Faculty Spotlight: Dean Vinson Columbian College of Arts & Sciences

Nashman Center's Community Engaged Scholars Yuval Lev and Ashley Hidalgo spoke with Columbian College of Arts and Science Dean Vinson about the importance of scholarly work that faculty and students do to engage with the community-and why this work is important at GW.

Yuval Lee (YL): One of the big things about CCAS is engaged liberal arts, so what does that mean to you in the context of service?

Dean Vinson (DV): Now, more than ever, our world is in need of people engaging with each other in helpful and constructive ways. At this particular moment in time, it is critical to encourage and promote at an early age the importance of interaction and dialogue. Blending this into the overall educational experience is critical to developing a level of social consciousness that is so necessary for our future citizens. Community engagement is elemental to what I call the engaged liberal arts. Refreshingly, it’s a characteristic of the type of students we have at GW.

YL: What does community-engaged scholarship mean to you in the context of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences?

DV: In our classrooms, we  see so much of the theoretical perspective. But how does that perspective translate to real world situations, with real world problems? Community-engaged service is the bridge between books and the classroom to what our students are really trying to do in the world to make a difference. To me, that’s the connection. Community-engaged service is exactly the modality for that transformation and transition of the ivory tower experience of knowledge and the real-world application of that knowledge.

YL: One of things you’ve done as dean of CCAS is to expand research opportunities and scholarship opportunities so I want to talk about what that has to do with service and benefiting the community as well.

DV: Community-engaged research reminds us of the larger world; it reminds us why we are being educated in the first place. Yes, we are trying to advance ourselves and our careers but, at the same time, we are also trying to do something more for the greater good and, to me, that’s part of why this type of research matters.

Ashley Hidalgo (AH): How does community-engaged scholarship enrich faculty, from their perspective as well?

DV: The same is true for faculty as it is for students. When faculty receive their doctorate degree and move on to make their mark in their field of research, they often crave a greater access or greater connection to the community around them. As scholars, we need to remind ourselves that what we are doing is part of a larger envelope, which can lead to deeper engagement.  What I also think is important as it relates to community engagement among our faculty and students, is the symbiotic process between the two groups. Faculty are transforming as their students transform. Each encourages the other to achieve greater heights, which is an additional and an unexpected and unintended consequence of engagement, and one that is sometimes not talked about. You often see faculty, who have experienced a different modality of their work (through community engagement) prompted to make important changes semesters down the road. They have an ‘Aha!’ moment that leads them to new and fruitful directions in their teaching or research. What I often see as well is that they are more inclined to bring students along for the ride, going beyond the lecture and classroom experience. It becomes truly a more holistic endeavor in higher education when faculty and students engage together in the world through their research and projects.