What makes Radford a special community, and how could it be even better?
This question was posed to 18 Radford University students enrolled in a course on community, service and citizenship. The students presented their answers to the community Wednesday in Radford City Council chambers.
In a presentation titled "The Radford Sense of Place," the students set up five stations of posters, each featuring a series of photos and essays on aspects of life in Radford. Areas included were nature, history, leisure, eco-friendly resources and economic development. Community leaders, residents and university officials then navigated through the stations and offered constructive feedback.
"The poster project was intended to help students learn about the community through a participatory process where they aren’t just being exposed to information in a passive manner," said Timothy Filbert, instructor for the course and assistant director of academic engagement and career services at Radford University. "Instead, they are actively engaged in making sense of the community through the lenses of their cameras."
Each student photographed six unique aspects of the Radford community: places to meet and chat, go for a walk, connect with the local economy, connect with the human history of the area, connect with nature or the local environment, and something special they noticed about the community.
Besides the poster project, students volunteered their time with community agencies as part of the course, "Highlanders in Action—Community, Service and Citizen Leadership."
"We created this course because of the belief we have that becoming responsible and active citizens involves the practice of involvement in the community and the nonprofit organizations that seek to create a better community," Filbert said.
Radford University President Penelope W. Kyle, who spoke at the event, said the students' project exemplifies the theme of RU's Quality Enhancement Plan or QEP: "Scholar-Citizen: Create. Connect. Contribute."
"The goal of this theme is to encourage active and scholarly participation in a complex and multicultural world by connecting and applying disciplinary knowledge and academic skill to the challenges that face our local, national and global communities," Kyle said.
The QEP, part of the process to reaffirm the university's accreditation, demonstrates a commitment to increase overall quality of education and to promote students' education both inside and outside the classroom.
"We want every student who graduates from Radford University to be not only well educated but also well prepared to be a global citizen," Kyle said. "We want our students to have the tools they need to build wonderful, fulfilling lives for themselves and to positively impact the lives of others."
The president said she cannot imagine that any institution "has a better relationship with its community than we do. This relationship that Radford University has with the city of Radford and the surrounding community has just been fabulous."
Other RU officials attending Wednesday were Provost Sam Minner, Director of Career Services and Community Engagement Ellen Taylor and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Bill Kennan.
Radford Mayor Bruce Brown said the students' project gave the city an opportunity to look at itself through a new lens. "The approach requires students to demonstrate what they are learning by doing," said Brown, who is also an adjunct faculty member at RU. "Students adopted and embraced a cause to help a nonprofit and made a difference."
Over the course of the academic year, the participating students volunteered more than 500 hours of service to the community.
"I was moved by the outcomes of their investments of time and talent," Brown said. "Whether it was a yard sale that benefitted the Women's Resource Center, working to build a house for Habitat for Humanity or volunteering with Relay for Life, it was wonderful to see the pride they had in making a difference."