It Just Might Work: Cross-campus learning

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by Eric Ginsburg

I’ve been thinking about it more ever since my friend Shaheen brought it up: Our college campuses are divided. There is little interaction between students at Winston-Salem’s very unique institutions, she pointed out, and there has to be a way to break down that isolation. The same is true in Greensboro, and High Point University is nothing short of a fortress unto itself.

But I quickly spurned any ideas for an event-driven attempt to bring students together — it would probably only assist in the transmission of bodily fluids and maybe the occasional lasting friendship. To really make a shift, the institutions themselves would need to be more connected.

I saw that happen on some level as a student and later teaching assistant in a thought-provoking class called “Reclaiming Democracy.” Guilford College, my alma mater, partnered with UNCG, A&T, Greensboro College, Bennett College and Elon University for an inter-institutional class. We met at Elon Law School in downtown Greensboro, and while we mostly clung to our campus clusters, it became clear that this could be a powerful model for broader collaboration.

There are some impressive existing partnerships. UNCG and A&T now work together on the nanoscience school, and are joined by GTCC for the planned Union Square nursing campus in downtown Greensboro. And the Center for Design Innovation in Winston-Salem is a partnership between UNC School of the Arts, Winston-Salem State University and Forsyth Tech.

More classes together will inevitably lead to an easing of the divide. Hopefully efforts such as this will be built upon and new alliances formed between colleges and universities in the Triad.

The primary division that students and other residents alike will identify is the bubble separating college students from the rest of the city. Again, the classroom is an excellent place to address that tension, both with experiential learning requirements, internships and whole classes.

Imagine a North Carolina history course covering a section about Winston-Salem with students from Salem College and Wake Forest in it. Picture an urban-planning class with UNCG geography students and Bennett College political-science majors crafting ideas for how to encourage affordable housing in Greensboro.

What if UNCSA kids and WSSU metal-design students created a public-art project together? What if Guilford and A&T students came together to research sustainable solutions to the city’s municipal solid-waste problems? The possibilities for uniting curriculums and relating content to students’ immediate surroundings are practically endless.

I’m sure there are already several examples of things like this happening here that I’m not aware of, which is heartening, because this merging of institutions with each other and the cities around them in a thoughtful way should be a priority.

Oh, and that problem of how to retain or attract young people? Engaging students across colleges and with their city is an ideal foundation.