I could answer this question in so many ways right now—I’m working on putting together panels and editing keynote essays for the 2016 Watson conference. I’m continuing my thread of teaching writing courses revolving around community engagement, this time in Advanced Inquiries in Writing. I’m running and taking a self defense class, because endorphins make all of that other stuff a little easier. And, of course, I’m transcribing, reading, mapping, and writing my dissertation.
But in many ways, my time right now is defined by what I’m not working on. In this, my third year, I’m spending my first Spring semester not working on the UofL Digital Media Academy (DMA), a digital media camp for rising sixth grade girls from historically low performing schools in Louisville. I helped design and teach the camp for its first two years, and this experience has shaped my professional life more than any other during my time at UofL. Much of the work I’m doing right now is that which comes after a major community engagement project.
One of the hardest things about focusing your research on community writing as a graduate student is figuring out how to be a part of projects when you know you will only be around for a couple of years. For me, that’s involved following the lead of professors like Mary P. Sheridan, Brenda Brueggemann, and Beth Boehm to work on their projects, gaining experience in community engagement and contributing to partnerships that will continue after I leave Louisville.
But this year, as two of my major projects (DMA and Art as Memory, a collaboration with the Council on Developmental Disabilities) have wrapped up, I’m left wondering—what happens after you finish your part in a community engagement project? The tasks might be finished, the assessment report turned into funders and final products released to your community partners, but that doesn’t mean I’m finished thinking about it.
Right now, much of what I’m doing is figuring out how these projects can continue to be fertile ground for my thinking, and I can see that happening in two different ways:
- They continue to offer insight into how I can explore disciplinary issues in a community setting, through writing about these projects for my dissertation, for conference presentations, and for publications. My dissertation examines institutional structures for community engagement, considering how those structures both enable and constrain particular types of activity and how emerging engaged scholars, especially graduate students, learn to navigate those structures. Additionally, I’m preparing a conference presentation about DMA as a model for learning how to do community engagement and finalizing two publications with DMA team members.
- The projects I’ve finished at UofL (and the ones I’m just starting now) contribute to future projects I am now only imagining, ones that I could pursue in my next position, hopefully as a faculty member. Obviously, wherever I go, I’ll be working with community members to identify problems and figure out solutions, but what I’ve done here at UofL has given me models for what a variety of methods for engaged scholarship look like in action.
It’s strange not to be in the mess of planning DMA this year, but the after is a different mess of its own, sorting out how this camp, and my other experiences, will shape my future as an engaged scholar. But it all leads to the same question—what’s next?
Megan Faver Hartline is a third year doctoral candidate and fellow who has recently begun writing her dissertation that examines institutional structures for community engagement. She also serves as the Assistant Director of the Thomas R. Watson Conference.