Learning Beyond the Classroom

Emerald WrightCollie, Allegheny College graduateBy Emerald WrightCollie ’16

Civic engagement at Allegheny taught me lessons about the Meadville community that could not be taught in a classroom. And it goes beyond knowing where the good coffee shops are or where to get a good scrambled egg or two at the local diner. It goes even further than having a friendly conversation with a passerby or waving at the students being released from the school down the street from campus. Civic engagement is much more than donating a few items at the local food drive. The civic engagement experience at Allegheny pushes past boundaries and allows you to open your heart to the very real experiences surrounding you. Without my civic engagement experience I would be lacking perspective in the world.

The Bonner community welcomed me with open arms and hearts. After a few months of hand-holding and transitioning, I soon found myself in the middle of the Bonner bustle: Service Saturdays, training, and attaching Google spreadsheets to emails asking for volunteers. Aside from working at my main Bonner site, I assisted my Bonner colleagues with their service sites, and subsequently we formed a community.

One night I found myself as a volunteer waitress at the annual spaghetti dinner hosted by Creating Landscapes for families. The dinner is free to all attend, and if they choose to donate, the proceeds go toward funding programming. I walked into the main floor where holiday lights were strung along the walls, tables were beautifully set and the band was preparing to play. What an atmosphere! Near the end of the night, all the children from the program gathered around the piano to sing “On Top of Spaghetti.” The warmth and vibes from the event brought me to tears. This is the world that opened to me when I committed to Allegheny civic engagement.

In the time I spent with my community, I came to know the faces that passed me in the street, their stories and their life experiences. Some of the most valuable lessons I learned in my undergraduate career came from the young students I mentored. I knew this to be true the day I received a poem from 15-year-old boy named JJ. The poem read, “Remember when life told us no but we said yes and fought our way through all the pain and hurt. You’re my sunshine.”

That is civic engagement at Allegheny College.

Emerald WrightCollie was a Bonner Scholar and graduated in May.