Miguel Martinez-Saenz, associate professor of philosophy, and Lora Lawson, associate professor of education, incorporated service learning components into their second semester classes, making use of funds provided by Thrivent in 2005 as part of the groundbreaking program titled "Sowing Seeds of Servant Leadership: A Campus-Wide Integration of Service-Learning, Social Justice and Spirituality."
The professors challenged their students to go beyond the classroom by getting involved into the community.
"It's about getting them to understand that the material we are working on in class is relevant to the outside world," Martinez-Saenz said. "I am confident that there is a qualitative difference when a student is engaged in service learning."
The two courses are representative of the wide range of service learning opportunities that were granted to Wittenberg students as a result of the program, which was jointly initiated and organized by the Office of Community Service and Office of the Pastor. In just three years' time, service learning classes in religion, psychology, geography, sociology, economics and the languages were offered through the program.
Martinez-Saenz's class, titled "Ethics and Community," encouraged students to take part in an optional service learning component that substituted for the traditional pen to paper exam. Six students took him up on the offer and were set to work in pairs with such Springfield community partner programs as Think Tank, Inc., and the Circles Campaign.
Their student projects included research on "payday lenders," fine-tuning poverty assessment instruments and making short films for high school students on the values of going to college.
"Our objective was to find out if the community is meeting the needs of the impoverished," said Amy Meige, class of 2008 from Columbus, Ohio. "I was encouraged by the people in the group, how they progressed through the community as the weeks went on. I learned that people in poverty often feel alone — isolated. They really grow to care about each other."
Meige also participated in the Community Action Poverty Simulation, an effort Martinez-Saenz helped bring to campus twice during the spring 2008 semester. The events were simulations designed to help people understand the realities of poverty through role-playing activities.
"The simulation helped me understand more about what the people I was working with go through — getting work, finding day care," Meige said. "I learned about all the different agencies they had to go through, all the different hoops they had to jump through."
Lawson had many hoops to jump through to set up the service learning components for two of her classes, which are similar in nature — "Integrating Literature Art, Drama, Dance and Music Throughout the Early Childhood Curriculum" and "Integrating Literature, Art, Drama, Dance and Music Throughout the Middle Grades Curriculum."
Lawson's students planned lessons for school children in their respective academic levels and spent a day getting real teaching experience in the Springfield schools, including a lesson guide for the students at Clark State Community College Performing Arts Center. The collaboration fused academics with out-of-classroom theatre.
Lawson received 27 requests, encompassing 4,000 students, from Springfield schools for the teacher guides. In addition, four schools asked Lawson to send her students to teach a total of 13 different classes for a day.
For the in-classroom teaching experiences, the Thrivent grant paid for books and school supplies for Wittenberg students to take to the Springfield schools.
"The students have been positive about it," Lawson said. "The teachers have been positive about it. They said the students exceeded their expectations."
Director of Community Service Kristen Collier, class of 1992, hosted faculty workshops as part of the grant program to encourage instructors to integrate service learning into classroom curriculums. Lawson, a regular attendee at the workshops, has been teaching her respective courses for eight years, but this was the first time she added the service feature into her programs.
"I'm glad I finally tried," Lawson said. "I told Kristen not to give up on people. It took three workshops before I finally did it."
The Thrivent grant funds end this semester after supporting 16 classes and the corresponding service projects. However, many of the faculty members remain dedicated to maintaining service learning as part of their teaching with or without the supporting funds.
"The grant was supposed to end in January 2007," Collier said. "But we were so efficient with our money that we had funds left over to continue past that date."
"When you teach a service learning course, it can get messy because of the variety of factors that come into play," she added. "But the learning that this type of experience provides makes it well worth the effort."
Written By: Ryan Maurer
Photo By: John Strawn
Send a Message
• Book-Delivering Prof Named Ohio Professor of the Year
• Senior Class Selects Livestrong President & CEO Doug Ulman As 2011 Commencement Speaker
•Communication Program Honored Nationally With Top Award
• Wittenberg University Art Students Finalists For Scholarship Award