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At first you may not think a historian of 19th and 20th century political economy and culture should have anything to do with educating students in social impact—when in fact, she couldn’t be more perfectly positioned to do so.

During her time teaching at UCSB, Rachel Winslow noticed, “Students were much more engaged if they could get their hands dirty with sources.” That’s when she began to question the traditional approach to education. Would students still be motivated to succeed without a lecture-based teaching style, formal tests and a rigid grading scale?

Through collaboration with key players in Santa Barbara and leaders at Westmont, Rachel has successfully created and launched an off-campus program in social change: the Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Students apply for the semester-long program located at Westmont Downtown and once accepted are required to live off campus, work a 20 hour per week internship and attend a core seminar with project-based work. It has become a lesson in experiential learning, self discovery, failing forward and exploring what it means to be a part of something bigger than yourself.

It begins with self discovery because, “you won’t know what change you will be able to make in the world until you know who you are,” Rachel said. Students begin the semester with a personal portfolio project where they are prompted to grapple with intense, introspective questions that they are challenged to answer and then present in a creative way. Simultaneously, students spend a lot of time working in teams so they understand the ways they work with other people in high stakes and low stakes environments.

The natural progression Rachel has sewn into the curriculum guides students through practical experiences that they can apply to any community they encounter. She refers to the model for the program as “generous creativity,” which can be broken into three components: relying on one another, knowing the process is imperfect and thirdly, that it’s also ultimately redemptive. “It’s worth it to deal with the imperfection because it means that things will get fixed,” Rachel said.

Students are required to engage in the community through their internships and are specifically tasked with other community challenges throughout the second half of the semester. Organizations approach Rachel with a systemic problem and the cohorts compete in friendly opposition to solve the problem in a practical and innovative way. “I want Westmont to no longer be viewed as the college on the hill, but the college on the ground in Santa Barbara,” Rachel said.

The students’ final task is “The Big Idea Project.” The prompt is simple: identify a problem in a community and solve it—and the solutions they come up with demonstrate collaboration and self-awareness. One group built a platform for people with siblings with autism, another proposed a community-supported soccer stadium at Ortega Park and one student called on local junior high talent to create wooden lap desks for kids in foster care.

“Who you are is just as important as what you produce,” Rachel said. The Center for Social Entrepreneurship continues to effectively cultivate a community of self-aware and community-observant individuals with a mindset for purposeful change.