For some colleges, the surrounding community is just a backdrop. For Beloit College—and, specifically, for sophomore Brian Shobe—it’s anything but. Engaged with the city of Beloit since his first semester, Brian has helped run a school board campaign, tutored a community member in English, and mentored at-risk teens. For Brian, these activities do not just accompany his education; they are integral to it.
“Community-based learning makes what you do in the classroom real and applicable,” he says. “It both informs your liberal arts education and lets you know it’s not complete until you’re actually doing something with it.”
One opportunity that helps Brian put ideas into practice is Beloit’s Duffy Community Partnerships Program. Run through the college’s sociology department, it pairs students with local organizations. Their relationship is mutually beneficial; matched with a community garden, Brian supports the program while learning how it operates. “I work with youth gardeners and meet with my supervisor about administrative things,” he explains. “So I really see how a nonprofit organization works in the field.”
Back on Beloit’s campus, Brian’s fieldwork finds a context. In his Duffy seminar, readings and discussions explore effective society-building. By marrying hands-on experience with theory, this program gives students tools they need to affect real change. For Brian’s garden project, that means improving the health of an entire community. “The goal is to eventually create an organic, small-scale system that provides nutritional food to people who don’t usually get access to it.”
Brian’s efforts bespeak someone strongly committed to social progress. But he insists he’s not a rarity at Beloit; other students’ initiatives stirred him to get involved.
“I had interests in the environment and social justice before,” he says, “but meeting people at Beloit who’ve done more than I have in both areas has been really inspiring.”
Beloit’s support for such exciting work, Brian says, is only growing. That thought isn’t just a hunch; it’s informed by his service on Beloit’s Academic Senate, where his voice is equal to faculty members’. “We see it in the curriculum and the opening of the Liberal Arts in Practice Center,” he observes. “We are becoming increasingly intentional about community-based learning. There’s a focus on making sure it happens more and happens well.”
These priorities, Brian thinks, could not be more on mark. Like many Beloit students, he knows that learning both inside and outside the classroom makes for a well-rounded education—and well-rounded people. “Grades will not make or break your life,” he says. “But these experiences will change and shape you.”