VESA is an interdisciplinary academic minor that educates and engages students in social action and its ethics. The minor, with roots in the psychology, philosophy, religious studies, political science, and economics departments, teaches students about the nature of citizenship, service-learning, and democracy. The VESA program is education for civic engagement.
In the fall of 1999, Allegheny College launched a new academic minor to engage students, faculty, and community partners in theoretical and practical inquiry about the nature of citizenship, service-learning, and democracy. Entitled “Values, Ethics, and Social Action” (VESA), this interdisciplinary academic program allows students to understand social action and its ethics both intellectually and practically.
The minor, with roots in the psychology, philosophy and religious studies, political science and economics departments, strengthens the curricular layer of Allegheny’s deep commitment to the Crawford County community. Faculty and students already experience service-learning through academic internships and selected courses in various fields, including environmental science, psychology, political science, and communication arts.
Strong student leadership drives the co-curricular service movement in which over 56% of the student body contribute over 25,000 hours of community service yearly. In 1998-99, 17% of the college’s overall work-study budget was allocated to funding student work in local community organizations. The VESA program attempts to illuminate the connections between service to and through organizations with other forms of civic responsibility and action for social change.
Moving beyond piecemeal individual efforts in service-learning and social justice, VESA offers a coherent course of progressive study that connects the disciplines as it encourages students to explore citizenship and values. Students enrolled in the minor complete six courses, including interdisciplinary Introduction and Capstone seminars (both of which include a substantial community engagement component) and others exploring issues of wealth and poverty, politics, ethics, community, social behavior, environmental justice, moral theology, and diversity.
These students accompany classroom learning with experiential learning through a semester or longer commitment to a leadership position in community service. The joint aspects of theoretical and practical learning move students from talking about justice to promoting it, from debating about good citizenship to living it, and from performing community service to initiating social action. There has been an immediate, strong student response to the new program; currently, VESA graduates between seven and twelve minors each year.
Engagement in our community and significant reflection in the classroom help students understand what it means to value citizenship in a democratic community. VESA is designed to enhance students’ abilities to think critically about social systems, with the community engagement components acting as a laboratory in which they are led to confront their assumptions and learn problem-solving skills in the context of socially meaningful work that addresses real community concerns.
In a time of increasing social problems and scarce resources for social programs, students can supply much-needed ideas, skills, and time to meet community challenges. Likewise, by working in partnership with local non-profit agencies, we can offer our students opportunities for learning about and contributing to our shared community in a way that is grounded in realism as well as academically rich.
VESA demonstrates to our community that Allegheny’s commitment to the common good is linked in vital ways to our educational mission, and that we are proud to engage in mutually beneficial partnerships with our neighbors.