March 2023

Reprinted with permission from Bethel University. View the original article, which was published on Jan. 13, 2023.

Claudia May
Dr. Claudia May

For more than 25 years, Bethel students have learned by listening, living, and working alongside leaders in the Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods in St. Paul, Minnesota. In effort to strengthen and deepen those relationships, Bethel is launching the Center for Community Engaged Learning to oversee and facilitate partnerships between Bethel and the Frogtown/Summit-University communities.

The Frogtown and Summit-University communities are situated in one of St. Paul's oldest neighborhoods, just west of the Minnesota State Capitol. They feature a diverse cultural landscape and rich history—and they are home to many leaders and organizations that Bethel students have partnered with and learned from over the years.

This kind of hands-on, community engaged learning is an important piece of the Bethel student experience. “Engaging in deeply impactful learning experiences in our local community has been a transformational experience for hundreds of undergraduates,” says Dr. Robin Rylaarsdam, provost of Bethel University. “Students have been challenged to see the image of God in all people, to find their part in serving a broken world as Christ's redemptive agents, and to experience the beauty in the lives of people they have not previously met.” 

The new center will be led by Executive Director Dr. Claudia May, who also currently serves as professor and program director of reconciliation studies. Dr. May has more than 25 years of experience teaching in higher education, during which she has intentionally integrated the expertise and practices of community educators throughout her classrooms, forums, and speaking events.

Dr. May calls it a privilege for Bethel students, faculty, and staff to collaborate alongside individuals and communities in the Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods. “These wisdom bearers, community educators, practitioners of community advocacy efforts, neighborhood sustainers, and justice-seeking innovators of different ages, cultures, and beliefs show us how to connect with our humanity and those of others,” she says.

In her new role, Dr. May will work with academic departments in the College of Arts & Sciences to establish mutually beneficial relationships with community partners. She will also oversee the community-wide work study program and serve as Bethel’s leader with Campus Compact and the Place-Based Justice Network. Dr. May’s work will continue to support the collaborative practice of community engaged learning in diverse contexts for current and future Bethel students.

Over the years, Bethel students have collaborated with and learned from Frogtown and Summit-University community members in a variety of ways. Some have used what they’re learning in class to partner with nonprofit organizations to create practical resources. Others have partnered with Frogtown and Summit-University community members by participating in work study opportunities. Some have lived and worked in the Frogtown community. And in the years ahead, the opportunities for learning and collaboration are poised to grow. 

The Center for Community Engaged Learning will continue its operations out of Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church in St. Paul, building on the collaborative work of a variety of individuals, including Dr. Tanden Brekke (former assistant director of service-learning and community engagement), community educators, and the Bethel faculty, staff, and students who have participated in Frogtown and Summit-University initiatives over the decades. 

“Alongside members of the Bethel Frogtown Summit-University Partnership,” Dr. May says, “the center will continue to function as a hub and forum for collaboration, where the human dignity of all is acknowledged, injustices are redressed through partnerships with community educators and wisdom bearers, the gifts of mutual learning are honored, and creative expressions of educational partnership are nurtured and celebrated.”

By Cherie Suonvieri