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Poverty & Civic Engagement Course


This service-learning course allows students to examine perceptions and policies toward those living in poverty in the United States while providing vital vision screenings to children in the immediate region.  Academic coursework will focus on perceptions and misperceptions of those in poverty, race and poverty, socioeconomic issues faced by low-income families, federal and state policies toward working families, and the impact on service-learning on individual civic engagement and political socialization. 


The goal of this course is to enable students to critically examine the many dimensions of poverty and inequality in the United States, including the role of policy, institutions, and other generational and systemic factors in the production, maintenance, and alleviation of poverty and inequality.  However, rather than isolating students within a purely academic environment, this course seeks to facilitate a living experience wherein students can analyze firsthand the conditions of socioeconomic stratification as well as the demographics, consequences, and realities of poverty.  The combination of classroom discussion and academic practices with a service-learning component will offer students the skills for building the theoretical and analytic foundations for promoting social and economic justice.  The overall ambition for this course is not only scholarly instruction in poverty and anti-poverty studies, nor simply the exposure of students to a valuable and needed service-learning exercise—the mission here is to utilize the combination and interplay of both components to encourage and develop a new understanding of civic engagement and political socialization from the perspective of the undergraduate college student and beyond.  Students leave the course with a greater comprehension of and appreciation for social reform and citizen mobilization in the interests of changing the circumstances of families living in poverty in the richest nation on earth.


The academic component of the course challenges students to examine healthcare and socioeconomic issues facing low-income individuals and to understand how public health policies and unique programs, such as FocusFirst, have been developed in order to address lack of access to care for many working families.  In addition to classroom discussion and reflective writing, students contribute 4-5 hours per week during the May Interim term at a FocusFirst site, providing free, technologically advanced vision screenings to low-income children in the Tuscaloosa community and other areas of west Alabama. 


Participation in Poverty and Civic Engagement is offered to select undergraduate and graduate students as a 2-credit independent study/fieldwork course, based on recommendations from faculty members in each student’s home department. There are no course prerequisites, although students may need to have a few discipline-specific skills.  The course will require participation in a weekly seminar in addition to completion of the service-learning component.


 As a course specifically designed for the May Interim period, Poverty and Civic Engagement represents a belief in flexible and innovative coursework as fundamental to the mission of the university.




For more information, please contact CESR at cesr@ua.edu or 348-6490.