Bridging Academics and Community through Community-based Learning Courses

There is no better way to learn than through experience, and no better way to embody the Wisconsin Experience than to extend learning beyond the classroom and into the Madison community.

Through Community-based Learning (CBL) courses, students have the unique opportunity to engage in a broader understanding of their major, community and the purpose of their future.

Community-based Learning courses are offered every semester and count for credit in more than 40 departments across campus. These courses combine traditional coursework in one’s major with hands-on service with a local community partner.

Tarah Stangler

The Morgridge Center for Public Service supports CBL courses by employing Community-based Learning interns. Tarah Stangler, along with a team of other CBL interns, work with professors to support their CBL curriculum and help make CBL courses an impactful part of students’ Wisconsin Experience.

“CBL courses are a way to help support students who are attempting to break out of the university bubble,” Stangler says. “A lot of students who are on campus, stay on campus — they don’t really go outside the downtown area.”

CBL courses take students directly into a community to work on projects or direct service that provide real-world experience in what could be a new or additional facet to one’s major. Through hands-on learning, students gain exposure to new community groups and explore ways they can utilize their major to support them.

Work in the classroom guides students’ understanding of service by providing purposeful training and reflection, preparing them to work with communities in a way that is mutually beneficial.

“We [CBL interns] are there to help navigate that reflection component and to support students through whatever it is they are experiencing in the course and community,” Stangler says.

In particular, Stangler works on identity exploration and having conversations on privilege and oppression. She also touches on community work holistically, including skills on working well in a community, active listening, and how to manage self-care and dealing with compassion fatigue.

In addition, Stangler also works with community partners to establish pathways of communication. CBL interns are committed to maintaining healthy relationships between community partners and UW throughout each course and between each student.

“Offering criticism can be hard but with the position that I’m in it’s really important I can be critical if something is going wrong,” Stangler says. “These relationships are very important and making sure it’s going well is necessary to our work.”

CBL courses are more than just another class. Whether it’s getting out into the community, looking at a major in a different way or learning about yourself, CBL courses provide an impactful experience for everyone.

Every student should enroll in a CBL course at least once while at UW-Madison, says Stangler.

“Everyone gets something out of the experience that can impact you as a human,” Stangler says.