kaitlin Schroeder, Erica Cirillo-McCarthy, Instructor, Elizabeth Hillstrom, Elise Miller. Photo credit: Robert McCarthy

This course was created March 2016 after Luke Terra from Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service facilitated an information session for lecturers in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric. PWR faculty director, Adam Banks, soon sent out a call for advanced writing courses that would fit into the Notation in Science Communication curriculum or a new initiative concerned with social justice issues. Erica has long been interested in food systems and food economies, ever since she used the 2008 documentary “Food, Inc.” in her writing courses at the University of Arizona.

At Stanford, she saw an opportunity to build a service learning course with the support of the Haas Center that would align with the Notation in Science Communication, and began assembling the course. She first contacted the Haas Center, then reached out to local non profits. She was able to convince three organizations to work with students as students compose multimodal and multi-genre documents to best serve the needs of the community partners: Fresh Approach, La Mesa Verde, and Feed Collaborative.

PWR 91 Syllabus

In class, students read professional writing and service learning theoretical and practical texts. Our in-class discussions, which started each week online as students responded to each other’s reader responses, typically centered around agency, situated knowledge, rhetorical listening, and collaboration. We examined the relationship between an elite institution and the surrounding community, asking uncomfortable questions. Together, we read texts that offered pragmatic considerations and approaches to service learning projects, and then we would read about the challenges of hyperpragmatism in professional writing courses. Throughout it all, students embraced complex rhetorical concepts that speak to and inform service learning and professional writing: social praxis, metic intelligence, phronesis, schema, and techne.

Students garnered more practical, hands-on knowledge via discussions on project management, charrettes, filming, interviewing, editing film and text, and oral presentations of their projects. Together, they worked to problem-solve each other’s challenges, such as isolating a track when an airplane flies overhead during an interview, and revising and revising until the perfect title for an op-ed is discovered. The course was collaborative on multiple levels: between students and community partners, and between students in the classroom space.

This course would not be possible if it weren’t for the Haas Center, particularly Sarah Truebe, who connected Erica to community partners, and provided a guiding set of principles that functioned as a foundation for the course. In addition to designating the course a “Cardinal Course,” they also generously provided a grant that funded student travel to community partners, food, and our own Community Engaged Learning Coordinator, Grant Means, who supported students travel and projects. Grant’s presence has been invaluable.

The community partners who worked with the students were creative in their asks, supportive in the composing process, and passionate about their work. We wish to thank Jamie Chen at La Mesa Verde and her team, Diego Ortiz at Fresh Approach, and Matt Rothe at FEED Collaborative. This level of engagement served not only as a model for students to emulate if they go into similar community engaged work, but also encouraged creative risk taking and composing. We could not have asked for more engaged community partners who were ready to work with students.

Erica also wishes to thank the Program in Writing and Rhetoric for creating a space where this type of project-based course is possible and supported. She is thrilled to contribute to the Notation in Science Communication, and grateful that this program afforded her the pedagogical impetus for this course.

Jackie and Michaela
PWR 91 students Jackie Huddle and Michaela Derby during an off campus trip conducting interviews.