Alexa Darby: An engaged citizen leading by example

The associate professor of psychology received the 2014 Periclean Award for Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility for her partnership with local schools and dedication to community service.

When it comes to service-learning and civic engagement, Alexa Darby is hailed by colleagues as a role model.

“Even at an institution known for its civic engagement, Alexa’s dedication to community collaboration stands out as exemplary,” a colleague says.

The associate professor of psychology has taught more than 30 sections of academic service-learning courses since joining Elon’s faculty in 2005. In that time, she also has established a very meaningful partnership with the Alamance-Burlington School System. Based on nomination letters from multiple faculty members, Darby’s volunteer work and tireless commitment to elementary schools in low-income neighborhoods make her an ideal candidate for the 2014 Periclean Award for Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility.

“Her investment and passion extends personally and professionally,” a colleague says. “Professor Darby invests herself oftentimes spending many hours with her students and aiding individual children herself. This speaks to her deep values around service, community engagement and civic involvement providing the underpinning to her work.”

In addition to teaching educational psychology, a service-learning course, Darby teaches by doing.

“She has told me service-learning is more than just students volunteering in the community,” says a colleague in the psychology department. “It is learning that is built on the connection between academics, meaningful community service and reflection. Elon students can learn educational psychology at a deeper level because of the service-learning opportunities that Alexa provides.”

She purchased classroom materials, attended meetings, organized a science fair, led a beautification project at a school, provided support and guidance for a student-focused project suggested by a principal and helped create a community garden that benefits the families of students attending a local elementary school.

“Alexa provides an example to her students of how to work alongside a community partner based on the partner’s stated priorities rather than developing an agenda based on assumptions of what is needed,” says a colleague in the school of education.

Darby tutored two first-graders in math after school last year and then sought out and paid teachers to provide literacy tutoring to six children because she didn’t have the expertise to do it herself. Following the experience, she sat in on a literacy class taught at Elon.

Last fall Darby was asked to assist a high school student diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. “Despite her busy schedule and the time she was spending in the elementary school, she readily agreed to this,” a colleague says. “She provided this student with strategies for coping with his disability in the high school setting. Her support was most helpful to him.”

Darby serves as the academic coordinator for the Civic Engagement Scholars Program. She was the 2006-07 Service-Learning Faculty Scholar and the 2009-10 Service-Learning Research Scholar.

“Like others engaged in service, she has experienced the messiness and roller coaster of unexpectedness that sometimes comes with community work,” a colleague says. “Yet Dr. Darby has gone through it, taken the ride and come out with a deeper understanding and appreciation while remaining true to her personal commitment. This is the model her students and others see through her work.”

Darby is the 12th recipient of the Periclean Award for Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility, which is given each year to a member of Elon’s faculty or staff whose community service exemplifies the ideals of Project Pericles.

Coming up next week: a profile on Paul Miller, winner of this year’s Ward Family Excellence in Mentoring Award.