Civic engagement is an area of focus for Drexel University. The Dornsife Center speaks to this focus. An urban extension center, Dornsife’s mission is to build relationships between West Philadelphia residents and students, faculty, and staff at Drexel. Having a physical space to develop community-university relationships is key, and the Center’s complex offers ample and diverse room for various activities. The EnviroHealthSense research group has been meeting in the School House building since the Center opened its doors in June; it’s been great to be next to the computer lab, which is consistently filled with folks. Eventually our group will relocate to the second floor of what will become the Maker’s Building (a.k.a. the School House). This is where Drexel’s CORE Lab will be situated. The CORE Lab (Co-Research Lab) is comprised of a group of Drexel faculty from the College of Arts and Science and Westphal College of Media Arts and Design:
CORE lab is a collaborative research and learning space where neighbors and Drexel faculty and students involved in community-based research can connect with each other in a shared environment for co-learning and problem solving around common areas of interest. Initial topics of investigation for the group include resident and community health and well-being and engagement to support the neighborhood’s built environment.
Two weeks ago the Dornsife Center hosted an open house where CORE Lab faculty ran a mapping exercise for attendees. Our group plans to hold a charettee or similar community event this fall to meet residents and envision collaborative projects.
To get the group started, I’ve been holding community info sessions from 4-6PM on the last Wednesday of each month. These have been happening in the main building, which has a children’s play area as well. I struggled a bit with how to title the time and space that I’m holding — I don’t want to just provide information and resources, although I’m happy to do so, and that in itself is an important role. But I also imagined the info session as a time when I can learn from community members as well. Even in the short six-months that I’ve been on the ground here in Philly, I’ve learned a lot from residents about city housing conditions, access to healthcare, and what distinguishes public and private responsibility. My community-based activities (and I’m still thinking through what constitutes ‘community-based’) has been a rich reminder of why I wanted to do participatory action research years ago… and hope to finally do here in Philadelphia.