Faculty Spotlight

At BMCC, we are committed to enhancing and expanding experiential learning practice and pedagogy. The Office of Internships and Experiential Learning designs faculty-based programs, events, scholarship research and funding opportunities at BMCC that are designed to support curricular innovation – consider including experiential learning into your practice!

If you would like to meet with a representative from our team to discuss ways to incorporate experiential learning opportunities into your classroom, please email experience@bmcc.cuny.edu.

Experiential Learning Faculty Spotlight

Each semester, this series will highlight faculty on campus and the thoughtful work being done around applied learning practice, which works support engaged student learning, help with retention and graduation efforts, support strategic transitions and also to encourage students to embrace more deliberate exploration.  BMCC has a strong history of embracing experiential learning inside and outside of the classroom – read the stories of our experienced practitioners.

Professor Debra Abston Greenwood

Professor Debra Abston Greenwood serves in the Department of Social Sciences, Human Services and Criminal Justice at the Borough of Manhattan Community College in the City University of New York.  The Office of Internships and Experiential Learning sat down with her this summer to find out more about how she became engaged with experiential learning programming and education, her current projects and her thoughts on the future of this pedagogy and its implications for higher education.

Quick facts:

  • Professor Greenwood was, what some consider, a ‘non-traditional’ student – starting her education achievements a few years after high school, receiving a Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Social Work from Eastern Washington University and she is currently pursuing a Ph.D.
  • Professor Greenwood is also a Licensed Master of Social Work, LMSW with the State of New York Department of Education as well as a certificate in child and adolescent mental health.

Professor Greenwood got her start in experiential education through service learning, a learning strategy that benefits both student and community. The Borough of Manhattan Community College defines service learning as ‘ongoing volunteerism or service performed by students to enhance the learning experience and strengthen communities.’

In terms of the relationship between her education and work and experiential learning, Debra noted that within social work education there is typically a strong emphasis on civic participation and the idea of connecting to a community – connecting with people that are different and experiencing something that is different.

Having this engrained in her through study, Debra began to dedicate time on projects through her role with AmeriCorps, the Corporation for National and Community Service and attributes her work with AmeriCorps as the reason she got back into working within higher education. With over twenty years of experience in higher education, her career path that has taken her from building service learning programs and conducting institutional research, to initiating the New York Campus Compact– a membership association of college and university presidents promoting “active citizenship as an aim of higher education,” to now research and instruction at BMCC. She can be found teaching Introduction to Social Work, Direct Practice Skills, Social Welfare Policies and Programs, and Field Experience I and II (HUM 301, 401).

When asked about her thoughts on key issues in experiential learning and implications for the future, Professor Greenwood noted that there are clear difficulties getting students to engage in experiential learning. Her examples include a student’s need for employment, the cost (financial and time) of commuting and other logistical challenges. She did offer ideas on ways BMCC can work to address these challenges, such as leveraging resources available such as metro cards to support student mobility in the city and outer boroughs. To ensure students engage in this type of learning strategy, Debra offers the following on what is needed in the future-
Solid agency partnerships, communication and messaging for service learning and experiential learning opportunities and greater financial resources.

Debra is a true community organizer, having established the faculty interest group on service learning through the BMCC Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship (CETLS) with her co-chair Professor La-Dana Jenkins.  She is a current Ph.D. candidate at Fordham University and she is conducting research on federally funded social welfare programs. Her research seeks to combine census data with existing data on social welfare programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to see if these kinds of programs, which are designed to support low income populations, actually aid in academic retention efforts.

In addition to this research, Debra regularly engages in scholarly inquiry and has been recently published in partnership with Sharon Ellerton of Queesborough Community College and Peter Fiume of Kingsborough Community College, their work is featured in the spring 2016 Journal for Civic Commitment for their work titled, “The Impact of Academic Service Learning on Community College Students.” This team also co-presented at the CUNY Community College Research Grant Program Faculty Development Workshop in January 2016.

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