Engaging Students in Community Partnerships for Learning

Engaging Students in Community Partnerships for Learning


Photo by Taryn Allen and Alex Parker

Written by: Erika Trigoso, Department of Geography and the Environment

The FSEM I teach is entitled Geography and Genealogy and the main objective of the class is to provide a detailed overview of genealogy in relation to the geographic, religious, economic, political and social processes that shaped the migration choices of our ancestors. The course focuses on intensive research of a variety of primary and secondary sources such as Ellis Island records and census records.

Within this learning framework, as part of an OTL OneNewThing grant, in the Autumn 2015 term I developed a final research project that helped to sharpen the students’ research skills while engaged in a service learning project related to the historic preservation of older properties in Denver. The project consisted of pairing student teams with community members interested in applying for historic designation status based on three categories: geography (location contribution to city of Denver’s character), history (association with the historical development of the city or with a person or group of persons who had influence on society), architecture (possesses distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style).

The community partners were recruited via City Park West / Park Hill Neighborhoods Next Door and Facebook websites. The project involved a field trip in which the students met the community partners and collected information and pictures of the property. The students went to the downtown Denver Public Library to further investigate property records with the aid of librarians. The students also conducted research via ancestry.com (a required class tool) to research the property’s census records and occupant’s biographies. The main goal was to provide our community partners with a complete report to be used as part of the historic designation application.

The students were quite engaged with the project once they visited their assigned properties and got to meet the property owners and collect information in situ. The students had the chance to polish their recently acquired research skills with primary and secondary sources of information, and to participate in old fashioned field trips and library research.

This was a great opportunity for the students and for me as the instructor. We got to experience service learning while contributing to the preservation of the geographic/historic/architectural character of Denver. Many of the out of state students were able to learn in depth about Denver’s development as a city and got to enjoy the unique downtown architecture which is threaten by rapid urban development and infill. The students got to immerse themselves into old Denver.

Some of the challenges were that the properties were very different from each other. Some properties had lots of available information, while others were lacking. Some had significant advantages historically/architecturally in comparison to the others. It was somewhat difficult to provide a comparable experience for all students. Next time, we would like to partner with a city councilman who is seeking to conduct research of historic properties along Colfax Avenue. Due to the large number of properties involved it will be easier to provide all students with a similar and meaningful experience. It will be also beneficial to have the city of Denver as our project partner since the results will be incorporated in the larger Colfax Avenue Development Project.

There were several interesting research results: 1) matching a property to a previous owner who was the first City of Denver librarian, 2) linking a property to a former presidential candidate, 3) determining that one property owner was the founder of the Jewish National Hospital. To complete the loop, we are eager to learn if any of the community partners were successful in obtaining historic status for their houses.

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