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Service-Learning Builds Lifetime Citizens Who Seek the Common Good

Through the “scholarship of engagement,” service-learning faculty and students are connecting LSU’s rich academic resources to the most pressing problems facing the Baton Rouge community and beyond.

“Service-learning is engaged learning,” said Jan Shoemaker, director of the Center for Community Engagement, Learning, and Leadership. The CCELL offers support and development opportunities for faculty, acts as a faculty-community liaison, documents student participation, and rewards faculty and student accomplishments.

“Service-learning courses are designed to build lifetime citizens who seek the common good for their community,” Shoemaker added.

Research has shown that service-learning reinforces a student’s interpersonal relationships as well as academic and community engagement. Service-learning participants, when compared to non-service-learning students, have a greater understanding of community problems and are more accepting of persons from diverse backgrounds. Research has also shown that service-learning students find their courses more challenging and are more likely to complete their college degrees.

“Through service-learning courses, students participate in organized service activities that meet both the academic objectives of the course and clearly defined needs of the community. As a result, the courses benefit both the students who participate and the community partner who is served,” Shoemaker said. “That’s why there is a hyphen in service-learning. The benefits are reciprocal.”

Providing Research to School Workshops

Service-learning at LSU has grown from two sections in 1991 to approximately 130 to 145 sections per year. Last year, more than 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students engaged in service-learning in 35 departments, with 73 faculty in every college and school on campus involved.

Students work with approximately 100 non-profit partners each year, from public schools to city governments. Most agencies are located in the Baton Rouge area, but partnerships range throughout the Gulf South and beyond the nation’s borders in countries such as Africa and Central America.

“Over the past decade, hundreds of community partners, representing thousands of individual citizens, have benefited from the intellectual capital of LSU,” Shoemaker said. “Services range from regular tutoring or placement at a non-profit to conducting research, assessment, and evaluation for nonprofit agencies.”

For example, a graduate level course on assessment and evaluation is conducting evaluations for non-profits and biology students are currently cataloguing flora and fauna at Baton Rouge recreational sites. In addition, veterinary, kinesiology, chemistry, and theater students conduct workshops in public school classrooms, Shoemaker said.

Biological engineering students have collaborated with public elementary school students to design and construct “dream” playgrounds. Each semester, education, English, and math students serve as tutors and mentors in public schools and community-based after-school programs.

Most recently, Shoemaker said, service-learning faculty have engaged students in projects aimed at rebuilding and restoration following hurricanes Rita and Katrina. For example, under the direction of landscape architecture faculty, students have drafted a plan for rebuilding the Jefferson Parish lakefront – a proposal that parish leaders have adopted as their formal blueprint for rebuilding the area around Lake Pontchartrain.

Through the School of Architecture, Project 3|30|1 faculty and students are training previously unskilled individuals to become builders and trainers, thus duplicating the process while creating home ownership opportunities.

More than Making the Grade

Amy Norvall of Zimbabwe, past president of the Service-Learning Student Advisory Council, found that a service-learning English class caused her to consider her course work beyond the grade she would earn. She and a group of fellow students were assigned to write a grant for a non-profit partner – a project that changed her perspective on her commitment to the community.

“I saw this happen to every student in our class, and it was amazing to witness this change,” Norvall said. “I remember looking around the room one day, and everyone was so energized and focused because suddenly we realized that a lot more was riding on this assignment than just our grades – a whole community was depending on our input and effort.

“Being a real-world situation, our assignment had real-world consequences, so as a result we all became much more engaged as learners. All of a sudden, what we were learning and applying had a real purpose and a very real effect.”

Students realized that correct grammar and format, appropriate language and tone, and even group goals and telephone conversations were given new meaning.

“Applying these lessons in a real-world scenario guaranteed that we truly learned them and carried these tasks out properly and professionally,” Norvall said. “There was no ‘I’ll make up for it in the next assignment;’ there was no ‘next assignment’ for the community we were serving.”

Providing the University-Community Connection

According to Lawrence Rouse, Service-Learning Advisory Council Chair, engaged learning provides a way for the University to give back to its community.

“Service-learning engages the students to see that, as a result of their education, they have a responsibility to give something back to the community,” Rouse said.

One long-range goal of the Service-Learning Advisory Council, comprised of senior LSU faculty and community and student representatives, is to see that every student who goes through the University takes at least one service-learning course.

“The last big change in educational philosophy was general education requirements for college students,” Rouse said. “Eventually, service-learning is going to be accepted and thought of as a requirement. In order to meet that goal, we need to expand service-learning courses into every degree-granting curriculum. Service-learning, in general, provides authentic learning environments where the students get to work out and think about what is taught in the class.”

He believes that service-learning allows the community to see a return on its investment in the University and its students.

“Service-learning provides the University with the opportunity to show that it is involved in the community, and the immediate community is more than just South Baton Rouge. We have to show a commitment to the entire state of Louisiana through projects that actually enrich the lives of its citizens.”

Through community engagement, LSU is able to serve individuals as well as community organizations.

“Service-learning puts students out in the community where they can apply learning at a personal level,” Rouse said. “Engaged learning has the ability to show that the University can touch individual citizens. It demonstrates the University’s worth to the state at the individual level.”

Roxanne Dill | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Fall 2007


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