Tips for providing students with a civic-learning experience

By, Camille Gamboa, PR, SAGE US

Brian Harward 0592_rDr. Brian Harward is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Allegheny College, Director of the Center for Political Participation, and the 2013 winner of the SAGE/CQ Press Award for Teaching Innovation in Political Science (in partnership with APSA). Dr. Harward won the award for his work connecting his university with the Robert H. Jackson Center, which advances Jackson’s legacy by providing lectures, symposiums, publications, and educational programs and resources. This partnership has equipped the university with an inspiring service-learning opportunity for Allegheny students.

For those of you interested in service-learning experiences for your students, read below to learn more about the partnership between Allegheny and the Robert H. Jackson Center and for some tips from Harward himself.

We’d love to hear a little bit about the work you did to link Allegheny College with the Robert H. Jackson Center. First of all, tell us a little bit about the Center.

The Robert H. Jackson Center ( is wonderful resource for materials related to the life, work and legacy of Robert H. Jackson. Jackson was a leading lawyer of the New Deal Era, serving as Solicitor General, Attorney General, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the U.S. Chief of Counsel prosecuting the leaders of the Axis powers at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg.  The Center is home to transcripts, interviews, scholarly research, historical artifacts, and many other resources relating to the central role that Robert H. Jackson and his legacy has played—and continues to play—in domestic and international policy and law.

Through a partnership that we developed with the Robert H. Jackson Center, Allegheny College has expanded and enhanced its set of unique study, research, and civic learning opportunities of extraordinary quality in the areas of law, courts, and international human rights. The Partnership supports student internships, research, and a wide range of programming dedicated to Jackson’s legal legacy and to the myriad connections of its relevance to contemporary national and international events.

How did the partnership with Allegheny get started and where does it currently stand?

The Partnership began when the founding Director of the Jackson Center (who is an alumnus of the College) invited a group of us to the Center to reflect together with him about the connections the College might develop with what is very much akin to a presidential library. As a Constitutional Law professor with a long-standing appreciation for the quality of Jackson’s legal writing, I jumped at the opportunity to begin constructing programming that linked the resources of the Center with student energies and College priorities for inter-disciplinarity, community engagement, and so on. In short order, we collaborated on lectures, conferences, and research projects. The Center routinely hosts our students for summer internships and has begun to incorporate our faculty in long-term conversations about the Center itself. The relationship continues to grow, and we are hopeful that Allegheny continues to be a part of the Center’s many successes.

How have you seen it impact the lives of your students?

The excitement is clear; whether they are learning more or retaining more, or whether the programs in which they participate have a lasting effect on their well-being or intellectual development, I don’t know. We’ll need to get a handle on that.  But an example might be useful.  At the end of every summer, just prior to the start of classes, the Jackson Center hosts our students and faculty at its annual International Humanitarian Law Dialogues. This conference brings international prosecutors of atrocity crimes together with students and policymakers to engage in conversations about international criminal law. Our students come back from these events with new ideas for their theses, with energy for addressing issues of international law and human rights and, in several instances, internship offers.  Obviously, it’s quite a special occasion for the students to spend a day interacting with the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, or the Jordanian Ambassador to the U.N., for example. We’ve been very fortunate in that this collaboration with the Jackson Center makes those kinds of transformative experiences possible for our students.

In your opinion, how has it benefited the Robert H. Jackson Center?

Again, an example is illustrative, I think. As part of a course I teach, each student was involved in an in-depth project to develop educational materials for use by the Robert H. Jackson Center.  They had their rather typical course assignments, including a research paper.  But in addition to those expectations students selected a critical event or court case (or series of cases), that revealed interesting dynamics in the separation of powers that related to Jackson’s life and legal legacy and has bearing on our course material on crises in constitutionalism (eg., Japanese internment, the steel seizure case, Nazi saboteurs, Guantanamo detainees, etc.).  We explored the issue of constitutional design through the consideration of moments of constitutional crisis in the modern era.  Students led our discussions through the history of each “focusing event,”  complete with attention to the personalities involved, the social, political and economic forces at play, and the specific events that gave shape to the conflict, and the political and jurisprudential implications.  The Nazi saboteurs case, for example, began in the dead of night on a Long Island beach as a rubber raft floated ashore.  That story served to set the jurisprudential context for Ex Parte Quirin, which in turn provided the backdrop for the role of federal courts in Guantanamo detainee cases.  And the recent policies on military detainees and the targeted killing of American citizen and terror suspect Anwar al-Awlaki were explored as examples of the Obama administration’s exercise of executive power. Similarly, the stories of Fred Korematsu, Mitsuye Endo, and Gordon Hirabyashi gave the students faces and personal histories to associate with the Japanese internment camps and other expression of executive power during wartime.

Students were responsible for researching, developing, designing, and ultimately transferring that package of multimedia educational material to the Jackson Center at the end of the term.  Those modules are now in use by public secondary schools, serving a principal function of the Jackson Center—public education about the life and legal legacy of Justice Jackson. In addition, the modules were presented to the public during a March 8th and 9th, 2013 photojournalism conference the College hosted on “Documents of War: The Ethics and Challenges of Visual Storytelling” as part of our ongoing Jackson Center Partnership programming.

What advice would you give to professors with similar ambitions for providing their students with a civic-learning experience?

I would recommend thinking rather broadly about what civic learning might include.  Surely, service learning and other civic engagement opportunities are exciting and often deeply powerful experiences for students as they link their academic interests with the communities of which they are a part.  But civic learning can also reflect course and program emphases on civic mindfulness, civic judgment, civic knowledge, and social responsibility—without the community engagement dimension. I would encourage us to be pluralistic in our approaches, as there are many ways—through civic engagement and the cultivation of civic mindfulness—faculty and professional staff can provide opportunities for heightening student civic learning.

For example, like many social scientists, in each course I teach, the students are asked to do consider original research, develop original research questions, explore competing theories, construct hypotheses, and reflect on what the appropriate methods for testing those hypotheses might be. In some cases, that might involve encountering community, in others, it needn’t.  In my experience, if undergraduate students are given the appropriate tools and are supported and encouraged, they really do come to appreciate being taken seriously. And they come to expect that which can contribute to their self-realization and intellectual independence. The specific ways in which my teaching reflects these commitments varies, but the connection we’ve developed with the Jackson Center has generated a particularly gratifying degree of success with students, the College, and the region.

Just for fun, why did you originally decide to become a professor of political science?

I never took a political science class beyond the intro level as an undergraduate. But I did study abroad in Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua during a time of civil war, massive dislocation and social and economic upheaval in Central America. I think that experience sensitized me to issues of U.S. policy and the very dramatic, often wrenching and devastating human consequences of those policies. Initially, I began graduate school in philosophy, with an early interest in philosophy of law and social policy.  About that same time, I was working in DC for an association of higher education on a national program to develop faculty and institutional support for civic learning opportunities, though we didn’t call it that at the time.  As part of that work, I was tasked to help write the regulations for the newly created Learn and Serve: Higher Education program which was part of the larger National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 signed by President Clinton. While I had only a very limited role, that process of crafting the regulations and implementing the program fascinated me.  It was so far from the textbook version of policymaking that I was drawn toward issues of bureaucratic discretion, congressional oversight, executive power, and so on. It also helped that I had a really talented political scientist—Steven Balla—mentor me at the time. His teaching and scholarship aligned with what I was observing in my professional life. There went the philosophy degree; I was off to the University of Georgia for the Ph.D. in political science.

What is your favorite aspect about teaching?

At Allegheny College we have an undergraduate thesis requirement and a well-resourced undergraduate research program.  One of the most gratifying experiences I have occurs when the students with whom I’ve been working for a long time present their theses (or other research projects) in a public forum—and take questions about those projects. The mastery, poise, and confidence they often demonstrate can really be such a joy to see.

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