College of Education Teaching Academy to incorporate service projects

At a panel discussion held Thursday, the College of Education Teaching Academy discussed implementing more service projects within the college’s curriculum. The panel said emphasizing service learning will provide students more experience within their particular area of study and allow them to actively participate in the community.

“The community is interested in more public engagement to make sure the community and the University stay connected, and service learning provides that connection,” said Amy Santos, associate professor of in the department of special education.

One of the goals of service learning projects is to enable students to attain more work experience specific to their area of concentration.

While changes to the education curriculum are not yet required, the panel hopes to motivate more professors to include projects that emphasize volunteerism.

“From my experience, I know that I wanted my students to connect to whatever it is they are doing, but I could never organize it in a way that would be meaningful for them,” Santos said.

Stacy Dymond, also a professor in the department of special education, said service projects allow students to learn concepts that they may not be used to in their lifestyles.

“If you come from a privileged background and you’ve had no interaction with people who are culturally different than you, learning about it in a textbook is not effective,” Dymond said. “You need to meet those people, you need to interact with them, you need to hear their stories.”

Santos said previous service projects have allowed students to create an expo about disabilities and set up directories and Web sites for organizations in the community. She added that the activities students would be engaging in would vary depending on the organization.

“These projects are not something new, they’re just something that needs to be more refined over time,” said Lance Neeper, graduate student in the department of special education.

Even though the inclusion of service projects in classrooms helps students gain experience, Santos said it also gives them the opportunity to serve the needs of their community organizations.

“They’re always looking for volunteers so that’s how we’re getting all these organizations to participate with us,” Santos said. “It gives the manpower and support that they may not necessarily be able to afford to have.”

The University is one out of 119 colleges that has received the Carnegie Community Engagement Elective Classification, which recognizes institutions that engage in service learning within their communities.

One concern the panel had was the liability involved in students going out of classrooms. In community service endeavors, they would be out of the professor’s jurisdiction. However, educators remain hopeful that service projects will be successfully implemented.

“We hope to inspire other professors to think about doing service projects within their courses,” Santos said. “I think that it not only builds the skills of the students that are participating, but it also helps the whole theme of altruism. We are able to give back to our community, and that’s something important.”