Teaching Community

Penn State Berks Professor Laurie Grobman uses community-based research to help her students better understand issues with marginalized communities in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Laurie Grobman, professor of English and women’s studies at Penn State Berks, is well known on campus for her tough but inspiring courses. 

In 2014, she was named Outstanding Baccalaureate College Professor of the Year—sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching—for her influence on teaching and commitment to undergraduate students. In addition, she received a 2015 Faculty Outreach Award at Penn State, and a Penn State President’s Award in 2012. 

Dr. Grobman helping a student

Laurie Grobman

Laurie Grobman, professor of English and women's studies at Penn State Berks

Image: Penn State

Among her accomplishments is bringing the Center for Service Learning and Community-Based Research to the college in the fall of 2010 and serving as the coordinator. Penn State Berks was the first campus outside of University Park to launch the initiative. 

Q: What are some of the things you enjoy most about working with students?

Laurie Grobman: One of the best things about teaching is the connections that I make with students. And, in the work that I do now, so much of the work connects students with people in the community. I take a lot of joy in that as well. 

Q: What kind of teaching style do you bring with you to the classroom? 

LG: In all my classes, my goal is to really challenge students to intellectual work above and beyond what they think they’re capable of. I combine a lot of analytical writing, undergraduate research, and a lot of challenging readings—and I almost never use textbooks. 

Q: You frequently use community-based research in your classes. Can you explain what that is and how it contributes to students’ learning experiences? 

LG: Community-based research is a form of service learning, but the activities that students do are research-based—for example, historical writing, oral histories, community narratives. As an English professor I approach this work from a rhetorical perspective. We look at who owns writing, what gets written, what the dominant narratives are, and who is excluded from those narratives. 

"Dr. Grobman inspires, encourages, and deeply cares about her students. She demands the excellence we as students should all desire..."—Elizabeth Kemmerer, student at Penn State Berks

I’m really a multicultural and social justice educator. I bring in issues of privilege and marginalization  in every course I teach. That’s one reason I really like community-based research—which I’ve been doing with some of the marginalized or previously marginalized communities in Reading, Pennsylvania—because it brings students in contact through collaborative intellectual labor with people who are living racism or poverty. I find that when students are working in this intellectual real-world space, that’s when the best learning happens. 

Q: What do you find that students gain from a more complete understanding of those underrepresented communities? 

LG: I think students really broaden their understanding of race, class, and gender, and come to understand how language shapes, controls, and can dismantle the way communities and cultures are portrayed and understood. 

They begin to understand their own ‘rhetorical agency’—the power to write the world the way we want to. But they also come to understand the limits of language in social change.

Q: Can you talk about one of the most recent projects you’ve worked on with your students? 

LG: Last spring, I worked with students in an upper-level rhetoric course to interview twenty-two African Americans who had been living in Reading during the Civil Rights Movement. It was really critical that we had students, community partners—including the Central PA African American Museum and the local chapter of the NAACP—and myself all working together on developing questions for the interviewees.  Collaboration is vital to these partnerships.

"Berks is just a great college for students. [We] work really hard to give students amazing learning opportunities both inside and beyond the classroom."—Laurie Grobman

Then we came back with texts from each interview and tried to make sense of them in a larger way. Again, some of our community partners came to class to work on the manuscript together. We created a story, a narrative of how the Civil Rights Movement was experienced in Reading at that time. 

Q: You’ve been a faculty member at Penn State Berks for nearly twenty years. What are some of the things that make Berks a great choice for prospective students? 

LG: Berks is just a great college for students. I do think that, for so many faculty here, we work really hard to give students amazing learning opportunities both inside and beyond the classroom. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve had the freedom to carve out my own niche with teaching and research. 

About Penn State Berks

Penn State Berks is located in suburban Reading, Pennsylvania, and enrolls more than 2,900 full- and part-time students. The campus offers twenty undergraduate majors or the option to start any of Penn State's more than 160 majors and finish at another campus. In addition, the campus offers more than fifty clubs and organizations including twelve NCAA Division III sports teams