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USF is chosen Engaged Campus of the Year as Florida Campus Compact focuses attention on building students’ citizenship skills and effective community partnerships

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Recognized for Excellence in Civic Engagement

USF is chosen Engaged Campus of the Year as Florida Campus Compact focuses attention on building students' citizenship skills and effective community partnerships.

USF faculty members Bonnie Silvestri, J.D. and Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, Ph.D. with USF System President Judy Genshaft.  Photo by Barbara Melendez

USF faculty members Bonnie Silvestri, J.D. and Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, Ph.D. with USF System President Judy Genshaft. Photo by Barbara Melendez | USF News

By Barbara Melendez
USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 6, 2015) – The University of South Florida and two USF faculty members, Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, Ph.D. and Bonnie Silvestri, J.D., have been singled out by Florida Campus Compact for special recognition. They were honored at the 2015 Annual Awards Gala held yesterday evening at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.USF was one of three finalists for Engaged Campus of the Year and emerged the winner from the statewide short list that included Tallahassee Community College and Eastern Florida State College. The award was accepted by USF's Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships Director Harold Keller, Ph.D., who was joined onstage by OCEP staff, Silvestri, OCEP Director of Community Partnerships Jennifer Webb and Research Administrator Jo Averill-Snell along with Assistant Director of the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement Mallory Trochessett and Hordge-Freeman.

USF is one of only 40 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Elizabeth Hordge-FreemanHordge-Freeman, an assistant professor with a joint appointment in the Sociology Department and the Institute for the Study of Latin American and the Caribbean (ISLAC), became the recipient of Florida Campus Compact's inaugural Engaged Scholarship Faculty Special Award for Global Engagement. In fact her work inspired the award. She was originally nominated for the Engaged Faculty Award but her significant global engagement inspired the national committee to develop this special award.

BonnieSilvestri, who serves as director of strategic communications for the Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships (OCEP), as well as being an adjunct at USF-Sarasota Manatee, was USF's first recipient of the highly-respected Graham-Frey Civic Award.

In its search for award recipients each year, Campus Compact encourages individuals who have developed "innovative approaches to the service-learning pedagogy" and "non-traditional civic disciplines" to apply.

According to the organization's website, the Graham-Frey Civic Award is named in recognition of the extraordinary civic contributions made by Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham and U.S. Congressman Lou Frey. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to the development of civic learning and engagement in sustaining the country's participatory democracy.

In Silvestri's case, Courtney Kuntz, who at the time was serving as director of public programs and development at Florida Campus Compact, mentioned the Graham-Frey to her several years ago.

"It was on my to-do list to someday apply for the Graham-Frey," she said. "This year, the timing was right, with all of the work I have been doing to raise the profile of service-learning and community engagement through the Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships and having taught my service-learning class five times and I have been teaching Constitutional Law and Women and the Law for many years."

Motivated by AdversityThe tragedy of 9/11 and the prevalence of modern-day slavery set two scholars on the path to provide service learning experiences for students.

TAMPA, Fla. – Serving can easily become a habit. USF's two Campus Compact award recipients were drawn to service by confronting monumental issues.

For Bonnie Silvestri, J.D. the satisfaction that comes from serving arrived in the grim task of issuing death certificates to the families of 9/11 victims. For Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, Ph.D., it was witnessing something in Brazil that she found nearly unbelievable, modern-day slavery under the guise of a pseudo family relationship.

Bearing the crushing burden of addressing the heartbreaking – though inescapable – responsibility of providing necessary paperwork meant Silvestri needed to interview surviving family members to determine the validity of their claims of loss at the city's Family Assistance Center at Manhattan's Pier 94.

As anyone can imagine, she and her colleagues, volunteers on loan from their regular jobs, cried often as they shared the stories of people they came to admire and the very personal nature of the losses.

"I often tie this experience to the beginning of the deepening of my understanding of the importance of service, because providing this service during such a difficult time aided my own healing as well," Silvestri said. "I began teaching service-learning courses several years later, however, I would say I was initially drawn to this pedagogy in large part because of the power of this experience in my own life. I find that as we provide service in a meaningful way, we deepen our own connection to one another and our greater sense of purpose."

Her new direction wasn't that far removed from her work as a government ethics attorney at the City of New York's Conflicts of Interest Board where she provided legal advice, developed educational materials, and trained employees in ethical governance and public integrity and later as the first executive director of the Judicial Campaign Ethics Center.

"One of the most important roles of an institution of higher learning today – for its students and future leaders, its faculty and researchers, and for the community that it serves locally and globally – is to provide the tools and opportunity to develop tolerance and moral discernment as well as respect for freedom and human dignity.

"My classes are designed to foster a strong foundation in key democratic texts and universal democratic principles. I try to nurture in students a careful understanding of the Constitution and relevant Supreme Court decisions relating to our democratic structures and the hard-fought protections of civil rights and liberties."

Silvestri is presenting a workshop with Milton Wendland, Ph.D., on "Extreme E-Service-Learning: Effective and Engaging Strategies" during Florida Campus Compact's annual professional development conference: "Forward Together: Strengthening Florida's Higher Education Engagement Network."

"Adoption" as Slavery

While an act of terror lies at the root of Silvestri's interest in service, a problem with a far longer history drew in her colleague.

The dawning realization that she was looking at a phenomenon that was taken essentially for granted in Brazilian culture nearly broke Hordge-Freeman's heart but the scholar in her was called to attention. She soon found herself doing further research into modern day slavery.

Over the next year, Hordge-Freeman will collaborate with researchers in five Brazilian cities to examine the experiences of women who live in slave-like conditions in their "adoptive" families. With funding from a Fulbright Grant (Brazil), Ruth Landes Memorial Fund, and the American Sociological Association, Hordge-Freeman is working on a new book titled, "Second-Class Daughters: Informal Adoption as Modern Slavery in Brazil." This comes after her first book, "The Color of Love: Racial Features, Stigma, and Socialization in Black Brazilian Families," is being published this month by the University of Texas Press.

med_campus_compactIn 2014, she was recognized with USF's Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award and inaugural recipient of the USF Outstanding Community-Engaged Teaching Award. Hordge-Freeman's accomplishments as a junior faculty member have been recognized at the national level (Finalist, Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement for Early Career Faculty), state level (McKnight Junior Faculty Development Fellowship recipient), and regional level (USF system-wide Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Junior Faculty Research Award recipient).

A familiar face at USF's Quality Enhancement Program (QEP) to infuse curriculum and research with global content, she took part in shaping the Global Citizens initiative, which will offer study abroad scholarships and incentives for taking courses with global content, and also reward attendance at global-themed campus events.

"I conceptualize community engagement in ways that take seriously what occurs both within and outside of the university. To this end, I am committed to supporting the black and Latino student community because they are often underrepresented and disadvantaged at several stages of their college experience," Hordge-Freeman said.

She has made it a point to encourage minority participation in the USF in Brazil program and as a result it has a 80% of its participants are students of color and, in summer, 2014, 50% of them were black students.

"In a national and institutional context where the proportion of students of color is considerably lower than that of other students, the teaching innovations and institutional impact both promote USF's goal of becoming more global and foster the success of racial minorities.

"Many students in the USF in Brazil program applied for their passport for the first time in order to participate in this program," she said. "Global community engagement translates into increased likelihoods of success in college and may curtail some of the educational disparities in graduation rates among under-represented students. Students who are engaged with global communities are much more likely to be prepared to handle the current and changing demographics in Florida and the United States."

an organization empowering Black Brazilian women in Paraiba.

Hordge-Freeman (second from left) with Solange Pereira, Ph.D., of the federal university of Paraiba (second from left) and members of Bamidele, an organization empowering Black Brazilian women in Paraiba.

With the encouragement of one of her colleagues, OCEP Associate Director Lance Arney, Ph.D., she threw her hat in the ring. Silvestri, in turn, encouraged colleagues to apply for the Campus Compact Award through OCEP's newsletter. Hordge-Freeman decided to do so as well. In the end, USF wound up with three of the top awards.

This is not USF's first recognition by Campus Compact. Johanna Phelps-Hillen, a second-year Ph.D. student working for a concurrent doctorate in rhetoric and composition with a master's in public administration USF Tampa and Jeanine Ashforth, a psychology major at USFSM were named 2015 Newman Civic Fellows. This award acknowledges motivation and ability in public leadership.

Silvestri's Graham-Frey Award recognizes "outstanding contributions to the development of civic learning and engagement in sustaining America's participatory democracy."

She said, "It was truly an honor to win this award after focusing on civic engagement for many years in Sarasota and Tampa."

A Shared Passion for Teaching

Formerly a government ethics attorney in New York City, providing legal advice, developing educational materials, and training employees in ethical governance and public integrity, Silvestri has been focused on civic learning and democratic engagement for the majority of her career (see sidebar).

Silvestri will be teaching "Women and the Law" during the spring semester and "Examinations of Poverty," a service-learning class, during the summer at USF Sarasota-Manatee. The course on poverty "provides "tools to effect social change and to understand structural inequities inherent in our current system," she said.

"Students' reflection assignments demonstrate a growing sense of empathy, justice, and open-mindedness. They write about being deeply affected by providing service to others, which enhances their sense of ethical integrity and their responsibility to a greater good."

She will be presenting about this course at both the Florida Campus Compact conference in Boca Raton and at the International Association of Research in Service-Learning and Civic Engagement conference in Boston this month.

Teaching about law offers another route to civic issues.

"I try to nurture in students a careful understanding of the Constitution and relevant Supreme Court decisions relating to our democratic structures and the hard-fought protection of civil rights and liberties," Silvestri said. "We discuss Constitutional issues in a bipartisan manner and we study democratic movements for marginalized groups to understand the parallels among democratic efforts for social change through voting, legislative action, lobbying, litigation, civil disobedience, and increased civic and political awareness. My hope is that students conclude the courses with a better understanding of the political system framing our constitutional democracy and of their own role in influencing change."

Silvestri developed, produced, and moderated public programming on a variety of topics when she worked for the USFSM Institute for Public Policy and Leadership. She tackled such issues as homelessness, women's rights, government ethics, and elections, as well as the intersection of arts and public policy, providing leadership in the community on important civic issues. Her next job was to direct strategic communications for OCEP at USF Tampa.

"In my teaching, writing, interviewing, moderating, and public discourse, I seek to empower and impassion students and community members to become informed and involved in understanding and improving our democratic system," Silvestri said. "A crucial aspect of this work is engaging and being informed by multiple perspectives, and creating an open forum to discuss issues at the heart of our democracy."

Just as passionate about teaching, Hordge-Freeman launched the USF in Salvador, Brazil program, which she later converted into a global service-learning program established in collaboration with The Instituto Cultural Steve Biko and Brazil Cultural in Bahia.

"Challenging conventional teaching approaches, I believe that students should think and act both locally and globally," Hordge-Freeman said. "This program allowed me to develop a bi-directional and mutually beneficial experience for USF students and Afro-Brazilian students. The Afro-Brazilian students were empowered to present elements of their culture that are often overlooked or reductively stereotyped in popular culture. Likewise, USF students were challenged to discuss questions of privilege and social disparities in the United States."

The global designation in her Campus Compact Award fits as Hordge-Freeman has presented her work in English and Portuguese at national and international conferences, including those in the United Kingdom, Brazil, and Austria to raise awareness about the benefits of community-centered research.

Honored for Community Engaged Research and Scholarship

Hordge-Freeman has contributed book chapters on her community-centered research to a number of publications. She is the co-editor of a forthcoming book "Race and the Production of Knowledge" in which she discusses strategies for how faculty can develop global programs that reflect "critical global engagement." She is developing a new Fulbright U.S. Scholar Grant supported research project titled, "Second Class Daughters: Informal Adoptions as Modern Slavery in Brazil," which explores the exploitation of women who are taken in by wealthy families under the auspices of adoption, but end up living in slave-like conditions. Support for this project is also coming from a Ruth Landes Memorial Fund Grant, an American Sociological Association – Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline Grant and the USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy Junior Faculty Award.

"A community-centered and asset-based approach has been central to my work in Brazil and I would like to bring that perspective to my work at USF," Hordge-Freeman says. She is seeking funding to work with Dottie Skipper of FREE – the Slavery Survival Network, and Nikki Cross, the founder of the first and only safe house in Pinellas County, Florida for human trafficking victims to study "how researchers can more effectively develop collaborative partnerships with survivors of human trafficking in order to produce evidence-based research. I deeply value community engaged research. Given the knowledge that trafficking survivors have, I strongly believe that community-engaged research can be one of the best ways to address human trafficking."

Nominated and selected as a finalist for the national Ernest A. Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement for Early Career Faculty, Hordge-Freeman is the inaugural recipient of the Outstanding Community-Engaged Teaching Award at USF.

Acknowledgment of her work has come from Brazil as well. She was presented with a certificate of recognition from the State Secretariat of Equality, Justice, and Human Rights of the Amazon for her work on modern slavery in their country.

Bringing home what she has learned abroad, Hordge-Freeman provided a presentation on the USF in Brazil global service-learning program on "Service-Learning Day," an OCEP event. She worked with Silvestri and OCEP to produce videos with "best practices" for students and faculty who are considering summer or short-term service-learning and community-engaged activities.

Hordge-Freeman is also an active member of the ISLAC-based Afro-Descendants Working Group, which is composed of faculty, students, and a network of community organizations in six countries in Latin America that are working in Afro-descended communities. Coordinated by one of her faculty mentors, Bernd Reiter, Ph.D., the main goal of the group is to launch the Franz Fanon International Training Institute to train leaders who are working to combat racial disparities in Latin America.

"This multi-national initiative is emblematic of all that is possible when educational institutions and researchers leverage their knowledge and resources to complement the work already being done by global community organizations to eradicate racial disparities," Hordge-Freeman said.

Though global community engagement is vital to her research agenda, she also recognizes its value in the U.S. and for USF students.

"It is critical to use community-engaged activities to promote social justice, but this first and foremost requires that all groups that are part of our democracy be represented in this effort. For example, my intentional targeting of students of color into the USF in Brazil program and my plans to work with human trafficking survivors in Florida best reflect my efforts to engage populations that are often excluded in discussions about how to forge a better society and a stronger democracy."

Campus Compact: A Coalition for Change

While higher education is a very personal concern for each and every student, Campus Compact works to make sure that higher education fulfills its public purpose by producing civic-minded, socially responsible, career-ready graduates.

A national coalition, Campus Compact is celebrating its 30th anniversary. The 50 college and university presidents who belong to Florida Campus Compact are part of the nearly 1100 colleges and universities that make up the national presidential membership organization. The network has a national office in Boston and has 34 state and regional Campus Compacts.

The organization's resources support faculty and staff as they pursue community-based teaching, scholarship and successful partnerships in the service of positive change in local, state, national and global communities through efforts that educate students for civic and social responsibility.

Student Showcase: Service Learning = Student Success

Bonnie Silvestri, J.D. (r), with USF students (l-r) Yoselis Ramos, Janelle Jones, Newman Scholar Johanna Phelps-Hillen and Jaritza Jones at Service Learning Day panel "Student Showcase: Service Learning = Student Success."


With its slogan, "Preparing the next generation for college, career and citizenship," as its guiding principle, Campus Compact spotlights excellence and provides a forum for sharing innovation and exemplary practices that are making a difference. The goal? A democratic society with shared prosperity.

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563