"This is a great opportunity to show how diverse our field of study is"

How can you effectively embed Community Engaged Learning (CEL) in education? Choose a specific theme and then look for external partners, is the advice of lecturers Stefan Sudhoff and Doris Abitzsch. Both teach in the bachelor's programme in German language and culture. Their choice fell on the Stolpersteine project, which German artist Gunter Demnig uses to make visible victims of National Socialism in 27 countries.

Stolpersteine (‘stumbling stones’) are small stones with a hand-made brass plaque with the personal details of murdered Jews, Sinti, Roma, disabled people and homosexuals, among others. The stones are placed in the pavement in front of former victims' homes.

Social issue

"We felt it was important to work on a social issue," explains Doris Abitzsch. "Questions like: 'how do we shape democracy?' come to my mind. 'What contribution can I make to the way we treat each other?' 'How can I oppose something?' That's how we ended up with The Second World War and its associated national socialism. This had a huge impact on our society and still touches on current issues. Back then, large groups of people were excluded while today we claim to be an inclusive society. But are we? Today, there are still groups of people who feel excluded. That's how we ended up with the Stolpersteine project." After Doris contacted the Stolpersteine Foundation, she received a phone call from an enthusiastic volunteer just ten minutes after sending her e-mail. "The foundation is happy with this extra attention and the support of our students. In addition, we also cooperate with the Goethe-Institut in Amsterdam, whose garden houses an atelier for making the stumbling stones."

It is important that students come out of their university bubble and also come into contact with other opinions and perspectives.

Language as a tool

"The image of our education programme is not always correct," Stefan Sudhoff explains. Many people think you only learn the language here, but to us language is the means to achieve other goals. This project is a great opportunity for us to show how special and diverse our profession is." The project is therefore embedded in several courses. For example, students are working on researching victims of national socialism in the municipality of Utrecht. For this, they engage in conversations with, among others, residents of houses where victims lived, and sometimes they also talk to relatives. The results of this research are shared with the Stolpersteine Foundation so that they can get to work making and placing the memorial stones. In another course, students develop educational material for pupils of a few secondary schools in Utrecht. This introduces students to the concept of remembrance culture, concepts of cultural learning and the development of educational materials.

University bubble

Doris and Stefan see that students benefit from this form of Community Engaged Learning. "It is important that students come out of their university bubble and also come into contact with other opinions and perspectives" Stefan explains. "In one of our courses, for example, students went on a tour of stumbling stones in Utrecht with a group of havo 4 pupils. That involved children from different backgrounds and our students found it quite challenging to create a teaching programme for that. But in the end it went really well and both students and pupils were enthusiastic afterwards." Doris reveals that there is also a clear added value for teachers: "It is good to work on a common theme as a team of teachers. We are all there to teach our students something and such a project makes you realise that you are not alone. It has really led to more cohesion in the programme."

Getting started with Community Engaged Learning yourself?

  • Are you a teacher and want to make Community Engaged Learning part of your teaching too? Check out the CEL intranet page (login with solis-id) for support options. Including a grant or didactic support from Educational Development & Training.
  • Are you a teacher and do you have ideas how CEL can become a permanent part of the curriculum in your faculty or college? Contact the CEL ambassador (login with solis-id) of your faculty or college. UU's ambition is to give CEL a permanent place in the curriculum (Strategic Plan 2025). Each faculty has a CEL ambassador who draws up a plan on how CEL education will be embedded in their faculty.
  • Do you work at an organisation in the region of Utrecht, or are you a teacher and are you curious about how students and scientists can contribute to social issues in Utrecht? Or do you already have ideas for collaboration and are looking for tools to get started? Come to the CEL event on 14 November. Register now for the event.