According to Dr. Elissa Mitchell and Dr. Veronica Huggins, both Assistant Professors of Social Work, service learning was integrated into their SOCW 344 macro social course after their first semester teaching it. They each teach a section of the course and agreed that they wanted something different than the typical classroom assignments and papers. The original culminating assignment in the course, according to Dr. Veronica Huggins, was a 20-page paper, and “it just seemed like it was about having this large paper finished and not about the content of the course. Students were more focused on meeting page and reference requirements than on the experience of learning about agencies and communities.” Dr. Mitchell agreed. “This course is about community practice, so we wanted our students to engage more in the community,” she said. The professors agreed that something needed to change, and the students needed to get more hands-on experience in this course.
Meanwhile, Dr. Mitchell had been talking with Dr. Erin Gilles, Assistant Professor of Communication, about their common interests and finding a way to collaborate on a project. The idea to partner macro social work students with Gilles’ public relations students developed from conversations between Mitchell and Gilles. Together, Mitchell, Gilles, and Huggins restructured their courses so that public relations and social work students worked together on service-learning projects with community partners that provided students with opportunities to apply classroom knowledge to real life situations. According to Dr. Mitchell, “Macro social workers do not work in isolation, so it was important to have a spirit of collaboration and cooperation in this project. This has worked out well from both perspectives.” Dr. Erin Gilles agreed, “It gives my students an identified “client” to focus on and to practice meeting client expectations and collaborating with others.”
Examples of projects that students have completed with community partners include:
Working with community partners helped students to realize that their collaborative efforts can make a difference in the community. The application of classroom information to real life situations enhanced student learning in ways that differ from other typical class projects. Students were able to connect course material to their projects, and to identify how their involvement made a positive impact for partner organizations and the individuals they serve.
Students reported that they welcomed the opportunity to apply what they were learning in the classroom. According to one student “the main thing that stuck with me from this project is how our project will benefit the lives of children. We as a community can make a huge impact when we come together to help others.” Another student reported “feeling better prepared to work within the community and with others toward a common goal.”
In addition to students being able to apply classroom learning, they were able to acquire discipline-related skills and the ability to work collaboratively to implement a project. As an added bonus, some of the students have returned to their organizations as a student intern or volunteer, while one student even received an offer for full-time employment!