Mural by Joseph Testa-Secca at the Allen Building.

Mural by Joseph Testa-Secca at the Allen Building.

The Catalyst for Community Engagement is designed to foster dialogue on university-community engagement, including civic and political engagement, community-engaged research partnerships, service learning, and social justice.  The role of the USF Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships (OCEP) is to expand local and global initiatives that strengthen and sustain communities, and help improve the quality of life for all.

Bonnie Silvestri, JD, Director of Strategic Communications for the OCEP, writes The Catalyst and is responsible for communications and programming in alignment with the OCEP’s mission.  In addition to her work with OCEP, she teaches a service-learning course called Examinations of Poverty and Constitutional Law for USF Sarasota-Manatee, where she previously served as Senior Fellow for Arts, Culture, and Civic Engagement at the Institute for Public Policy and Leadership.

Bonnie’s expertise is in creating discussion around arts and culture as it relates to community engagement and social justice. She believes that discussing culture and artistic expression can help us understand ourselves and others while engaging in meaningful dialogue.

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"No Filter" - a USF/community collaboration opens on campus

By Bonnie Beth Silvestri, JD, Director of Strategic Communications

“I am still trying to negotiate and work out the experience and how it has affected me,” said Elizabeth Plakidas, a Graduate Community Scholars Fellowship recipient regarding her summer project funded through the Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships. The culmination of Plakidas’s summer collaboration is an exhibition opening this Friday, August 1st at the William and Nancy Oliver Gallery in the USF Fine Arts Building.

MFA candidate Beth Plakidas in her studio.

MFA candidate Beth Plakidas in her studio.

Plakidas, a graduate student in the Master’s of Fine Arts program, spent the summer working twice a week onsite at Pyramid, Inc., a community-based arts center for people with severe disabilities. The Tampa-based Pyramid is one of six throughout Florida focused on working with adults to create art in all forms.

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Sometimes all you need is "A Different Frame of Mind"

The USF Contemporary Art Museum put out an open call to community artists in late spring for an exhibition called “A Different Frame of Mind.” The artists were charged with using recycled museum quality frames from past USFCAM exhibitions to create new works of art. This is part of USFCAM’s “ongoing efforts to find new methods for sharing resources and creative capital with the community.”

"A Different Frame of Mind"

"A Different Frame of Mind"

When you think about a frame, it is in some sense a limitation, bounding a work of art, for exhibition and public view. But “A Different Frame of Mind” aimed to get artists to think about how to use recycled frames—new frames can generally be quite costly—to explore both the limitations and the opportunities for the expansiveness of the frames themselves. Each of the artists found a unique way to use the frames as a part of the piece and to start a conversation about framing and showing artwork in a gallery setting.

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Developing Empathy Key to Deeper Understanding

When I began teaching seven years ago, I was assigned three classes: Constitutional Law 1 and 2, and Women and the Law.

Women and the Law seemed to present the greatest challenge – how would I make this course relevant to young people attending college in the “aughts?” This was the “Sex and the City” era, when women seemed to be more empowered than ever and were reaching the highest echelons of business and politics.

Although I experienced some sexism, particularly while job hunting in Manhattan, I was selected as the first Executive Director of the Judicial Campaign Ethics Center for the New York State Court System. As a general matter, I did not feel constrained by my gender. Overall, I felt the system, by and large, was working.

Unless we have a personal experience with the legal system, we tend to believe that our constitutional system guarantees that we are all treated equally under the law. However, when one begins to study the law more carefully, particularly in a course like Women and the Law, we discover that in many cases, that is far from the truth. We covered topics ranging from women’s suffrage to equal employment to sexual harassment to reproductive rights.

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The Changing Structure of Families in the Late Sixties on Mad Men

(Spoiler Alert this describes the episode "The Strategy")

I fall into the camp that believes that Mad Men is one of, if not the best television show of all time. The final analysis to keep it in the all-time greats is how it will end. We have eight episodes to go for the brilliant Matthew Weiner to tie everything together and satisfy his legions of fans.

I thought the most recent episode, “The Strategy,” particularly its conclusion, was one of the strongest of the series. The quiet conversations, especially between the show’s leads, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Peggy Olsen (Elizabeth Moss) seemed both appropriate for the time period, the late 1960s, and yet so very timeless in their simplicity.

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"Uncommon Practice at USF" collaborative exhibit at the Tampa Museum of Art

Graphicstudio on the University of South Florida campus and the Tampa Museum of Art came together in a unique partnership to celebrate the outstanding work that has come out of this very special, research-based atelier located right on USF campus.

Graphicstudio began in 1968 as the brainchild of Donald Saff, who developed what Curator of the Collection of the USF Contemporary Art Museum, Peter Foe calls the “premiere house for experimentation in printmaking.”

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A Fractured Fairy Tale?: A Critical Look at Disney (Part 2)

As part of a series about “the Disney effect,” in part one, I looked at whether Disney’s focus on princesses is creating unrealistic gender norms for young girls. How will watching princesses in gowns and tiaras affect a generation of young girls who are taught to expect nothing less than the royal treatment?

Beyond the obvious concerns with setting up young girls to expect Prince Charming to solve their problems, even the decidedly more modern Princess Sofia has a bevy of servants attending to her every need. Does any Disney character engage in daily tasks like pouring a bowl of cereal or taking out the trash? Through the Disney effect, children are learning to desire and even demand the trappings of wealth and prestige served up to them on a silver platter. But with wealth inequality on the rise, that may be slipping further and further away.

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A Critical Look at the Disney Brand (Part 1)

Although I have mixed feelings about the pervasiveness of the Disney brand in our culture, it seems as though visits to Disney World have become about as important to parenting as changing diapers and packing lunches.

I grew up at a time before the princess revolution that has permeated the world of young girls. I was a part of the second wave of feminism reading Betty Friedan and singing along to “Free to Be You and Me” a musical compilation about gender equity developed by Marlo Thomas to serve as an alternative to fairy tale mythology.

As the mother of a three-year-old, I am keenly aware of her exposure to the Disney princess brand. Will the fact that every Disney employee seems required to call her “princess” seep into her consciousness and impact the way she views herself and others? What will the long-term effects be of the omnipresent emphasis on royal balls and fairy godmothers?

Meeting one of the omnipresent Disney princesses at age eighteen months.

Meeting one of the omnipresent Disney princesses at age eighteen months.

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The Grapes of Wrath still relevant after 75 years

Although I am frequently moved by theatrical experiences, there are those rare and special moments when you see something that touches you so deeply you feel you have been transformed. I saw one of the two final performances of The Grapes of Wrath this week at the Asolo Repertory Theatre, and I have been transfixed by the experience ever since.

John Steinbeck published the book The Grapes of Wrath, 75 years ago this month. The themes of the play are so universal that the story of the Joad family living in the forties is nearly as relevant to our lives today as it was when it first entered our cultural lexicon. The book was an immediate hit with waiting lists at local libraries; however, while it inspired so much appreciation from its fans, it also elicited a great deal of hatred and anger, and as a result is one of the most banned books in American history. The truth can be a dangerous thing for those who do not want to hear it. Interestingly, the Joads find themselves confronting truth-tellers along their journey who try to warn them that the promises of jobs and security in California are not what they seem. And Steinbeck’s masterpiece is a frank reminder of the darkness that can overtake men’s souls when resources are scarce. It is hard to dwell in that place where you are so keenly aware of that reality.

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Serendipity and Community

This week, serendipity has given me a greater sense of community.  On Wednesday afternoon, my colleague pointed up at the sky in awe.  A halo encircled the sun in a dazzling display by Mother Nature.  I found myself wanting to summon all of the students working fevershly on their laptops outside to step away from their end-of-the-semester preparation and look up at the sky.  Instead, we left to eat our lunch only to return to find a small gathering of USF staff snapping photos and pointing -- it was still there!  We all started talking about what we saw in the sky.  Was it a rainbow?  Was it made of tiny crystals surrounding the sun?  Did it mean a storm was brewing?  Our little group seemed to have different theories.  I exchanged cards with Javier Rodriguez who took this beautiful photo far better than the ones I snapped on my iPhone.  I learned he is a professional photographer as well as the Fiscal and Business Specialist for the USF Office of Graduate Studies.

Photo by Javier Rodriguez

Photo by Javier Rodriguez

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the road weeps, the well runs dry - a community engaged theatrical event

the road weeps, the well runs dry produced by the University of South Florida School of Theatre and Dance is a landmark example of community engaged research, development, and scholarship. The final performances representing the culmination of a three-year process to produce this previously unpublished play written by Marcus Gardley, took place during the weekend of April 12-13th.  Stay tuned for a wrap-up of all the community engaged programming related to this milestone production.

This massive undertaking began when USF Theatre Professor Fanni Green was approached by a former classmate of hers, Lisa Rothe of the Lark Play Development Center, a “laboratory for new voices and new ideas” that runs a program called Launching New Plays in the Repertoire Initiative to support mid-career playwrights, such as Gardley, who was selected as part of the pilot of this project in 2011. Gardley wanted his play (which is staged in four settings through the grant) to be produced in at least one university setting in Florida, where the play is partially set.

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Alexis Castle saves a life through a service-learning project on “Castle”

Service-learning can be a novel concept to explain; but once a student experiences a service-learning class it will stay with him or her forever. When students find out about service-learning, invariably they become very excited about volunteering on a community-based project as part of their coursework. But they often express concerns that it will be daunting – they wonder how they can find the hours to volunteer in what is already a busy day, often including full-time work, loads of reading for class, and family obligations. However, nearly every student by the end of one of my service-learning courses is grateful to have had the opportunity to “learn by doing” and the chance to reflect on their service activities.

It’s one thing to run a book drive or wash dishes at a soup kitchen, but it is quite another to dig deeper and think about the larger issues that people in our communities are facing and why they are facing them. Whether it is inadequate health care, a lack of food or a place to live, or a scarcity of other resources, there is so much more to providing service than clocking hours. In order for the service to be meaningful and to help bring about significant change, we need the chance to process these experiences, reflect on them, write about them, and most importantly, share our discoveries with one another.

Alexis Castle works on the Innocence Project at Columbia

Alexis Castle works on the Innocence Project in a service-learning class at Columbia University.

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Focus on Early Learning and Prevention at the Glazer Children’s Museum

In a stroke of serendipity, I was invited to the Glazer Children's Museum to connect with potential community partners for building collaborative relationships with USF—“matchmaking” work that the USF Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships helps facilitate. The Museum is an amazing community resource for the Tampa Bay area, providing children under 12 and their families a chance to learn, play, connect, and grow together.

The Glazer Children's Museum

This week, the Museum is celebrating the national “Week of the Young Child,” which is an initiative of the National Association for the Education of Young Children to draw attention to the kinds of hands-on activities that parents and educators can do with their kids to enhance their learning during the crucial 0-5 years. “The more people that participate, the louder and stronger our voice can be heard,” remarked Kerry Falwell, the Director of Education and Outreach for the Museum, in regard to how vital it is that very young children receive a quality education well before they reach kindergarten.

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Iconic film "Footloose" as a teachable moment?

In my efforts to ensure that students understand the impact politics can have on their daily lives and the importance of their own involvement, I find myself using the classic movie “Footloose” for shorthand.  Immediately, everyone gets it.  A small town bans singing and dancing in public; and it takes a big-City teen to help them realize that acts of civic engagement can be necessary to bring about desired social change.

In case you are too young to remember the original and made the wise decision not to sit through the remake, “Footloose” is the story of Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon), a Chicago teen who moves to a small town called Bomont, where dancing and rock music have been banned by the local city council.  Ren falls for the Reverend’s daughter, Ariel (Lori Singer), whose uninspiring boyfriend, Chuck (Jim Youngs) feels threatened by charismatic Ren.  This movie was among the first to feature a showdown involving dancing, which has inspired a host of films that in essence celebrate the significance of arts and culture to our daily lives.

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"I think I'm gonna like it here!"

I have recently joined the USF Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships (OCEP) as the first Director of Strategic Communications.  Among my assignments is to spread the word about the importance of the university’s role in community engagement.  Faculty, staff, and students are already involved in a dizzying amount of projects to help our local and global communities achieve their goals.

Since I started last month, I have been trying to wrap my mind around the multitude of existing programs both on and off campus, such as those designed to improve the lives of young people through the School of Education and the elderly population through the School of Aging Studies; the myriad of patents developed on campus for cures to intractable diseases; as well as the work of our own office’s poverty studies action groups.

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