KyCC Faculty Spotlight: Thomas R. Wójcicki, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Bellarmine University
“The least of the work of learning is done in the classroom.”
– Thomas Merton
While Dr. Thomas Wójcicki believes that attending lectures and taking notes is a time-tested pedagogical approach, he recognizes the need for and value of active learning – especially via community engagement – as it can greatly improve the comprehension of the material being taught and significantly aid in the realization and subsequent appreciation of its social utility.
“Demonstrating one’s ability to successfully apply the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom within, for, or in partnership with local communities can provide the student with a greater sense of agency in their learning,” Dr. Wójcicki explained. “As a result, these meaningful and relevant experiences can have a positive impact on their personal development and can help them recognize their potential to become active and engaged citizens of the world.”
Service-learning has had a direct impact on his career in a number of ways. His research agenda surrounds the examination and promotion of physical activity across the lifespan, with a particular focus on walking behaviors at the community level. As an active and engaged scholar, Dr. Wójcicki often pursues and takes advantage of professional development opportunities – especially those with an emphasis on community engagement. Involvement in such activities allows him to improve and refine his skills as an educator, helps to inform and navigate his scholarly work, and provides him with the tools and understanding needed to meaningfully engage in community service that is still unique to his academic area of expertise.
A Few Recent Experience Examples
Walking College Fellowship, America Walks: Graduate of a six-month distance education program, covering the science behind the benefits of walking, evaluation of built environments, as well as communication skills and building relationships with decision-makers; fellows proposed, developed, and implemented Walking Action Plans for their respective communities; took part in regional and national conferences to network and learn from other walkability advocates.
The Lucille Leggett Neighborhood Institute, Center for Neighborhoods: Graduate of a 12-week program designed to provide neighborhood leaders with the skills, tools, and knowledge needed to improve, protect, and promote their neighborhoods and the larger community of Louisville.
Focus Louisville, Leadership Louisville Center: Graduate of a 3-day workshop designed to provide participants a more complete view and understanding of Louisville, along with a better sense of how to put leadership into action.
Brendan Sullivan (2020)
Professional service-learning experiences have not only influenced his approach to scholarship and service but have resulted in an improved ability to creatively incorporate community-placed, -based, and -engaged activities into his pedagogy, which has been well-received by his students at large.
Dr. Wójcicki’s courses that have implemented
EXSC 230: Physical Activity Across the Lifespan (Honors Component)
Honors students enrolled in this class are provided with a unique opportunity to experience and apply course-related content in local, “real-world” settings. Over the course of the semester, students are taken on four unique group-based excursions throughout the city of Louisville and surrounding areas – all on foot, bike, and/or bus – where they are introduced to community-based resources and opportunities that encourage engagement in both active recreation and transportation, as well as the common environmental barriers and social challenges that often interfere with a community’s ability to adequately support and encourage physically active lifestyles.
EXSC 415: Community Wellness
This course is designed to introduce students to the fundamentals and core functions of public health via the study and the practice of community wellness. In an attempt to foster a greater appreciation for the community in which most of his students live, learn, work, and play, learning in this course is largely experiential in nature, with the city of Louisville serving as the students’ laboratory. Unique learning components include:
- Involvement with Local Non-Profit Organizations: Students are expected to volunteer their time, talents, and effort to local nonprofit organizations whose missions are centered on community development and wellness. By the end of every semester, each cohort of students routinely contributes more than 100 hours of community service to various groups and causes that are of personal interest.
- Louisville Metro Data Project: Students are introduced to and expected to utilize publicly available datasets to retrieve and examine socio-demographic and health-related data for specific populations and geographic areas throughout Louisville Metro. With the support and guidance of community stakeholders, these data, along with the assessment of needs and assets, are then used to inform the development of their ultimate team-based community wellness initiatives.
- Community Wellness Initiative: Over the course of the semester, teams of students are required to plan, create, and implement or deliver a community wellness initiative of their own (i.e., a community-based resource, campaign, or program).
- The Annual Community Wellness Distinguished Speaker Series: Students are provided with the opportunity to learn from and interact with community-centric thought leaders regarding important issues and best practices related to public health advocacy and community wellness. Recent (i.e., Fall 2020) contributors to this series include:
- Dr. Ian Thomas, State and Local Program Director of America Walks
- Dr. Donald “DJ” Mitchell, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at Bellarmine University
- Cole Zaccaro, Program Manager of the National Complete Streets Coalition
- Natalie Harris, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Homeless
- Stephen George, President and General Manager of Louisville Public Media
- Dr. Theresa Wee, Founder and Lead Physician of Walk with a Doc-Oahu
- Matt Wallace, Producing Artistic Director of Kentucky Shakespeare
- Jeff Underhill, President of Underhill Associates
Many students have relayed testimonies on
the meaningful impact of service-learning
- “The most valuable aspect of this course was honestly the entire content of the course itself. This course seems to have been built very well as to present information in a concise manner and then supplement it in many ways (quizzes over empirical journal articles, opportunities to engage the material learned within the real world, etc), which seems to cater to the learning styles of all. I feel like I learned a lot in this course and it truly made me think more critically and become more passionate about the topics and issues that were presented. It also allowed me to see how what is taught in the lecture applies directly in our community and that is extremely valuable to me. The honors component of this course helped me to further understand and witness firsthand how the course material applies in the real world, and I wish there were more opportunities and courses like this one and that all students had the ability to take advantage of these opportunities.” – Student from EXSC 230
- “Dr. T, I want to let you know how much I appreciated today’s walk. It opened my eyes to things, like you said, that I see every single day that I would have paid no mind to before. The critical thought and passion that you showed and encouraged us to partake in were lovely. Everything you said was clear, easy to digest, and entertaining. Today’s discussion will turn my attention to the walkability of the areas around me now and even going forward when I am choosing places to live. Before, I liked certain neighborhoods that resembled Strathmoor Village, but I did not necessarily know why…the community? the peacefulness? but now I can see a reason why those things are a part of neighborhoods like that…the walkability! I cannot wait to share with my friends and family what I learned. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and passion with us today and I look forward to the upcoming excursions.” – EXSC 230 Student
- “Well, this class was truly amazing. I learned so much about the community I live work and play in and I’m so thankful for all the models and value systems of community and societal policy approaches that we covered. I found the guest speaker series so very helpful in conceptualizing how difficult working with non–profit can be but also how rewarding it is! Honestly, the Portland speaker brought me to tears and left a huge impact on my heart! I learned a lot about myself as a person through the stories and projects that we got to experience and diligently work on! Truly an honor to have a course like this at Bellarmine University, thanks to Dr. T.” – Anonymous Student from EXSC 415
- “Dr. T, I truly could not be more thankful for having you as my professor for four years, the way you push your students to learn really provides critical thinking and creativity to work alongside textbook knowledge in a glorious manner. The way you teach each class demands such strong passion and emotion captivating the room creating an extraordinary learning experience. I have never been more challenged to learn something completely foreign yet also felt a fire in my gut for something (walkability, public health) as if I had been advocating for it my whole life. It takes a very special and talented person to do so…I am writing this letter to thank you for showing up each day being: excited, professional, humorous, and knowledgeable. I am also writing this letter to thank you for providing each student (me) with such a quality education and wonderful learning environment that inspired, innovated, and established future career paths. You have truly made an impact on my development and education during my time here at Bellarmine University and I am forever grateful! Keep on keeping on Dr. T from the bottom and top of my heart, THANK YOU!!!!” – EXSC 415 Student