Humanities and the Arts in Everyday Life

THE WORDSHOP PROJECT is an umbrella for a variety of service learning activities that will place Colorado State students in community settings as practicing humanists and artists. Each student or student team will work with community partners on projects that draw on students' background in language, reading, writing, and literate performance to facilitate community partners' everyday use of those skills. The specific projects may vary from class to class. Students in "American Poetry," for example, may focus their attention on creative expression, while students in "American Authors to 1870" may use their historical understandings from early writers to explore some of the varied (even conflicting) ideas of community service that have developed in North America.

WORDSHOP is predicated on the idea that people use their various oral and written literacies for purposes that go well beyond functional needs. We tell stories to children, keep journals, write poetry, collect oral histories, send letters to the editor, put our political or spiritual beliefs into words, organize creative readings, and bear witness to the events of our lives. These activities are not the exclusive province of schools and universities, but the stuff of everyday life.

An example of an early WORDSHOP can serve to illustrate the value of this project for students and community partners. Pattie Cowell and Julia Doggart, both of Colorado State's English Department, developed a WORDSHOP for a section of "Modern Women Writers." Students were juniors and seniors drawn from majors across the campus. They worked in four teams to prepare books for Fort Collins' Education and Life Training Center. They prepared a history of the Center and compiled interviews with clients, volunteers, and staff. The Center has used the books as source material for grant-writing and students honed their skills for interviewing, writing, and collaboration. Students were enthusiastic about the value of their experience:

  • "I gained a new motivation to share my time and talent with others."
  • "I learned to be less afraid to try new things."
  • "You can always learn so much from listening to the experiences of others. The trick is to really listen . . . ."
  • "From talking to one of ELTC's clients, I realized how many social issues I knew existed, but never thought pertained to me."

Over the course of the last several years, the idea for WORDSHOPS has evolved from a collaboration among staff members in the Office for Service Learning and Volunteer Programs, several community partners, and Colorado State students and faculty members. It is an idea in motion. Participants are invited to suggest changes, or to develop WORDSHOPS of their own.

For more information, contact Pattie Cowell in the Department of English at Colorado State University: pattie.cowell@colostate.edu or 970.491.3486.