Dr. Jennifer L. Lieberman is an assistant professor of English at the University of North Florida (UNF). She completed her Ph.D. in English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in May 2011, and she holds a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Florida. Before beginning her position at UNF, she held an National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship in Cornell University’s Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS). As an interdisciplinary teacher-scholar, Dr. Lieberman enjoys starting or extending conversations across disciplines—and her time as a Community Scholar has trained her to build similar connections beyond academe.
Before learning about best practices in community-based learning, Dr. Lieberman was already interested in helping students understand how their education could impact their lives outside of the classroom. She has consistently created opportunities for her students to host events and to curate exhibits in libraries. The Community Scholars Program and other services offered by the Center for Community-Based Learning—including discipline-specific workshops and university-wide assessment—have helped her revise assignments and syllabi so that they can be more transformational than transactional for students and community members alike. In 2017, Dr. Lieberman applied the principles of community-based learning to her Honors Freshman Writing Seminar on the theme of Medicine and Society. She built a relationship with a local nonprofit organization before the semester to set goals that would serve both students’ and the organization’s best interest. In this case, students wrote grants to procure funding for a local social worker who provides mental health care to refugees in Duval County. This course allowed students to understand how writing could contribute to the community; it created an opportunity for students to practice empathy; and, since many of the students are aspiring medical professionals, it also helped students understand the importance of communication in medicine and nursing. At the same time, students helped demonstrate strategies for effective grant writing, they attended psychoeducation classes, and some opted to continue their relationship with the organization by volunteering to help refugees learn how to navigate Duval County’s public transportation system.
Dr. Lieberman plans to continue applying the principles of community-based learning to her other courses whenever possible. She has found that students feel most gratified when they can see how their work makes a difference in their community. She has learned that she, her students, and her community partners can grow when they work mindfully and communicatively together towards explicit and common goals.