CSUN Professor Seeks to Aid Students’ Transistion from Degree to Career Through Service Learning

April 23, 2014

By Kristina Munoz

California State University, Northridge’s Dr. Kimberly Kirner strives to make her new service learning class a fun and educational opportunity that will aid her students in developing a clearer view of how they can achieve personal or professional goals beyond the classroom environment.

Kirner teaches Anthro 302: Introduction to Applied Anthropology.  It is an upper division general education class that is open for students of all majors and interests.

“Approximately 2/3 of the 30 student class is a non-anthropology major who may never have taken an anthropology class,” said Kirner.  “At the end of the semester, my goal is for my students to leave not solely knowing anthropology concepts, but understanding how to deal with diverse organizations and people.”

Therefore, ensuring the class appeals to students of either anthropology or non-anthropology majors is of utmost importance to Kirner.

During the course, students experience service or work-based learning and in-class lectures, discussions and activities.  Kirner designed the class to be 50% experiential, group-based learning where students “tackle hypothetical applied ‘problems’ from an interdisciplinary perspective.”

Kirner does not want to be the sole “teacher” of the classroom.  She exclaims her classroom environment is pro-technology.

“I have a phone friendly class,” said Kirner with a chuckle. “Every student is experiencing what it is like to tackle an issue and contribute to their group with something they know or just learned from searching.  In the end, it builds a greater sense within the student of what they are good at doing.”

She feels that students can learn from one another.  During the “critical discussion” portion of the class, students are separated into small groups and given activities and tasks that are completed with the aid of all students.

“I want my students to critically view how an organization functions and how it impacts people differently,” said Kirner.

Community engagement is one portion of the class that aims to progress the student’s success in applying anthropological principles in real world scenarios.

“Anthropology is a social science and there is not a sole job deemed for a person with an anthropological degree,” said Kirner.  “By integrating students into the local community and giving them a job that will advance their given company’s knowledge and/or behavior allows the student to realize their potential after completing schooling. The student realizes there is a job available for their expertise.”

Kirner works with CSUN’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE) to efficiently pair students with local programs and companies that have needs and will work with the college.  For this semester, students are working with Guadalupe Center, MEND (Meet Each Need with Dignity), Museum of San Fernando Valley, We Lift LA, Tadpole Arts and CSUN CAT People.

In Anthro 302, students identify problems in their designated organization and consider how they can articulate their skills to meet the employer’s needs.

“I believe it is a valuable experience for students who come with different backgrounds to identify human social problems within a community and diagnose ways to solve it,” said Kirner.  “Everybody works proactively to recognize situations and ways to benefit the outcome for the community.  The organization and students capitalize from the strengths of different backgrounds.”

Kirner feels each student possesses a special set of skills that can be used to benefit the development of an organization.  During the class, Kirner works with students to identify skills each individual has and helps them translate that into learning how to apply for a job.

“The student learns how to translate the degree he/she receives after schooling into the skills or products he/she can bring to the community,” said Kirner.  “Then the student can match his/her skills with what an organization needs.”

“Community engagement provides students with a sense of personal investment,” she said.

Above all, Kirner’s hope is every student leaves her classroom with a “greater sense of who they are as an individual, what they are going to do and how to get there.”