Service Learning Project Helps Communities to Improve Education

December 14, 2011

College is widely regarded as an institution of learning that provides students with the fundamental technical skills and knowledge to be practiced in prospective careers. However, more educators are discovering that a third element—skills and acknowledgement of social responsibility—is vital to achieving a comprehensive education.

Infusing classroom curriculum with community service plays a key role in preparing our students for well-rounded participation in society. While supplementing academic learning, this highly rewarding program provides students with hands-on learning experiences planning, creating and implementing activities that provide an important service to the Latino community. This practice also supports Title V’s goals of increasing retention and graduation rates.

Within the College of Health and Human Development (HHD), four courses were selected out of the 12 applications for funding to participate in the Service Learning Project, which include two Health Science (HSCI) courses and two Kinesiology (KIN)courses—exceeding the initial goal of three courses. Each class required an active learning educational program that aims to fulfill a need in the community while working with local non-profit organizations or community partners. In addition, each course received a faculty-selected Student Scholar to help oversee project implementation and provide faculty support.

Dr. Louis Rubino, First Academic Lead, Ph.D., FACHE, Professor in the College of Health and Human Development.

The Service Learning Program proved successful in spring with more than 190 students served, exceeding the initial goal of 150 students. In addition, the faculty selected to receive funding for the creation of a new service learning curriculum participated in a Service Learning Faculty Learning Community where they learned how to better infuse service learning components into their classroom while emphasizing the needs of the undergraduate Latino students.

In Spring 2011, Dr. Louis Rubino’s Health Science 438 International Health course partnered with local healthcare sites predominantly serving the Latino Community where students visited on a weekly basis to assess if they were culturally competent—creating a comfortable environment for the dominant culture to seek and obtain services.  Students collaborated in groups to examine elements such as language, accessibility and design. Improvement opportunities were also presented during consultation meetings with the healthcare practitioners. This direct interaction with the surrounding community is not common in courses for students studying to become healthcare administrators, but the service learning promotes for even further well-rounded aspiring professionals who are conscious of the population they may serve.

“This was a good opportunity to infuse my class with a community engagement project that could educate my students on the culture, and at the same time help them through the process to be more successful in college,” said Rubino. “Students gained a better understanding of the environment and how cultural competence is important for health administrators to incorporate in their practice.”

Service Learning Program Component Lead and Director of the Center for Community Engagement, Merri Whitelock, trained and guided professors as they each substantially revamped their classes to create a quality learning assignment.

“Our faculty proposed great ideas for the projects, which required a learning experience for both the students and the community partner,” said Whitelock. “Students learn better in real life settings and I think this project is an excellent opportunity for service learning to be institutionalized on campus.”