From the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on 12-24-20:
By Sue Jacobson and Mary Ruiz
At New College of Florida, intellectually curious students tackle real-world challenges in our local community. By engaging with our neighbors in Sarasota and Bradenton – and working with organizations throughout the region – our students gain life-long skills while contributing to the vitality of our local area.
Community engagement and hands-on learning are central to the educational process at New College, which ranks among the top public liberal arts colleges in the nation.
Fourth-year student Agnes Bartha, who is studying economics and finance, is creating a custom financial literacy program for teens in Newtown for her senior thesis project. She has also served as a volunteer income tax assistant at the United Way Suncoast Sarasota, helping residents with low to moderate incomes prepare their taxes. These experiences prepare the groundwork for her desired career path in community economics while leaving behind a legacy of goodwill and real-world problem solving.
For the past several years Gerado Toro-Farmer – a professor at New College of Florida – has been leading student research expeditions across Sarasota Bay to study the effects of light quality on seagrass beds. Meanwhile, fellow professors Jayne Gardiner and Brad Oberle have been bringing their students to Sarasota Bay to study the marine life ecosystem in the mangrove swamps of Tidy Island. Through these efforts our students are working to preserve the health of our local bay while gaining the hands-on research skills they will need in their future careers as marine biologists and scientists.
In partnership with the Multicultural Health Institute in Sarasota, two of our students, Elizabeth Ramsamooj and Dachnaica Alcius, spent the past summer analyzing the impact of COVID-19 and food insecurity on neighborhoods in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Both issues have a particularly profound impact on our communities of color, which our students have documented while undertaking the type of field-based research that most students don’t experience until they’re in graduate school.
We have also placed our students in paid internships with small businesses and nonprofits in the local area, thanks to a grant from the Mellon Foundation. This past fall New College of Florida students worked at Community Video Archives, Aviva: A Campus for Senior Living, the Florida Center for Partnerships in Arts-Integrated Teaching, WSLR and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and Manatee Counties. This program is a win for our students – who gain professional experience in arts and humanities fields – and a win our local organizations, which are able to make use of our students’ knowledge and capabilities to deliver essential services to the community.
Community engagement gives students the opportunity to fundamentally understand people in different circumstances – and also the world around them. It also undoubtedly connects students with community leaders while enriching the college experience and honing leadership skills. An education that is grounded in community-based experiences equips young adults with the tools they need to take on the real world.
That’s the value of a New College education.
Sue Jacobson is chair of the New College of Florida Foundation Board. Mary Ruiz is chair of the New College of Florida Board of Trustees.