Service learning provides opportunities for students to contribute to their community

Students enrolled in public health and communication courses pictured during The Great American Smokeout on Nov. 15, 2018, on the University Center mall. The courses implemented service learning projects.

Interdisciplinary studies senior Dominique Lange said she first heard about service learning during her freshman English class. She had no clue what it was.  

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m gonna go drop this class.’ I didn’t know I was getting myself into this,” Lange said. 

But she stuck around.

Service learning is when students work with a nonprofit agency as a part of their academic course to gain hands-on experience while giving back to the community. 

The Center for Service Learning held its first virtual Community Partner Breakfast on Friday, where UTA faculty and local nonprofit agencies discussed potential service learning projects in the community. 

“Doing something hypothetically is great, but when you can actually get out there and do it in real time, real life, it’s transformational for the students,” said Susan Dequeant, Center for Service Learning director.  

Lange’s first service learning experience was working at an immigration service center in Fort Worth through her English class. It was during a time when immigrants were always in the headlines, she said. The learning experience allowed her to meet and hear some immigrants’ stories and put a face to the label. 

“I went in, and I didn’t really think that in America I had a lot of privilege,” she said. “But I walked out thinking, there is so much privilege in being born an American citizen.” 

On the first few days of work, Lange encountered a U.S. soldier who was trying to bring his wife to the U.S. under urgent circumstances. She also met a Haitian woman who came to the U.S. after an earthquake, she said. 

“There’s things that I’ll never have to worry about and things that just don’t consume my life at all in a way that it had for these people,” she said. 

The stories stuck with her and shaped her worldview and career goals, Lange said. 

She advocated for service learning throughout her college years. It resulted in scholarships, a paid position working with the service learning director and membership to the Archer Fellowship Program. The experience had set out the rest of her pathway, she said.  

“You’re trying things out before you actually have to graduate and go do what you think you may want to do,” she said. 

Lange did her second service learning in a law firm during the spring 2020 semester. She wanted to go to law school and become a lawyer, she said. 

“But I sat in the law office, and I just knew that I could not sit behind the desk all day and practice law,” she said.  

The Center for Service Learning  also holds seminars and workshops for faculty to help them incorporate service learning into their courses. 

Karishma Chatterjee, Communication assistant professor of instruction, shared her service learning experience at the breakfast event and said she was excited to meet and learn from other faculty and community partners. 

“It’s always nice to be part of a learning community,” Chatterjee said. “My eyes get open to new possibilities.” 

Service learning can be incorporated into different classes and community sectors.

Communication associate professor Shelley Wigley has been implementing service learning in her courses since 2008. In her public relations campaigns course, the class is set up like a real public relations agency, with students doing research and executing plans on behalf of clients, she said. 

One experience that has stayed with Wigley was when her class in 2014 worked with Counseling and Psychological Services. Students wearing inflated sumo suits wrestled their stress away during finals week while learning about the office’s services.  

Service learning is one way for her to give back, and it also gives students a sense of pride knowing they have helped their community in some ways, she said. 

Broadcast specialist LaDonna Aiken has implemented service learning into her corporate video production, multimedia and TV production classes. 

Aiken said service learning serves as a motivator for students because they create work tied directly to their academic skills. 

During COVID-19, her classes have helped nonprofits with their online presence, creating how-to videos on best practices for using Zoom and Microsoft Teams. 

But Alliance For Children, a local nonprofit that deals with child abuse, has paused its service learning component for safety reasons, Volunteer Coordinator Jamie Harton said. 

The students were vital to the nonprofit, Harton said. One student worked on a coloring book written from the perspective of a child who had recently arrived at the center. 

Interested students and faculty can schedule a tour to the Alliance For Children at the Arlington Center branch, she said. Students are also encouraged to sign up now to get an early placing once the service learning is back.  

Dequeant said this year the Center for Service Learning will focus on virtual participation. The center will also celebrate its 20th anniversary on campus this year. 

Lange said the benefits students can get from service learning will be vital for them. 

“It’s essential to building a good student. Somebody who is well-rounded and who will be able to do well inside the classroom and outside of the classroom,” she said. 


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