Moraine Park student, Cortland Henning of Fond du Lac, recently executed a project for his Newman Civic Fellow national membership that displayed great strength, leadership and encouraged unity among community members. The Newman Civic Fellowship, part of the College’s membership with Campus Compact, is a one-year experience emphasizing personal, professional, and civic growth. As part of this role, Henning was required to complete a community project.
“The purpose of the project is to encourage civic engagement,” Henning said. “I had three topics to choose from and being passionate about politics and the future of our country, it made sense to select a project that aligned.”
Henning’s project, called A House Divided, was staged as a deliberative dialogue, and centered around the topic “What would we have to give up to get the political system we want?”
“The purpose of a deliberative dialogue is to offer a safe and open environment for conversations, like this, to happen,” Henning said. “To achieve this, I set ground rules so that all participants were heard equally, there was no bullying or domination during the conversation, and there was respect all around- regardless of differing opinions.”
Participants were encouraged to bring forward their thoughts, feelings, and personal life experiences that helped shape their political beliefs. Discussion topics around requiring more accurate, respectful discussion in the media and online, and reforming politics and government to encourage compromise, among others, were discussed at length.
“It’s clear our country is currently divided,” Henning said. “However, this project opened my eyes to our many commonalities. We are more alike than what we are led to believe right now.”
Henning’s project was presented to student peers, a community group, and a group of educators, in three separate sessions. In total, he had over 50 participants, and each conversation was civil, respectful, and provided a wealth of insight.
“I hope that participants walked away with a greater understanding of each other and our role in shaping our government,” Henning said. “I know I’m guilty of making assumptions and jumping to conclusions- this project has helped me to slow down, listen, try to understand, and if not- find peace in the ability to disagree. I am, by far, a better citizen because of what I learned through this process.”
As a result of this project, Henning has paved the way for future deliberative conversations.
“MPTC is interested in convening other conversations and civil dialogues around controversial topics,” Bonnie Baerwald, Moraine Park president, said. “We acknowledge everyone’s first amendment rights to be heard and to share knowledge in a format that broadens our understanding of various local, regional, national or global issues and concerns in a civil way. We are exploring opportunities and topics to host such sessions in virtual and face-to-face formats in the future.”
Henning is also part of Moraine Park’s Promise program and is scheduled to graduate with his associate degree in Culinary Arts this May. He is currently employed at a local country club and has goals to be an executive chef.
“Moraine Park has opened up so many doors of opportunity for me,” he said. “I look forward to continuing my civic work within my community as an MPTC alumnus.”
For more information on the work of Moraine Park students, visit morainepark.edu.