Service learning isn’t just a curriculum

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Many courses throughout the university involve community service as a part of their curriculum. Professors can assign students up to 15 community service hours throughout the semester and provide a variety of options for them to volunteer within their field of interest, such as the Women’s and Children’s Alliance and assisting at the local veterans’ home.

However, students are not the only ones giving back to the community. Faculty members have also gotten involved either through creating their service learning curriculums or by other means.

“We have about 80 classes a semester that have integrated service learning into the course,” said Mike Stefancic, assistant director of community partnerships. “Service learning is a teaching method. Just like lecture discussion, faculty members are using that as a way to help students better understand their course content.”

In service learning programs, students are able to connect with community members and develop hands-on skills that may translate to real job experience. It also teaches mindfulness related to community needs. University Foundations (UF), a curriculum required for all students on campus, is another program that adopted  service into its curriculum.

UF professor Elizabeth Swearingen is an advocate for social justice and has participated in activities such as Women’s Marches and the Occupy movement—a campaign based on social and economic inequalities.

“I used to be a women’s studies professor in the California university system,” Swearingen said. “Women’s studies, which is very inclusive of those questions and all identities, is very much about advocacy, social justice and activism.”

Swearingen’s knowledge, however, goes beyond studies surrounding only women. As a part of her UF 200 course, Swearingen teaches about the underlying social issues surrounding homelessness.

“My activism within the homeless community (included) trying to change city ordinances that marginalized homeless people and spending some nights on the streets,” Swearingen said.

Professors, like Swearingen, don’t only teach. They are often researching and, as a result, continue to be learners on campus. Kara Brascia, director of the Service Learning program, believes that this crossroads between career and education is common in the program.

“It’s the intersection of their professional passion with the needs of the community,” Brascia said.

Brascia is connected to many faculty members on campus who go above and beyond. She cited one psychology professor, April Masarik, who helps the community by assisting the refugee population.

“(Masarik) involves her students, her research, and her own free time to promote a welcoming community for refugees,” Brascia said. “She is learning a lot along the way about how people respond to both refugees and research about refugees.”

Caile Spear is a professor in the Department of Community and Environmental Health, whose commitment to her students Brascia has also noticed. She teaches service learning courses in health promotion and does more than just teach her students.

“(Spear) also is deeply committed to the well-being of students—particularly those who face food insecurity or other barriers,” Brascia said. “She is currently focusing a significant part of her professional and personal time on addressing food insecurity on campus.”

These faculty members, as demonstrated by their service commitment, are aiming to make strides in their community. However, to individuals like Swearingen, their community service is not their most important work.

“I lent my support to a lot of the Women’s Marches and to the Add the Words campaign, but I see the work that I do in the classroom as probably the strongest sense of activism,” Swearingen said.

 

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