On Monday, February 17, 2014 CILSA celebrated its fifth annual CILSA Awards Dinner. Awards were given to a Saint Mary's staff member, faculty member, community partner, alumni and student. This story highlights Ron Ahnen who received the CILSA Engaged Faculty Award.
It might surprise you to know that Ron Ahnen went to jail when he was 18 years old….the age of Saint Mary’s College students. At the request of some Franciscan Brothers, Ron went to a county jail in rural Wisconsin to supervise a summer basketball camp as a teen-ager. In addition to coaching basketball, Ron got to know the prisoners and many of the issues that put them in jail….as well as the issues they faced once they were in Jail. This experience had a profound impact on him. Ron has taught a Jan Term course entitled, “The Politics of Imprisonment” for a number of years. This course has typically included multiple visits to prison facilities and, at times, a service-learning component of one type or another. In the most recent iteration of the course, students did indirect service for California Prison Focus, primarily fielding and responding to inmates' letters regarding treatment in facilities such as Pelican Bay. This work obviously connects to Ron's larger efforts related to prison reform. Ron is the acting President of California Prison Focus, an Oakland based human rights organization. He recently served on the ten-person mediation team during the Pelican Bay Prison hunger strikes. Ron is quoted as saying, “My students have to understand that prisoners are people. That’s why I bring my students into the prisons. They need learn this is somebody’s father or brother.”
Ron has also taught a community engagement course entitled Political Polling and Survey Research for several years. He and students conduct community-based research with 3-5 partners per semester. Basically, Ron and his students help community agencies develop and conduct surveys that help with program assessment and planning. His students are learning the science of behavioral research while providing a much-needed resource to agencies that they otherwise could not afford. The course's partners have included local city governments and a wide range of nonprofits. Ron has done a phenomenal job of setting up partnerships in advance of the course to determine what question or questions the organizations are aiming to have answered through the students' survey research projects.
In addition to his work in the classroom, Ron has been a voice for social justice here on campus. He approached the Social Justice Coordinating Committee to explore and resolve the issue of off-campus events held at private venues where labor disputes were taking place. He played an instrumental role in urging the campus to establish a policy on using off-campus venues with fair labor practice. He has also served on CILSA’s Engaged Teaching Advisory Committee to help colleagues create service-learning courses. That group also advises CILSA staff on how to conduct professional development for faculty.
Ron Ahnen has been doing this kind of teaching and learning at Saint Mary’s College for many years. He was one of the pioneers. Tonight we celebrate and recognize his commitment to engaged teaching and learning.