Immersive classes look to bolster Muncie neighborhoods with action plans

Without the help of an Ball State immersive learning project, a local neighborhood would still be looking for direction, said the president of the Blaine Southeast neighborhood association.

Clifford Clemons has been acting president of the neighborhood association since 2011, and was officially elected president about two months ago.

“One day, we saw this fenced-in area and wanted to know what was back there. We realized it had been an athletic field,” Clemons said. “We did some inquiring as far as who owned it and how could we get it, if possible.”

After some digging, Clemons discovered that a former Blaine Southeast Neighborhood Association had owned it, but it disbanded around 2000. In order to get the property, Clemons had to reinstate the association and sign off as president. Clemons said right around the time the field was discovered, Muncie had instated its action plan, which called for creation or restoration of neighborhood associations.

“We linked up with [the city] and they were the ones that helped us to start as far as reaching out to the community of the neighborhood to enlist other people to be a part of it,” Clemons said.

The neighborhood was then ready to create an action plan, which is where Ball State came in.

Lisa Dunaway, instructor of Urban Planning, led a class of urban planning students in an immersive learning class in Fall 2014. They focused on creating an action plan for the Blaine Southeast neighborhoods. Dunaway, who had led three similar in different Muncie neighborhoods before doing the Blaine Southeast project, said she enjoys doing these classes because of the direct impact they have on the community.

“I was asked by my department chair to teach the [first] studio… and when I realized the impact this could have on the community, I asked if I could keep doing it in the future,” Dunaway said. “As long as my contract [with the university] keeps getting renewed I fully intend to keep doing them.”

The Blaine Southeast project was one of the more than 1,500 immersive learning projects between 2008 and 2014, said Marie Douglass, administrative coordinator for the Office of Associate Provost.

The Building Better Communities Fellows Program, which funded the Blaine Southeast project, works with immersive learning projects that are aimed at bettering the community. They are an in-between for professors and Muncie organizations, pairing classes with community partners for projects. 

They also help with project management and funding, along with providing a professional development training series for the students in the program. Professors are not required to do projects through the Fellows Program, but Kelli Huth, director of the program, said the help they offer attracts faculty to her department.

“Immersive learning, it’s not an easy thing, and when you have somebody from the outside that is helping to be part of the outcomes of your learning experience and depending on you for outcomes, if there’s something that that organization needs and they’re depending on a group of students, we just try to help prepare them for that situation and give them all the resources they need to be successful in that,” Huth said.

Mayor Dennis Tyler said he’s pleased with President Paul W. Ferguson’s focus on the projects, and thinks the projects will continue to grow.

“It sends a great message to whatever neighborhood or whatever the project is, wherever it’s located at, to see Ball State students and faculty being involved,” Tyler said. 

Dunaway said the Blaine neighborhood was quick to implement the plans her students made and she was especially impressed by Clemson’s work with the abandoned field.

“I’ve learned to never underestimate the neighborhoods. People might suspect because some of them have been economically disadvantaged, for example they may not have the gumption to get things done,” Dunaway said. 

Without the help of Ball State students, Clemons said the neighborhood association would not have progressed as far as it has. He said the most important thing they gave the neighborhood association was a sense of direction.

“Even though [the action plan] was based on things that we wanted to do, we didn’t have it organized,” Clemons said. “[They also] did a lot of the legwork that we did not necessarily have the manpower to do, especially when we first got started. They were the ones that went out and the surveys… and post notices of the dates of our meetings.”

Abigail Overton, one of the students in the Blaine Southeast Neighborhood immersive project, had to step outside of the familiar campus scene when she did the project.

“I’ve never been to that part of Muncie before, and one of the things we got to do - we didn’t just research [the neighborhood]… we walked basically the whole neighborhood and were able to pass out flyers and talk with people,” Overton said. “It was one of the first times that I had gone into a neighborhood that was different than what I was used to, and presenting information to them and listening to what they had to say where I didn’t have all the answers,… I had to really listen and take into consideration what they wanted.”

Overton said many students aren’t aware of what’s going on in Muncie, and many don’t want to venture off-campus. 

“There are a lot of efforts in Muncie if you look that are bettering the city and helping out community members. Muncie is a tight-knit community, people want to know each other and work together towards a common goal,” Overton said. “I think that’s just a problem with Ball State students just not wanting to recognize that there’s work to be done in Muncie and if we go look for it and we work together there are definite improvements and definite lessons that college students are learning by working in a neighborhood.”

Huth said the organization focuses on making immersive learning classes beneficial for both the community partners and the students.

“The great thing about immersive learning is that there’s impact both ways and that it really can be a win-win situation for community organizations and for students,” Huth said. “It takes a lot of time and energy to be a good community partner too, so we’re always thinking about those things with this program. We’ve got to make sure that it’s not going to be a drain on either side.”

Besides the technical skills students gain from immersive classes, Huth said they can also gain a view of the world around them, especially the city they live in. Immersive learning classes encourage the symbiotic relationship between Ball State and Muncie.

“A lot of students at Ball State have a negative perception of what Muncie is off campus because they don’t know a lot about what Muncie has to offer,” Huth said. “Putting them out in those organizations helps them to realize that, and to realize that community is built with all kinds of different people. I don’t think that Muncie could be what it is without Ball State, and I don’t think that Ball State could be what it is without Muncie.”


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