Faculty integrate service into the Carroll learning experience
By Molly Bealin ’14
John Carroll’s commitment to helping develop men and women for others is clearly visible throughout campus, specifically in the classroom. Faculty members have been making a continued effort to incorporate service into the curriculum, even in classes that aren’t usually associated with service.
Service is an integral aspect of the academic learning outcomes for JCU graduates in which they can apply what they’ve learned in the classroom, develop practical skills, become more socially responsible, and develop interpersonal competence in a global and diverse world. Service also helps students understand and promote social justice, employ leadership and collaborative skills, apply a framework for examining ethical dilemmas, and understand the religious dimensions of the human experience.
“Service enhances learning and changes the way we view the learning process,” says Margaret Finucane ’80, Ph.D., the director of The Center for Service and Social Action. “Students learn more deeply because they’re engaged with the content they’re learning about. It’s one thing to read a textbook, but when they can see the theories presented to them in class come to life, they understand it differently.”
CSSA works with faculty to make service a part of the curriculum. Their connections to the community allow many learning opportunities for students – tutoring in the inner city and working with refugees, the homeless, and women in abusive domestic relationships. The center logs students’ hours so teachers don’t have to.
One faculty member who takes advantage of the center is English professor Phil Metres, Ph.D.
“When I look back to when I first started writing, there were three main inspirations – traveling because of the interactions with others, love, and the experience of mortality,” Metres says. “You can experience all of these in service.”
In Metres’ creative writing class, students have to meet a semester-long service requirement. They can choose between tutoring; working with the elderly, homeless, and poor; or any of the other opportunities CSSA provides. Students have to fulfill a number of visits and subsequently produce a journal describing their experiences and a story that explains their experience.
“Some of the best writing they do is in this portion of the class,” Metres says. “Most of the time, when students write, they’re writing about themselves, but this displaces centrality of the self.”
Bringing subjects to life
Psychology professor Tracy Masterson ’97, Ph.D., echoes Metres’ sentiment about service.
“It’s a nice complement to academics,” Masterson says. It’s a fruitful area that brings subjects to life. In class, we talk about diagnostic criteria, but working with patients that have been diagnosed is completely different. Service reduces stigma and stereotypes.”
At first, service was optional for Masterson’s class; but after seeing how it benefited students, she made it a requirement.
“Students that did service learned more,” she says. “They were better able to apply the material they learned in class to the real world. Those students were better informed to make decisions about their career.”
In Masterson’s clinical autism class, students help tutor at-risk kids in autistic preschool, juvenile detention centers, and domestic-violence centers. Like Metres’ class, students have to provide a journal explaining their experience. The students also talk in class about how their service relates to what they’re learning; and at the end of the semester, there’s a service learning day.
“CSSA approached me about implementing service learning,” Masterson says. “They’re extremely helpful when coordinating service for students. They make connections to the community in ways professors can’t. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to teach nearly as effectively.”
A better understanding
Phyllis Braudy Harris, Ph.D., a professor in the sociology department, also makes service an integral part of her classes.
“In the areas I teach, having students understand poverty allows them to take factual information, which is important, and add a face to those numbers and statistics,” Harris says.
For Harris’ first-year seminar class about poverty and social justice, students work once a week with the poor. Students take part in tutoring, working with the homeless, disabled, or victims of domestic violence. Her 300-level class about poverty, social justice, and welfare includes an applied research project. Students look at areas of Cleveland and focus on issues they’re learning about and trying to improve. In the past, students have helped in neighborhoods such as Hough, Broadway, Slavic Village, and Chinatown. Students put together an education module to better understand why the issues are taking place, working with a nonprofit organization in the community.
Harris is also in charge of the internship and seminar in the sociology department. Students who take the internship usually are planning to work in public health or social work. Students spend eight to 10 hours a week working in an agency that focuses on their interests.
“Service accompanies the Jesuit mission of the University,” she says. “The commitment to it is something that’s truly believed on our campus.”
A strong commitment
The aforementioned professors agree service isn’t what makes Carroll unique, it’s the type of service that makes the University distinctive. In fact, the University has been selected as a Presidential Award Finalist for the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service learning, and civil engagement. This year, JCU is one of only 14 colleges and universities nationwide to be a finalist.
The call to act for justice is one students believe in strongly and faculty support wholeheartedly.
“Many schools take part in service, but our mission is what makes us distinctive,” Finucane says. “What draws our students to the University is the commitment to service. We hear from the community that JCU students are different.” JCU
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