Skip to Content

Bridging Learning and Doing: Running Towards Community Change

Back to Article Listing



By: Erin Willer, Associate Professor, Department of Communication Studies

Article  •
group of college girls posing in front of a shade tent

With the support of a Community-Engaged Learning Mini Grant and a DU Grand Challenges Class Grant, students in Dr. Erin Willer’s Fall 2018 Department of Communication Studies’ course, Running as Feminist Embodiment, completed a service-learning project with the non-profit organization, Girls on the Run of the Rockies, and Outreach and Volunteer Director, Karen MacFarquhar.

As part of their project, students:

  • Participated in a Girls on the Run site visit at University Park Elementary School.
  • Raised $3,400 for Girls on the Run of the Rockies. This included approximately 45 donations ranging from $10 – $750. These donations translated into 20 girls at Bishop Elementary School in Englewood having the opportunity to participate in the Spring 2019 Girls on the Run after-school program for free.
  • Partnered with CRUSH Pizza + Tap who donated 15% of dine-in and carryout orders to the fundraiser.
  • Hosted Make a Run for IT: A Free Community Event (for runners and non-runners, adults and children) on November 3rd at the Denver South High School track. Approximately 80 people attended despite the rain! The event included a DJ, games, running events, a community art activity, burritos, and prizes. Several individuals and organizations donated items and services in order to make the event a success, including Little Man Ice Cream, Denver Public Schools, South High School custodians, All-City Sports Complex, Stasko Publicity Agency, CRUSH Pizza + Tap, Pete’s University Cafe, Suzy’s Salsa, Jo Noble RN, DJ Dre Lopez, M and M Catering, and students’ friends and families.
  • Welcomed six community members to class who shared their diverse running experiences.
  • With the support of Lululemon Ambassadors, Dr. Christa Schwind and Taylor Ames, students set their own running-related goals in order to understand the ways in which running is an embodied feminist practice that can shape and reflect who they are (even though most never imagined they would ever call themselves “runners”).

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 10.41.36 AM

Make a Run for IT, community event hosted by DU students

Here are some student reflections from the course:

“On the first day of class, I turned to [a classmate] and said “I think we just signed up for an 8am exercise class. What do we do?” After our first “Be in the Running” session, I was absolutely hooked. This was not first period gym. This was not feeling like the fattest person at a school of in-shape affluent white people. This was exercising for fun, and for myself; this was an entirely new concept for me…Of all the classes I have taken in my post-secondary academic career, this has by far been the most meaningful, full of personal growth, and healing. I am proud of who I am as a runner, and proud of what we accomplished as a [class]” (Helena Cappon).

“I think that the greatest aspect of personal growth for me was coming to terms with the fact that this wasn’t just a school project. We were actually affecting communities, bringing people together and raising money for a real cause. Sometimes school can feel like a hypothetical reality with the assignments I submit. But for maybe the first time in my education, I was actually working with and for the community. I think these revelations play into my civic learning and academic achievement as well in the sense that I’m not just a member of the DU campus, but I’m a member of the DU neighborhood and city of Denver. Just because I’m from Seattle and attend university here, doesn’t mean that I don’t have a stake in what happens in the community. In fact, more than ever, when I feel I have the strongest voice I’ve ever had, I should use it the most” (Caroline Painter).