Professor Pattie Cowell

Conducted by Randi DePriest, October 7, 2005

DESCRIBE YOUR RESEARCH/AREAS OF EXPERTISE?

Right now I am serving as the interim chair of the Foreign Language Department and so I teach only one class. I am currently working on a pedagogical project involving the use of storytelling as a tool for critical reflection in service learning classes. Further, my larger research project focuses on the public function of storytelling and story. My geographical focus is the northern plains. My areas of expertise are American literature, American Studies and Women’s studies.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE COMMUNITY LITERACY?

Literacy to me is providing tools to give all community members literacy. This includes oral, written, internet, and library familiarity. It is teaching people how to be articulate about their own lives and to have enough confidence to express what they want to express. It is about giving voice.

WHO HAVE YOU WORKED WITH IN OUR COMMUNITY?

The Wordshop Project allowed my students to work with many community partners. Projects included tutoring at Turning Point and elsewhere, collecting and delivering literacy materials to homebound individuals, working at Columbine reading and collecting stories, and doing other projects with Girl Scouts, Crossroads, and other places.

HOW DO YOU ENCOURAGE LEARNERS TO GET INVOLVED AND STAY INVOLVED IN YOUR PROJECT?

The Wordshop Project is a component of my American Poetry class and my Early American Writers class. When I return to full-time teaching after my administrative assignment, I will again use service learning work to give students an opportunity to create a bridge between CSU and the community. A service learning philosophy is employed in the class. Projects are varying and flexible to fit a wide range of interests and time constraints. Many students grumble at first and are reluctant, but eventually most have responded well to the assignment. I would not be surprised if some continued in service to the community.

WHAT CASES STAND OUT IN YOUR MIND (PEOPLE YOU HAVE HELPED, SUCCESS STORIES, ETC.) THAT EMPHASIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY LITERACY PROGRAMS?

One girl was working at Columbine Care Center and during her service, a resident passed away. She was deeply affected by the experience and wrote a song that told her story as her final project. It was very touching and showed her devotion to the project.

WHAT DO YOU FEEL ARE THE BIGGEST OBSTACLES WHEN DEVELOPING COMMUNITY LITERACY PROGRAMS?

Organizing a community project is very difficult. You need to balance community needs with resources available. Some competition can occur between those trying to help, which can be very negative. Especially with CSU’s interactions with the community, we need to be able to empower participants without being overbearing. This means bringing expertise in a helpful way rather than enforcing some agenda.

Another difficult is finding sustainable funding in our day and age, especially in the arts.

DO YOU HAVE ANY SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO BUILD SUCCESSFUL RELATIONSHIPS WITH COMMUNITY PARTNERS?

Listen. Have mutual respect.

WHAT CRITERIA DO YOU USE TO EVALUATE YOUR PROGRAMS/PROJECTS?

In class, we used journals. The assignment was to jot something down in your journal after every interaction with the community. There were also reflective papers, brief integrative activities, and oral panel discussions which employed a lot of storytelling about their experience. The student evaluations were also very telling.