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Center for Community Engagement’s Summer City Lab deepens York College's commitment to York

Students work in groups as professor observes.

 Vinny Cannizzaro wants York College of Pennsylvania’s faculty and students even more actively engaged in their community.

“Half of our campus is in the city,” he notes. “We live here and need to be a part of its future.”

It’s why the Director of the Arthur J. Glatfelter Institute for Public Policy is co-leading with Dr. Steve Jacob the Center for Community Engagement’s Summer City Lab. It’s an interdisciplinary project designed to better understand the existing social, economic and environmental conditions in York City.

The ultimate goal for Summer City Lab fellows is to become actively engaged with the community through tracking and logging various social and community indicators, speaking directly with residents, and developing strong relationships with community organizations.

Assessing first

The first step was a visual assessment “to give us a baseline of existing conditions to decide what issues we should study,” Cannizzaro says. The assessment breaks down into three broad categories: economy, built environment, and social indicators.

On the economy, he looks for things such as access to banks and ATMs, and whether there are employers in the area, and why or why not.

“The built environment includes cleanliness, conditions of sidewalks and homes,” he says. “These impact how residents view their community.”

Social indicators cover areas such as access to food and healthcare. “Are there grocery stores or corner stores,” he asks.

A community needs strong assets in all three areas to thrive, Cannizzaro says.

Project-based learning

The next step is translating the assessment findings into action, to benefit both students and the community. “Our faculty will take this baseline information and develop project-based learning for our students,” Cannizzaro says, emphasizing again how important this practical, beyond-the-classroom work is as part of York College’s curriculum.

For example, his Politics of Public Policy class will study how conditions identified in their assessment may be handled in the political and public policy areas.

This will be replicated in other areas. “We may observe a lack of lighting, or blighted homes, and in talking to residents, see if crime is a concern in these areas and work with the police department,” Cannizzaro says.

The ideas these project-based learning classes may develop will then be shared with residents, community groups, and local government. “We won’t dictate anything,” he says, “but we’ll be a collaborative partner for residents and organizations that want to work with us on possible solutions.”

Why it matters

Getting students practical experience for their careers is perhaps reason enough to undertake an ambitious program such as the Summer City Lab and is a commitment York College has to its students.

But Cannizzaro believes the other goal of this project is equally important.

“This makes us good neighbors,” he says. “We live here and are committed to the goal of making lasting and positive change in our community.”