Community is Where You Make It

Creating positive impact with Challenge Based Learning

McCall is a town of about 3,000 people in Valley County, Idaho, located on the south shore of Payette Lake and within the Payette National Forest. The former logging community is an all-season tourist destination for outdoor recreation known for its Winter Carnival and natural beauty.

“It's beautiful. Oh, my gosh! It is absolutely beautiful here,” says resident Serena Henry, a Boise State student and participant in University’s Community Impact Program (CIP). “I think that it creates and inspires a different type of person, and it inspires a different type of intentionality.” 


Serena Henry standing at the shore of Payette Lake in McCall, Idaho
Serena Henry standing at the shore of Payette Lake in McCall, Idaho

But life in rural Idaho isn’t always easy. “There's a hustle in McCall and Cascade like you wouldn't believe,” she notes. “People often work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. I'm in six hundred square feet with a family of four, but we're two blocks from the lake. So we're willing to have a smaller space and participate in the hustle because we get to enjoy the nature and the beauty that McCall has to offer.”

The area’s transient population, created by a high proportion of second homes and the high cost of living, creates a tension in the community. “People come and go because it can be hard to afford to live here,” says Serena. “And so the people that are here [year round] really have to work hard to be here.” Residents have seen plenty of programs intended to help rural communities come and go, too. “I feel like there's definitely a “prove it” mentality for new programs,” she observes.

Making a Positive Impact in McCall

Serena knew what she was up against when she took on the challenge of Making a Positive Impact in Your Community as a CIP participant. Challenge Based Learning (CBL) has been adopted at Boise State after witnessing its power as demonstrated by the Onramp Program, an Apple Community Education Initiatives community. Using the CBL framework, Serena and her CIP team partnered with a local school and designed a "Keep it Kind" week that focused on different acts of kindness for the students to explore each day. 

A key difference with “Keep it Kind” was that the challenge and solution was designed by local community members, a CBL hallmark. “We wanted this for our kids, our students, and the youth of our community,” says Serena. “They were our own students, and it was going to impact the lives that we live here with the people we live here, which was hugely important to the type of project we took on.”

Making a Positive Impact in an Online Cohort

Serena is interested in making a difference in her local community and her online student cohort in Boise State’s Bachelor of Applied Science and Interdisciplinary Professional Studies (BAS/IPS) degree program. She applied the CBL framework to create a solution that brings together online students, who often lack options to connect with peers and faculty. The result is Treehouse, a program that supports and promotes connections among BAS/IPS students. 

“I think a big piece is really asking those questions, and considering those end users so our community changes,” she says of the program’s success. By asking questions about stakeholder needs, “we discovered there was a genuine interest in community among the students,” she says. Creating opportunities for students and faculty to connect “really has made for a much more rich experience as a student.” 

Having designed solutions with CBL for both in-person and online communities, Serena says, “The solutions between an in-person and online initiative might look different, but how you make discoveries about each of those groups follow the same path and share a common framework.”

Seeing the success and impact of engaging students as part of Treehouse, Serena applied the CBL framework to propose a Student Advisory Board as her Leadership Capstone project. The board will provide students a place to offer input on specific program initiatives, test and weigh in on new program offerings, voice the needs and desires of students enrolled in the program, and share insights from the student perspective and experience. 

“We recognized that beyond sending out surveys to students and hearing second-hand from advisors we didn't have much of a feedback loop from our most important stakeholders,” says Alexis Kenyon, BAS/IPS Associate Director, regarding her support for Serena’s proposal. “This student advisory board is a great way to hear directly from the students about their needs and for them to have a voice in shaping the initiatives we're working on. We're here for the students.”

When asked what she likes about CBL, Serena says, “Challenge Based Learning does a great job of helping you identify a project that you're truly interested in and passionate about, which I think enables you to build a robust solution at the end of the day.”

“If I don't have the ability to actually influence something related to the problem I'm trying to solve,” she continues, “how much dedication can I actually give to that solution? And I think that's one of the things that Challenge Based Learning does really well is leads to more attainable solutions, and has the ability to make more impact.”

Serena doesn’t see the Student Advisory Board as her last contribution to the program. She’s currently developing an internship course that will prepare students to serve on the board and potentially accelerate their progress in their degree program. “If this gets to be the course that inspires students to ask more questions, and dive deeper into the things that they're engaging with, then I am all in, sign me up. Let's build it. Let's develop it, because I think that that's a place where growth and development will come from.”

Serena feels the CBL framework helped drive her to do more with her projects. “The more engaged I became, the more investment I was willing to expend,” she says. “Just by being invited to the table, and being invited to kind of wade in and share my thoughts, or share my experience in this one little instance, created value for me. It demonstrated that my thoughts mattered.”

If you’re considering trying CBL, Serena has this advice: “Lean in, and the experience is what you're going to make of it.  The effort you put in will determine what you get out of the experience. The overall experience and outcome you get to enjoy when it's all said and done, it creates opportunities that you couldn't even imagine.”

Making a Positive Impact for Future Students

With her CBL solutions being adopted by the University, Serena’s work will continue to create a positive impact on the BAS/IPS student community for years to come. “I am honored to be trusted with this type of program,” she says. “The level of reach that this initiative can have, to be invited in and to be able to contribute is really an honor. The idea of developing a program that really can guide someone else's growth and development for me is really exciting.”

As a member of a CEI community, you already know about Everyone Can Code and Everyone Can Create. With CBL, everyone can contribute to making a positive impact on their communities, whether they are in person, online, in a small town, or a large city. CBL helps you meet your learners where they are and invites learners to identify how they can be part of the solution to challenges they care about. The Onramp program challenges you to engage deeply with CBL and prepare to make a positive impact on your community, however you define it.


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