The Action Research Seminar is a 300-level course cross-listed with Political Science and Sociology. Every year, the seminar focuses on community projects that make a difference:
The seminar focused on the importance of relationships in grassroots community development while reading "Better Together" by Robert D. Putnam. For their group project, the seminar students researched popular sites, businesses and points of pride for West Bloomington and partnered with The Tool Library to create two color way-finding signs which were installed outside the WBRP office and Retrofit Culture. A survey of realtors about the West Bloomington housing market, a housing value inventory and spreadsheet for grant writing, and a free legal advice clinic were all projects completed by individual students this semester.
The projects of the 2014 seminar have made a lasting impact on the Westside. A new mural and new adopt-a-pots have made the WBRP office at the corner of Washington and Allin look refreshed and a cornerstone of revitalization efforts. A pop-up art gallery, a self-defense class, and a study on the Cop-on-the-Block program were responsive to community needs identified by residents.
The class looked at the definition of revitalization. As a group project, students identified indicators that would be measurable and serve as a way to benchmark improvement. Home values? Crime rate? Median household income? Students completed individual projects including Track Your Life, the Tool Library, and an operations guide for the Walk In Bike Out event.
The class looked at the role of higher education in neighborhood revitalization. We partnered with the West Bloomington Revitalization Project to advance the strategic initiatives of youth, education, community wellness and safety, housing, economic development and greening. Throughout the semester the class met with leaders in the community and resources on campus. Some classes were held out in the community.
We studied IWU’s civic engagement activities including individual volunteers and interns as well as athletics, Greek, and academic groups. The class created new ways for the campus and community to connect.
The class performed an Extreme Not-for-Profit Makeover at Western Avenue Community Center. We revamped the infrastructure of the agency including job descriptions, marketing materials, grant research, logic models and tracking mechanisms.
The team partnered with the Downtown Bloomington Association (DBA) while the downtown strategy was being considered by business owners and the city council. Students worked on individual projects that improved life downtown including writing the operations manual for the farmer’s market, studying small business recycling feasibility and hosting a college visit for at-risk youth from downtown and the Westside.
The seminar class studied how to improve the quality of life for youth on the Westside of Bloomington. The results of the class were captured in the Quality of Life Plan put forth by the West Bloomington Revitalization Task Force. The plan was later recognized with an award by the American Planning Association. ARC students continue to serve in leadership roles with the revitalization team including board members, committee chairs and even the interim executive director (twice!).