We gathered together in the basement of the College's Harkness Chapel, a few students, professors, staff members and a colleague from New London. How could we best educate students in a way that integrates research and study with the central public concerns of our day? What teaching and learning communities cultivate active citizenship, leadership development, intercultural knowledge, and a passion for equity and justice? What is best practice for creating and sustaining college/community partnerships and putting the liberal arts into action?
Our deliberations and inquiries brought us to downtown New London and downtown Boulder, Colorado, in the summer of 1993 to attend the Campus Compact Institute on Integrating Service with Academic Study.
A Center is formed
We completed an action plan, building on the work of the College's Office of Volunteers for Community Service (OVCS) and the work of faculty in the areas of service-learning and action research. We detailed strategies for a rigorous academic program, met with numerous faculty members, staff and students and integrated their suggestions. We presented the proposal to the faculty and on March 27, 1996, the Center for Community Challenges was approved. Students were eager to enter the certificate component of the program, PICA-Program in Community Action and the first group to finish the three-year program was the Class of 2000.
The certificate program scholars
Currently there are 74 sophomores, juniors and seniors enrolled in the certificate program. Those students are some of the finest Connecticut College scholars representing over 32 departments and programs. PICA scholars have achieved the College's highest academic and co-curricular honors and won national student humanitarian awards. PICA graduates have gone on to graduate school, law school, medical school, and entered a wide range of professions. They are equipped to analyze systems and structures to bring about thoughtful change. Some are creating better public policy, strengthening communities, and expanding access to and improving education. All continue to excel as active citizens.
Donor generosity, and the Center gets a name
Major grants from the Surdna and the Lucent Foundations funded the initial years of the Center. Carolyn and Jerry Holleran, true activists and philanthropic leaders, generously endowed the Center with extraordinary gifts and in 1999 five hundred people gathered in Evans Hall to officially name the Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy. Carolyn and Jerry Holleran continue to provide extraordinary leadership and support for the Center. (Pictured above, from left: Tracee Reiser, Associate Director of the Holleran Center and Associate Dean for Community Learning; Jerry Holleran, Carolyn Holleran; Jefferson Singer, Faulk Foundation Professor of Psychology and former director of the Holleran Center.)
Community learning expands
The Holleran Center has enhanced the College's community learning curriculum and supports faculty and students in new service learning course development and action research projects. The Center has pursued College/Community Partnerships and worked to: enhance neighborhood development in public housing; implement health and wellness initiatives; expand and enhance literacy initiatives; research and create urban health trails and public playscapes; enhance science and math curriculum; foster micro-economic lending; assess and provide early intervention for pre-schoolers; and pursue positive youth development initiatives.
Center faculty and staff have presented on research, course development and college/community partnerships throughout the United States and in international forums such as the Open Space, People Space Conference in Scotland. In 2005, the Princeton Review published Colleges With a Conscience and highlighted Connecticut College as one of the nation's best colleges for fostering social responsibility and public service.
The Holleran Center community of students, staff, faculty, alums, donors and community partners has achieved much in the ten-year journey that began in the basement of the Chapel. We have created exciting and effective teaching and learning pathways that not only advance the individual, but also contribute to the common good. We have built enduring relationships and a passionate commitment to educational excellence that recognizes our well being is inextricably bound up with the good of the whole. We, including future generations of the Holleran Center community, have the hope, perseverance and resilience to continue the journey for many years to come.