Service Learning Newsletter - December 2017 - Importance | Benedictine College

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Service-Learning Newsletter | December 14, 2017

Why is service-learning important?
– Faculty, Student, and Community Partner Perspectives

“Serving other people is what we are called to do,” said Audra Burke, a senior Accounting major who has served at Catholic Charities in Atchison on her own and for the service-learning project in Dr. John Rziha’s Christian Moral Life course. “I think it is one of the most important things that we can do in whatever kind of vocation or career we pursue.”

 Benedictine College is dedicated to educating students within a community of faith and scholarship. Service-learning is a method of education that efficaciously supports this end by giving students the opportunity to simultaneously strengthen their community, put their faith into action by serving others, and enhance their academic experience.

“I would definitely encourage professors to do service-learning,” Burke said. “Not just for Theology professors, but for other disciplines. There is something to be said for having business professors or science professors involved.”

Dr. Patrick O’Malley, associate professor of Engineering at Benedictine, shared one way his department got involved in service-learning. “We started doing mission trips three spring breaks ago,” O’Malley said. “The first year we went to Guatemala, and designed a roof truss for a women’s center. The second year we went to Ghana, through a connection with Fr. Damien at the Abbey, and built a water tower for the village there.”

But the difficulty for busy college students was finding the large amount of time needed to plan projects such as these. “So we turned it into an actual course,” O’Malley said. Students in this course, Engineering for Human Development, worked for two semesters to prepare for the most recent Spring 2017 mission trip to a remote village in the Andes Mountains, where they built updated greenhouses and installed a weather station.

“Students who went on the trip got credit. Students who helped design the project also got credit. We also introduced some themes from Catholic Social Thought and how that applies to Engineering,” O’Malley said.

Benedictine has collaborated with the Colorado-based organization, Creatio, to plan a few mission trips – including the most recent Engineering trip to the Andes.

“Service-learning takes the academic component of education and makes it real,” said Kevin Greaney, the Mission and Adventures Director at Creatio. “It’s vital that service-learning becomes more the norm,” Greaney said. “It gives students practical knowledge.”

Lauren Holm, a senior at Benedictine, shared about her experience serving the homeless in Kansas City with the Franciscan religious community, the Poor of Jesus Christ. “I remember going for [the] Catholic Social Thought [class] because we had to get hours in,” Holm said. “But after the first time I fell in love in a lot of ways.”

Service-learning gave Holm the chance to explore the issues studied in Dr. Richard Coronado and Dr. John Rziha’s Catholic Social Teaching course from a tangible perspective. “Actually experiencing it – it wasn’t just theoretical anymore,” Holm said. “I actually got to experience the breaking down of barriers with the homeless and some of the most vulnerable people in the world.”

Dr. Mark Schramp has also tapped into this experiential form of learning. Students in his Principles of Biology course assimilated what they learned about the digestive system and then taught it to a class at Atchison Middle School that was also studying this topic.

 “I think service-learning can help connect students to what they are studying in ways that cannot always be achieved in a classroom or even a lab,” Schramp said. “Sitting in front of twenty-five to thirty seventh and eighth graders can really force students to connect with the topic and present it in a way that is applicable to everyone. It is a much easier opportunity to understand the impact science has,” Schramp said.

Students involved in service-learning also have the opportunity to make an impact on the community at large by supporting area non-profits. Project Atchison is one of many local organizations which has recently collaborated with Benedictine students through service-learning.

“At the heart, we are really just a community organization, said Nikki Durkin, who helps lead the Atchison-based group. “We do whatever the community needs. We restore parks, pick up trash, work on paint projects, create community events,” Durkin said.

Students in Dr. David Harris’ Econometrics class have helped Project Atchison complete survey projects to gauge community involvement, and Mass Communication students in Dr. Kevin Page’s Senior Seminar have led social media and marketing efforts.

“The students at Benedictine are a big portion of our community,” Durkin added. “We need the younger generation to be involved, or our community will never have a successful legacy.”

Strengthening this legacy, as well as the College’s legacy of higher education, has been the aim of the Center for Service-Learning since its founding. While still in its formative stage, the program has sought to support positive and engaging partnerships between academic courses and community organizations, and will continue to do so in the semesters ahead.