For UNCG’s Office of Leadership and Service-Learning (OLSL), the task is clear: empower students to serve as active, engaged citizen leaders in their communities and beyond.
“To do that, the students need to know the issues, know the government structures and know how to organize to create change when it’s needed,” said Dr. Spoma Jovanovic, professor of communication studies and one faculty member pioneering the effort for more community-engaged scholarship in the classroom.
Designated service-learning courses offered at UNCG have tripled over the last decade – from just 10 in the fall of 2007 to 43 this fall.
Dr. Rebecca Muich, assistant dean for the Lloyd International Honors College and coordinator of the Honors Colloquium service-learning course, sees firsthand the appreciable impact on students.
“More than any other learning experience we schedule for our students, the service-learning experience crops up on our student evaluations as the most valuable and impactful experience of the semester,” she said.
In addition to service-learning initiatives, the OLSL teams up with groups across campus and beyond to offer experiential curricular and co-curricular leadership development. Courses and programs equip students to develop a personal, professional and civic identity through civic engagement, integrated learning and reflective practice.
Field-based experiential learning with community partners is a large part of the strategy to give students the opportunity to apply learning in real-world settings and reflect on their service outside the classroom.
Jovanovic’s Communication and Community course, offered this fall, exemplifies this strategy. Connecting students with community partners allows them to experience issues and provide service, rather than just reading about them.
For example, students in Jovanovic’s class work with Tiny Houses Greensboro to provide volunteer tracking and building alongside other community members; assist with refugee challenges and anti-trafficking messages in collaboration with World Relief in High Point and Winston-Salem; and work with the City of Greensboro’s Participatory Budgeting Project to activate the city’s voters and explain projects proposed to residents.
Students spend 20 hours with each organization in addition to research. They make connections between their experiences and course readings on rhetoric, service-learning and activism.
In the Honors College, service-learning is a core component of the first-year experience.
As part of the Honors Colloquium, a seminar designed to help new students acclimate to their environment, students work with the Center for New North Carolinians to plan after-school activities for refugee and immigrant children.
“By having discussions about poverty, privilege, education, reflection, improvisation and performance, we indicate to our students that we expect them to become interested, engaged student-citizens who are in control of their own education,” Muich said.
To learn more about OLSL and service-learning opportunities in the classroom, visit olsl.uncg.edu.
Story by Elizabeth L. Harrison, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications