Western Carolina University faculty member Patricia Bricker has been honored for her contributions to the practice of service-learning by North Carolina Campus Compact, a coalition of 35 public and private colleges and universities in the state.
Bricker, an associate professor of science education and associate director of WCU’s School of Teaching and Learning, was presented the Robert L. Sigmon Service-Learning Award for 2016 during a ceremony today (Wednesday, Feb. 10) at High Point University. The presentation was part of activities at Campus Compact’s annual Pathways to Achieving Civic Engagement Conference.
The award is named after Robert Sigmon, a North Carolina native who pioneered service-learning in the 1970s. The award was created in 2006, and Bricker is the first recipient from WCU.
Much of Bricker’s community-engaged teaching focuses on environmental education, local food and healthy eating. In 2009, she founded the Local Food and Farm-to-School Education Project, also known as “Growing Minds @ WCU.” The interdisciplinary partnership involving the university, the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Program, Jackson County Schools and other agencies is both a training ground for pre-service teachers, who lead cooking classes, garden lessons and farm field trips, and a meaningful farm-to-school experience for elementary- and middle-schoolers.
Over the last five years, the project has included the participation of 46 WCU faculty members and nearly 900 of the university’s students. Some 3,000 local school children have been involved, and 74 percent of their parents have reported on surveys that their child’s experience has changed how their family eats and thinks about food.
To support the work, the project has received nearly $800,000 in grants from funding agencies including the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
A colleague at WCU has said, “Dr. Bricker’s public service is deep, wide and – as a teacher of future teachers – exponentially compounded.” A former student has written, “Her passion for the project is evident and contagious. The opportunity to learn from her has taught me so much about what it means to be a servant-leader.”
Bricker said she is grateful to receive the Sigmon Award and to be connected to Sigmon’s legacy “is quite an honor.”
“I must acknowledge the many people that I have been privileged to work with in my service-learning endeavors, especially the many partners in Growing Minds @ WCU,” she said. “I feel fortunate to work at a university that has engagement as an essential part of its mission and collaboration with and respect for our communities as a core value and guiding principle. This award helps acknowledge the importance of our mission and encourages me to keep going in this work.”
Before joining the WCU faculty in 2001, Bricker was an elementary and middle school teacher in North Carolina and New York, where she also worked as an environmental educator and 4-H extension agent. She earned her doctorate in education at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Bricker’s scholarship has appeared in top science education journals, and she has been the recipient of numerous awards for teaching and research, including WCU’s Chancellor’s Meritorious Award for Engaged Teaching in 2008 and the Jo Duckett Wallace Award for Service in Elementary Science Education from the N.C. Science Teachers Association.
North Carolina Campus Compact is one of 34 state or regional affiliates of the national Campus Compact organization. WCU has been a member of the statewide network since 2005.
By Randall Holcombe