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Course-based service-learning

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By Wendi Wheeler ’06


Augsburg student writes in a classroomThe community service-learning component of the Augsburg curriculum provides significant opportunities for Augsburg students and faculty to interact with the community and develop mutually beneficial relationships.

Mary Laurel True, director of service-learning, emphasized that service-learning is more than community service; it is part of the College’s commitment to the community. “This is about sharing our resources in all areas, asking what the community needs that we can provide,” she said. “It’s not just the courses, it’s the institution as a citizen.”

The curricular aspect of service-learning begins at the summer orientation program for undergraduate students in the day program. Throughout their orientation experience, groups explore the neighborhoods and begin to learn about opportunities to engage with and learn from Augsburg’s neighbors.

An Augsburg tradition for more than 15 years, City Service Day gives first-year day students an opportunity to serve in and learn about the community through service projects on the day before fall semester classes begin. This September, more than 400 students and their faculty leaders contributed 1,200 hours of service at local schools, community service centers, churches, and theaters.

Students continue building neighbor- hood relationships in their first-year seminar called “AugSem.” AugSem groups are determined by a student’s anticipated major area of study, so AugSem courses and service-learning opportunities engage students in ways that often continue after their first semester at Augsburg.

Every year, more than 35 service-learning courses include an experiential education component, which involves an average of 25 hours of off-campus service-learning in a semester. More importantly, True noted, students must reflect on their experiences. “They get credit for their reflection, not the time they spend in the community,” she said.

One example of how service-learning enhances the educational experience is found in the Education Department, where a field service experience is included in all major methods courses. In fact, education majors at Augsburg will complete at least 120 hours of service-learning in different elementary or secondary classrooms before student teaching, according to Jeanine Gregoire, associate professor of education.

Augsburg teacher candidates have opportunities to work with schools such as Seward Montessori and the Cedar-Riverside Community School. In cooperation with the classroom teachers, candidates learn how to build a curriculum to address the needs of all learners, including many who are English language learners from the Somali, Hmong, and Korean communities. “It’s a great experiential program for them to see how teaching and learning play out in the classroom,” Gregoire said.

Gregoire added that some teacher candidates come to Augsburg with little experience in diverse schools, so service-learning provides a broader perspective on the classroom. “It takes them out of their comfort zone and forces them to think critically about the issues affecting the curriculum,” Gregoire said, “and they get an understanding about the complexities of teaching to eager, bright students who have a huge range of abilities.”

Service-learning is an integral part of soci- ology professor James Vela-McConnell’s upper-division course on social problem analysis. Vela-McConnell chooses a social problem for the class to focus on, and students learn about the issue through traditional research, service in organizations, and intensive interviews with lay people and those who work in social service organizations. The goal, Vela-McConnell said, is to combine all the students’ work into a complete examination of a social problem.

“By doing this as a class project and not an individual project,” Vela-McConnell said, “I emphasize that I am not the expert and I become part of the collective learning experience.” He sees this role as valuable for the students because it allows professor and students to connect as equals and to work together.

These examples highlight how the learning experience can be enriched for students through service and show how Augsburg can benefit the community by sharing resources. True noted that many of the organizations involved in service-learning relationships with Augsburg have a small group of staff, so Augsburg students provide dedicated volunteer support that helps these organizations succeed and grow.

“I think what we have going here is thick and deep and grassroots,” True said. “It’s a reciprocal relationship with the community. It’s a long-term commitment.”

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