Cool Courses: Otterbein’s President and First Lady Want You to Learn about Civic Engagement

Posted Apr 06, 2023

If you want more face time with Otterbein’s president, all you have to do is take his course! President John Comerford and his wife, Rachel, teach a Senior Year Experience course about civic engagement and leadership before sending them off into their careers with a professional network many people would envy! And they do it while providing the strong support and life lessons that students get from all their professors at Otterbein. 

Are you ready to enroll so you can learn from the best president in higher ed? 

Let’s learn more about the course! 

Name of course: SYE 4910 

Course description: This course is designed to be an interdisciplinary capstone for senior students focusing on regional civic issues. Students will be required to attend the Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) meetings each Wednesday from 12-1 p.m. in-person near downtown Columbus. Students will be provided with lunch free of charge. The CMC has speakers and panels that cover important civic issues for central Ohio and beyond and take questions from the audience. The course will meet in-person on Mondays from 12-1 p.m. to reflect on the past CMC session, prepare for the next one, and hear from additional guest speakers. Students will be challenged to understand issues from a multi-disciplinary perspective and actively engage in problem solving. Finally, students will be exposed to a large network of central Ohio leaders and learn how to network in CMC meetings. They will sit at different tables and engage with other guests. We will even provide students with business cards to help them create their own personal network. Professional dress is required. 

What inspired you to develop this course?  

We’ve long had a great partnership with the Columbus Metropolitan Club and their president, Jane Scott. It was Jane that should get the credit here. She told me how another local university used to have students attend CMC meetings as part of a course, but that had ended. The CMC members loved having students in the meetings and she wondered if Otterbein could make this happen. 

Why do you love teaching this course?  

Of course, first it is the students. In my regular job, I see many students, but only get to know a few well. This course allows us to really get to know a remarkable group of students before they graduate. Another reason we love the course is we get to see the Otterbein education in action. These are seniors who are more capable of applying all they’ve learned than they at first realize.  It gives us confidence about the future leaders Otterbein is graduating. 

What is the most unexpected thing students learn in this course?  

For most, it is the professional networking. CMC is a room full of business professionals and leaders from all over the region. Our students are required to spread out and meet new people. We even given them business cards! This can all be intimidating at first, but I think students learn that people are friendly and they can hold their own in a professional setting. 

How do the themes in your course prepare students to think critically?   

The goal of the course is to have students take a multi-disciplinary view of the issues raised at CMC forums. So, how should we think about (for example) Intel’s arrival in the region? What do we know from economics about what impact this will make? What in political science explains how many different groups aligned to make it happen? What are the sociological impacts to the community – large and small?  

What is some of your favorite student feedback you have received about this course?  

Probably my favorite was a student who was at first very intimidated by the CMC – white tablecloths, chandeliers, people in suits, and important panelists talking about big issues. At the first CMC, he was a little nervous and voiced it. By the end, he was friends with half the room! 

What are some interesting projects or activities you do to engage your students in your course? 

The final project is an action plan. As graduates, they’ll have to convert all they’ve learned in theory into actual practice. So, they take an issue we’ve learned about and write a full brief to help someone understand the topic fully and with multiple and nuanced perspectives. Then, they write a memo to a person in power (Mayor, CEO, etc.) as if they were an advisor asked to make a plan for improvement in this particular area. We’ve even sent these plans to the real people in power!