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Western Program continues with community, service learning focus amid pandemic

<p>With the pandemic surging, the Western Program has taken a different approach to individualized learning. </p>

With the pandemic surging, the Western Program has taken a different approach to individualized learning.

The Western Program’s individualized studies major is normally a hands-on, extra-interactive and personal experience. In a time of hands-off and less interpersonal interactions, the program has had to change gears to continue providing their well-known community-driven experience. 

Peabody Hall’s Western Center, which shares staff with the individualized studies major, is also facing changes to their usually full event schedule. Despite changes in events, the Western Center remains open five days a week as an interdisciplinary hub for student engagement.

There are still some Western classes being held in-person, like Western 341, which is a hybrid service learning course called Synthesis and Action. 

Jacqueline Daugherty, director of the Western Center and Western Program professor, said the course is very much hands-on and meets outside Peabody Hall. 

“I knew from the start we weren’t going to be able to be in person,” Daugherty said. “A lot of the populations that we serve are high-risk for [COVID-19], so it wouldn’t have made sense for us in terms of service learning to [return to in-person] with the audience we have.”

Daugherty said the class was able to continue their service learning with Miami’s Institute for Food but had to redesign the community partnerships to adapt to distance learning. 

“I like that class to be a career prep class where you’re thinking about the types of skills that you’re going to need like project management, volunteer coordination and grant writing,” Daugherty said. 

The Western 341 class is also working on grant writing with a food pantry in Cincinnati. 

Zackary Hill, coordinator and advisor for the Western Program, created the one-hour credit class Western 110 (Contemporary Topics) to serve as a Western community hub. 

“I engineered it to invite all the [Western] majors, and most of the time, we’re just trying to have as much community as we can virtually, but it’s definitely a different situation than we’re used to,” Hill said.

Daugherty also noted community is central to the Western program.

“The community is so big here,” Daugherty said. “We really like to think about the community connection that we have with each other and our students. It was really smart of Zack to think of doing that 110 class, especially as we’re even pulled more apart with the pandemic.”

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The Western Program currently enrolls 56 majors and 11 minors. Hill said they hope to raise that number to 70 by May.

Connor Moreton, a senior marketing and corporate sustainability major, is both a Western Program major and an employee at the Western Center. 

Moreton said he was proud of how flexible the Western Program has been this year. 

“When my classes switched online, my Western professors were the most accommodating and honestly the best professors to have an online teaching world with because they’re so engaging,” Moreton said. 

Moreton is enrolled in the Western 341 class and said his class reinvented their service learning objective for a food pantry in College Hill, Cincinnati to accommodate coronavirus precautions and restrictions. Moreton is also completing his Western capstone this year and taking one other Western class. 

Moreton said he would prefer to still be in person for classes and notes the abnormal semester has been tough. 

“Things are a little bit different,” Moreton said. “It’s [harder] to hold [a] conversation over Zoom (than) it would be in person.”

Jannie Kamara, a senior diversity & leadership major, is also completing her Western capstone and service learning course this semester. 

Kamara said she doesn’t think the classes have changed a lot for the Western Program, but she doesn’t think she’s getting the same level of education she could. 

“Part of it is still the same, except for the in-person side, but the professors have been over the moon with how accommodating they’ve been for students,” Kamara said. “My capstone was going to be a study away option, and I didn’t get that opportunity.”

Kamara said she has had to find alternative ways to fulfill her senior leader capstone project within the constraints of the pandemic. 

“With the assistance of [the Western] advisors like [Daugherty who] is my advisor, she has helped a lot in the process of trying to ensure that my capstone thesis is just as effective while we’re in a pandemic world as it would have been were we not,” Kamara said. 

Kamara encouraged any Miami student who doesn’t know what they want to major in to look into the Western program.

“I wish [Miami] could just see [that the Western Program] is an example of how we want education to be and how it should be,” Kamara said.