At Missouri State University, archaeology students partnered with the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum for a course integrating service with learning. Each student gave more than 70 hours of service while excavating and documenting the remains of a house built by former slaves in the 1870s or 1880s.
At California's Glendale Community College, students shared their expertise with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to help community non-profit groups increase their outreach programs.
"This is about becoming a good active citizen functioning in a democracy," Curley said. "These experiences will help graduates as they take jobs, serve on community boards and have children in school systems. This is all part of how our democracy runs. If we are not participatory, we can lose the things that are so sacred to us."
Service-learning is identified by the National Survey of Student Engagement as promoting deep learning and personal development. Active and collaborative learning is one of the most consistent predictors of persistence, self-reported learning gains and high gradepoint average, according to the Community College Survey of Student Engagement. Those aren't the reasons Natalie Blanton signed up for the U.'s Honors Think Tank on New American Communities, however.
A two-way channel
Blanton appreciates being able to connect her own research on social problems to the lives of real people. Knowledge has flowed through a two-way channel while she and her fellow students have formed relationships in refugee communities, she said. She looks forward to seeing that effort bear fruit next semester when class members work directly with community groups to aid refugees in adapting to Utah life.
"The faculty works with community partners as directly as possible to create projects that reinforce learning outcomes for students, but are also reciprocal for the organizations," said public administration professor Nancy Basinger, who co-teaches the U. think tank with social work professor Rosemarie Hunter. "We try to avoid that 'ivory tower' connotation, where people from the university are coming in and telling a community what to do."
"Based on research nationally, the students have a deeper level of understanding of course material if they have had an opportunity to engage with the material in an applied way," Basinger said. " They can apply it in the future in ways they couldn't with a more traditional lecture format."
Interaction with Salt Lake City's refugee communities brought Blanton to a similar conclusion. Doing engaged learning projects in social work has transformed her college major from a passive field of study to an active process that is exhilarating and satisfying.
"I'm learning from another human being, not a dissertation or huge book," she said. "I've learned to really value the people I come in contact with and I'm excited to take that forward. I've learned about cooperation and the adaptation it takes to work with a team. It's nice to learn how to harness those things and use them for good."
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