From more than a decade spent in the classroom to now working to promote community engagement, Dr. Julia Metzker, director of ENGAGE, always makes a point to focus on ways to make a difference.
Her commitment to experiential learning and ways of thinking about education stem from her undergraduate experience at Evergreen State College, a progressive, public liberal arts and sciences college located in Olympia, Washington.
“Evergreen really has an experiential curriculum— courses were team taught and interdisciplinary,” said Metzker. “I feel like that experience really shaped me as an educator and my passion for both engagement and the idea of a liberal education.”
As the state’s designated public liberal arts university, Georgia College provides learning opportunities that prepare students for more than just a specific career— that also help them understand how to be a global citizen, how to communicate in certain situations and with people from different backgrounds, to become problem solvers and make informed decisions. Ideas that Metzker not only embraces, but works to support daily as director of ENGAGE.
“ENAGE is our Quality Enhancement Plan, which focuses on ‘Building a Culture of Engaged Learning,’” said Metzker. “We want to strategically and intentionally build experiences for both our students and the community members that allow benefits for both groups.”
While coordinating funding for community engagement projects, hosting discussions for new faculty to learn how to develop projects with community members and organizing the weekly Times Talk events by the American Democracy Project, all Metzker’s work hinges on the value of the experience for both GC students and the community.
“It feels like we are lighting a fire. It’s a remarkable experience for students when they take advantage of what’s made available to them here,” she said.
As director of ENGAGE, she’s helped faculty at GC and community members collaborate on projects that include a community art mural in the Harrisburg community, teaching social justice through theatre plays to middle school students, assisting with the local farmers market and much more. But before she took on this new role in fall 2014, she spent 10 years in the classroom, and that shaped her knowledge of the benefits of learning beyond the traditional classroom.
“I came to GC in fall 2004 for my first faculty job teaching inorganic chemistry,” said Metzker. “The first year-and-a-half of my teaching was very traditional with a lecture and tests, but I noticed very low student engagement. Students seemed to struggle because they could not connect with the material. That’s when I began to find ways to flip the classroom, asking open-ended questions and guiding them to find the best solution to problems presented.”
GC has benefited in many ways from her knack for thinking outside the box and dedication to engaged learning. Spearheading a new initiative on campus called the Liberal Arts Renewal Project, Metzker pulls from both her creative thinking and engagement as she and a taskforce work to hone what a liberal arts education means, why it’s important and how Georgia College students benefit from it.
“We have a committee of dedicated faculty and staff members who are looking at broad characteristics or hallmark experiences of our students,” she said. “Those include the first year experience and capstone, study abroad or away, ENGAGE projects and thematic pathways— where students can choose courses based on a particular theme so they are all interconnected.”
This multiyear project to renew focus on the liberal arts started in fall 2015 with discussions throughout the academic year where faculty, staff, students and community members have been invited to develop a shared understanding of the liberal arts at Georgia College through spirited and engaging conversations.
Always looking for ways to step up to the next level, she believes the work she and many others at Georgia College do can provide more opportunities and a more impactful experience for students
“There is a synergy happening now. As an institution, we are at a prime time to think about who we are and what we want to be. ENGAGE plays a part and also the Liberal Arts Renewal project,” she said.
To find out more about ENGAGE programs on campus, visit https://engageatgc.wordpress.com.
To learn about the Liberal Arts Renewal project or get involved, https://gcsu.wordpress.com.