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Director advocates service-learning

Bridget Feeney | Friday, August 24, 2012

The more than 400 first years settling into campus aren’t the only fresh faces at Saint Mary’s this fall. Erika Buhring has taken up post as the new director for the Office for Civic and Social Engagement (OCSE) and Experiential Learning Coordinator at the College.

Buhring said her background attracted her to Saint Mary’s unique identity.

“I’m a big believer in the private, liberal arts education,” she said. “I’ve lived in it, worked in it and I have a lot of respect for Saint Mary’s. I’m intrigued by the spirit of Saint Mary’s in that it is a women’s college.”

Buhring, who graduated from Grinnell College in Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology, has years of experience with non-profit groups and various education organizations.

She received her Master of Education and Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Illinois at Chicago before becoming an assistant professor at Concordia University Chicago. Prior to joining the faculty at Saint Mary’s, Buhring served as an assistant professor in the Educational Studies Department at Monmouth College in Illinois.

Buhring said her experiences in the academic world will serve her well in her new position at the College.

“I’m eager to learn what has been done before, but I’m also looking forward to creating new opportunities as we move forward,” she said. “My role is split between on- and off-campus work, and I find that very appealing.”

Buhring’s role with the OCSE will focus especially on student-community relations. She said 70 percent of her work is with the Division of Mission, which involves various learning and volunteering opportunities.

“I’m most looking forward to working with all of the students and getting them excited about working and learning about the community,” Buhring said.

The remainder of Buhring’s role consists of working alongside and supporting the College’s faculty and staff, she said.

“I am really excited to get to work with the faculty and all of their creativity,” she said. “I want to get people excited about integrated learning opportunities.”

Buhring said she hopes the students and faculty who work with the OCSE will value the importance of volunteering in the community. She wants there to be a reciprocal relationship between the volunteers and the community, grounded in mutual support and collaborative learning, a relationship she believes will benefit students in the long term.

“One of the biggest pushes I make is with students and getting them to have a connection between what they’re doing now, and how this work affects what they’re doing in the future,” she said.

Buhring said the service and learning opportunities arranged by the office are intended to provide rich benefits to the volunteers, regardless of the type of work or group served.

“I really like the idea of fostering the spirit of life-long learning,” she said. “Your work is not just for a grade. It is much bigger than that.”