New Dornsife program combats homelessness in L.A.

Emily Smith | Daily Trojan

The USC Thematic Option Honors Program and Joint Educational Project announced a new interdisciplinary, service learning course for Spring 2019 that encourages students to find solutions for social issues.

Juniors and seniors can apply to the Frameworks for Interdisciplinary Exchange program, which will offer courses focused on homelessness in Los Angeles.

Richard Edinger, executive director of Dornsife Honors programs, has worked on creating the FIX program for several years. He said he hopes the interdisciplinary program will bring together students of all different majors to discuss and find real solutions to issues like homelessness.

“There’s no one field that’s going to solve homelessness in the world or in the U.S. or in L.A.,” Edinger said. “It’s really going to be a combination of someone understanding the politics, the legal issues, someone thinking it through from a design fashion, maybe something from an architectural perspective … All these things have to come together to really understand an issue like homelessness.”

Edinger said students in the FIX program next semester can choose between one of three single unit Focused Fixes courses in Social Entrepreneurship, Religious Communities or Philanthropy and Nonprofits to explore how these institutions and communities address homelessness. All students also take Collaborative Fixes, a three-unit interdisciplinary course where students will learn about and discuss possible solutions for homelessness in L.A., according to him.

In the future, Edinger said this course framework could be used to examine other topics like sustainability, public education and incarceration.

Adlai Wertman, professor of social entrepreneurship, will be teaching the single unit course focused on social entrepreneurship. He said he plans to teach students about how for profit and nonprofit enterprises are addressing homelessness and have students meet representatives from these organizations.

“The idea is to talk about the theory, how social enterprise addresses it, talk about specific examples and then either visit or be visited by people who run those agencies so that we can ask them questions and hear from them themselves,” Wertman said.

Sable Manson, assistant director for student leadership and development at JEP, said students will also complete a service project with some of JEP’s community partner organizations that address homelessness such as Midnight Mission, Chrysalis and School on Wheels. She said the FIX program will benefit students by teaching them about issues like homelessness both inside and outside of the classroom.

“We are in a very diverse city, and we actually benefit our students to go beyond book learning,” Manson said. “We really value experiential learning because we think, not that it’s better than others, but it really deepens what you’ve experienced in a book or you’ve experienced in a classroom.”

By the end of the semester, Edinger said students will use their coursework, discussions and volunteer experiences to create proposals on how to address homelessness, like creating programs or fundraising opportunities. He hopes that students will be able to present these proposals to stakeholders from USC, the city government and local organizations who could work with students to make their ideas a reality.

“We don’t want it to be just conversations that stay within the classroom and then never actually affect change,” Edinger said. “We want to help students see how the knowledge they gain at USC connects to things outside of the University.”