As students of PSC 249 look at their syllabus for the next six weeks they will notice that no class will be held during its usual meeting time on Wednesday nights. While the Julia Rogers classroom is well lit, clean, and convenient, teachers of the Imagine Baltimore course thought student would get more valuable experience by actually going into the Baltimore city. “We recognized that the Political Science department was lacking opportunities for students to systematically explore these city experiences,” explained Political Science/IR professor Eric Singer. “We wanted students first to examine their own preconceptions about Baltimore city and urban spaces and then process their own observations when exploring the city.”
Nina Kasniunas and Eric Singer had been doing extensive research on Baltimore neighborhood associations when they began to brainstorm ideas for a Baltimore class. Political Science professor, Kasniunas has brought her Political Science 100 students to neighborhood association meetings to see local governance in action. In the summer of 2013 Kasniunas and Singer started to formulate special topics course from the idea of students becoming more familiar with Baltimore and for students to see that there is applicability to the research done. The syllabus states: “This course, Imagine Baltimore, is an invitation to join us in uncovering our (pre- and mis-)conceptions about Baltimore, about urban living, and about the challenges that confront Baltimore, and other urban locales. As your intrepid professors, we are genuinely excited to embark upon this experiential, intellectual, and experimental course with you.” Singer and Kasniunas are team teaching this course that they acknowledge can be challenging but that it is also a fun and different learning environment.
The course began with several weeks of academic readings and discussion on urban living and governance. Students also had to do walks of two neighborhoods in Baltimore and document their observations. The major component of the class is delving into an interest area. Students could initially choose food politics/sustainability, transportation, and economic development/jobs. Additionally, the class decided to add education and arts/culture as possible areas of interest. Students are then expected to attend three events pertaining to their issues and three events pertaining to governance. “We recognized that asking students to invest time by participating and attending the events… and had to count that as class time,” said Singer.
The professors believe this could be an incredible learning opportunity for Goucher students because many of them come from more suburban rather than urban environments. “Some students have very progressive view on Baltimore – a diehard Baltimore-can-do-no-wrong view,” points out Kasniunas. “And then there are students who have anxieties, fears, and predilections about Baltimore. It’s just a foreign environment and that might scare them off a little bit.”
Depending on how the original 2014 fall semester goes, Kasniunas and Singer intend to offer the special topics course every two years. Kasniunas is quick to point out that there are many easy ways for students to get involved in Baltimore besides enrolling in the course. She recommends visiting Goucher’s community service programs or looking into classes that have a community based learning component. Kasniunas said that “It’s important to get students out of the classroom and have them explore their predilections. Half the battle of dealing with these urban issues is breaking down these predispositions.”