In lieu of completing the final paper assignment for “New Haven and the Problem of Change in the American City,” about a dozen students in the lecture course are participating in community research projects as part of the University’s Community-Based Learning initiative this semester.

As part of the program, which lines up such service projects for a number of other Yale classes in conjunction with Dwight Hall, students in the class will volunteer to work with community organizations involved in public education, economic development and low-income housing, said political science and ethics professor Cynthia Farrar, who is helping to organize the research section of the class.

The CBL component of the course, which is taught by Karilyn Crockett DIV ’06 and overseen by Farrar, offers students an opportunity to add context to what they are learning and understand how the material in their textbooks corresponds to the real world, said professor Alan Plattus, one of the course’s three other lecturers.

“We felt the time was right for offering students coming to Yale an opportunity to learn more about what they saw around them in a more analytical and rigorous way,” Plattus said. “Obviously, we’re trying to encourage people not just to look at pictures in books, but to get out there and see what it really looks like.”

Farrar, who is also the director of urban academic initiatives in Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs, said the projects are intended to give students experience in hands-on community work as well as to make a difference in the city.

“The whole point of the way this is organized and something that matters a lot to me is that it serves the needs of both students and the organizations they are doing work for,” she said. “So we are pretty careful to identify projects that meet requirements in terms of consolidating and extending what [students] are doing in the class and also getting something worthwhile done.”

Farrar said that while some classes offering CBL projects have run into difficulty in the past, the New Haven class has never had a problem. A report that one student compiled in fall 2003 for the local charity Community Foundation regarding charitable giving trends in the New Haven black community was incorporated into a grant proposal, which the foundation submitted to a large national corporation, she said.

“That’s a pretty discrete piece of research that is both useful as an enrichment of the learning experience and also was hugely helpful to the Foundation,” Farrar said.

Political science professor and Calhoun College Dean Stephen Lassonde said projects that ask students to look at conditions in other towns and cities throughout the state help further an understanding of how New Haven relates to other urban communities and how it differs from them.

“We try to help students understand New Haven in the context of other cities its size and age,” he said. “At the same time, cities are like living things. They’re like organisms that have life cycles. So [students] become very familiar with the city depending on what part of the city they work in.”

The CBL section was last offered in fall 2003. Participating students are expected to volunteer this semester for organizations including the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, a group of educators, boards of education and professional associations that seek to address imbalances in public education funding across the state; Regional Growth and Partnership, which promotes economic development across Connecticut; and Interfaith Refugee Ministry, which provides homes to refugees from around the world.