Q&A: CTE Faculty Fellow Kate Stephenson

By Kristin Sloane

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The CTE is thrilled to welcome Kate Stephenson to our team! An Assistant Professor, General Faculty in the Department of English, Kate will be joining us as a CTE Faculty Fellow. These are year-long appointments in which faculty draw on their interests and expertise to help advance our work, while expanding their own pedagogical knowledge.

Kate teaches community-engaged courses on social issues such as food justice, homelessness, and affordable housing, partnering with local organizations Loaves and Fishes, PVCC Community Garden, and The Haven. She has participated in the CTE’s Course Design Institute and Ignite programs, and currently is a member of the Community-Engaged Teaching Faculty Learning Community that meets monthly.

Kate’s history with the CTE goes back to before she became a faculty member at UVA; she worked at the Center as a graduate student, helping to lead writing-focused workshops. Kate says she is excited to get more deeply involved in the CTE’s work once again. As a Faculty Fellow, she will focus her efforts on supporting our community-engaged initiatives. Kate shares some of her hopes and plans for the next year below.

Q: How did you get interested in community engagement at UVA?

A. I've always been interested in being active in the community. My whole life I've done different things, whether it's working with Habitat or at the local food pantry … I was teaching a writing seminar on photography (at UVA) and the students [were] just not that involved. How [could] I get them more engaged? How [could] I get them to see that writing can matter beyond our writing workshops and even our class?

The last assignment was open-ended. I asked them to create their own photo essay, basically about anything, something they were passionate about. … What struck me was how many students were writing about social issues—about sustainability or other social issues around Grounds. I thought it would be interesting to theme a class around a social issue and get them to start seeing how their writing can actually evoke change in the community.

Then I started polling my students: what do you think about taking a class on food justice? The reactions were enthusiastic!  It built slowly from there. I was already working at Loaves and Fishes as a volunteer myself. … It just emerged out of that: what if we partnered with a non-profit and sent students there? Could they have both the academic and the hands-on experience? What would that do to the learning? What kinds of writing could they produce that would benefit the community partner?                                                        

Q: What are your plans while in the position? What projects or activities will you be working on?

A. The most immediate task will be working with Andy Kaufmann to design the [Community-Engaged Teaching Scholars program], which hasn't been done, at least by the CTE before. I think it’s a pretty exciting endeavor.

I’ll also help Andy run faculty learning groups that will continue throughout the fall and spring. I think one of the great things about the CTE is that it's never a one-week seminar. There's always support that continues through the following year.

Then the other major component will be putting together—and this is not fully envisioned yet—a community symposium or showcase at the end of 2022. Once all the faculty members have redesigned or designed [community-engaged] courses (during the program) and then actually run them for a year, what kind of work has come out of that? What have their students accomplished with the community partners? What kind of impact does it have?

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in this role?

A. I think one of the challenges of this kind of work is that there usually aren't that many people within a department doing it, so you feel isolated. The (Community-Engaged Teaching Scholars) program is a unique chance to create an infrastructure and network for people across the University that are doing this kind of work but might not actually know each other. It gives people a community to talk over issues with, to really grow together, as teachers and scholars. I think that's really important because this can be labor intensive work. To have a community to fall back on could be transformative. I hope this program establishes, maintains, and sustains that community.

Especially in this moment, it's also really important to think about the relationship that UVA has with Charlottesville. We always say “the community” as if it's this kind of monolithic thing, which, of course it's not. There are so many different communities around us, and they change and shift based on time and moment. Right now, we're seeing such cataclysmic change all around the country, and it is essential to think deeply about these social justice issues and about the ways in which the academy has responsibilities to the community around us. I hope that programs like this (Community-Engaged Teaching Scholars) make those connections clear and also strengthen relationships. So much of this work depends on relationships—relationships with our students, with the community partners, but then also relationships on a grander scale between UVA and Charlottesville and the surrounding counties. There’s a lot of repair work to be done, and I hope we can nurture relationships that work towards that.

Kate is one of five CTE Faculty Fellows, including Rose Buckelew who started in the role in January. The others will be joining us later in the year and announced then.