Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund once said, “Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.”
Kapi‘olani CC’s Bob Franco has been at the center of a national and global network for civic learning and democratic engagement, “preparing the students that democracy needs.” He has been a champion of service learning, or “community engagement pedagogies,” that combine learning outcomes and community service in ways that benefit both student growth and the common good. Using education as a platform, Franco has created opportunities to integrate academic work with learning outside the classroom.
When Franco introduced Service Learning into Kapi‘olani CC’s curriculum in 1995, no more than a handful of classes were offered. In fall 2018, Francisco Acoba, faculty coordinator of Kapi‘olani’s Service and Sustainability Learning estimates about 30 courses that have a full-service learning option or 20 hours of hands-on experiences in the community for the semester.
One of the many programs that Franco has served as helmsman to create is the Pālolo Pipeline Program. Starting as a service learning project in 1998, its intent was to promote technological literacy, educational interest and civic engagement among the residents of Pālolo Valley Homes. After 10 years in its 20-year history, this educational pipeline became a service-learning model that sent well over 50 residents to college, in addition to gaining national recognition.
Bob Franco stays active in the increasingly contested conversation about the role of civic engagement in a diverse democracy. In spring 2018 he facilitated conversations with faculty and staff regarding the development of Kapi‘olani CC’s Civic Action Plan (CAP). As a result of his efforts, the new CAP aligns the College’s Service-Learning Pathways with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This move encourages students to go beyond service into the realms of public decision-making forums where students can listen, learn, and take a leadership role as part of their baccalaureate experience. For example, Franco presented an interactive workshop for 25 O‘ahu-based AmeriCorps VISTA leaders on “Ethical Research in the Community.” These leaders are working on critically important issues such as homelessness, environmental sustainability, adult literacy, mental health, disaster preparedness, volunteer management and the prospects for social entrepreneurship in Hawai‘i.
Nationally, Franco has been elected chair of the Community College Alliance for Sustainability Education (CCASE) for the National Council for Science and the Environment. He remains a Leadership Fellow for the National Council for Science and Civic Engagement and participated in their 2018 Summer Institute at Santa Clara University. A voice for sustainability and social justice, Franco says, “Sustainability and social justice are issues for community college students around the country. The costs of education, clean water, energy, transportation, food security, and child and healthcare are sustainability issues at the individual and state levels, and students who are informed by science and values are critical to how our democracy ameliorates these issues and how democracy makes our communities more resilient.”
Bob Franco has been invited to serve as the opening keynote speaker at the “Ninth Annual Spanish and First Annual European Conference on Service-Learning in Higher Education,” at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas, in Madrid, Spain in September. The title of Franco’s presentation is, “Service-Learning and Global Citizenship: Ameliorating the Anthropocene”.
Franco comments, “There are many border (and discipline) crossing issues that will also cross generations for the rest of this 21st century – with all of its broken promises. Climate change, trade, critical internet use (free versus hate speech), gender equity, colonialism and immigration, and other discontents, refugees and asylum seeking, good governance, and the state of welfare states. Students can engage and ameliorate these issues through a re-energized curriculum, service-learning, and ethical community-based research, and through enhanced understanding of their critical current and future roles as citizens in all places that need them – democracy needs them too.”
In addition to being a professor of Pacific Anthropology, Bob Franco serves as the director of Kapi‘olani CC’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness (OFIE).