The work of many hands

In three short years, Dr. VanLaningham has transformed the Loras College Honors program into a successful “citizen-scholar” model, focused on transformative community impact and deep student learning. The program now intentionally links academic research with community-based learning, through a three-year project. Students and faculty develop interdisciplinary research projects which address a question or problem in a community to learn about the issue, connect with other interested groups, and develop a possible solution.

Dr. Erin VanLaningham receives Iowa Campus Compact’s Emerging Innovation award from IACC board chair and Mercy College President Barbara Decker.

Dr. Erin VanLaningham ​ describes the success of the Loras College honors program as the result “of the many hands that hold it.” The many hands being the 75 students, 15 faculty mentors and community partners who collaborate over three years to identify needs and create meaningful solutions to a local or international community’s problem.

​One project addressed on-campus water usage by building student and faculty awareness of water usage. Students expanded their efforts by seeking grant funding in order to install dual-flush converters which save up to 30% of an average toilet’s water usage. Their project received grant funding and as a result students noticed a slight decrease in water usage in the buildings where the dual-flush converters were installed.

Maggie Baker and Dr. Erin VanLaningham (both Loras College) at the Iowa Campus Compact Engaged Campus Awards in Iowa City, Iowa.

Transforming the Honors program has not been without its challenges. Often times, the many moving pieces of a project do not come together as expected. “Faculty and students like to be in the classroom,” said Dr. VanLaningham. Connecting and communicating with community partners is a critical part of the project, and often the most difficult for students to manage.

“Students approach their projects with a lot of excitement, but need they encouragement from their faculty mentor to stay with their projects and face failures,” Dr. VanLaningham explained. Faculty members play a critical role in supporting students through the project.

Dr. VanLaningham  has plans to further develop the program by providing more professional development opportunities to students. She also sees opportunities to continue projects and partnerships after students have graduated.