Classes gain deeper focus in service

By Lauren Kelly

Service-learning courses at Columbia may be getting a boost in funding and faculty support in coming months due to a potential government grant and faculty workshops that empower instructors to integrate community work into their classes.

Columbia has integrated service-learning-which may involve community volunteering-projects and teaching, into classes in various departments and is continuing to expand these programs.

On March 11, in the third and last Service-Learning Course Conversion Workshop, held on the 8th floor of the Alexandroff Campus Center, 600 S. Michigan Ave., faculty members who were interested in integrating service-learning into their class got information on how to do so.

The main topic of the workshop was building community partnerships with different organizations as a way to expand the service-learning experience of Columbia students.

Led by Lott Hill, co-director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, and Paul Teruel, director of community partnerships for the Center for Community Arts Partnerships, the workshop, held every spring, also detailed potential funding for these partnership projects.

One important component of service-learning at Columbia is Urban Missions, a program within CCAP. It is the first program that was started at the college dealing with community partnership. It focuses on reciprocal relationships between the community and Columbia. Some organizations that Columbia partners with include Free Spirit Media, Snow City Arts Foundation, Young Chicago Authors, Street-Level Youth Media and Chicago Public Art Group, among others.

Teruel said Urban Missions brings together academic departments and community-based arts organizations to collaborate on courses and projects.

There are many academic service-learning courses available through different departments at Columbia, some including radio, theater, dance, art and design, and music.

In these specific classes, students may go into different communities and work with groups outside of the college, or they may never leave the classroom.

One long-running example of a service-learning class offered through the Radio Department is the course Radio Workshop: Public Service in the Media. Taught by Hope Daniels, radio faculty member and long time service-learning instructor, the class creates public service announcements.

“What the urban partner does is give direction to the students on the focus of the PSA,” Daniels said. After researching, recording, editing and producing and finalizing the PSA, “the students work with the Urban Missions partner to identify radio stations whose demographics most closely aligns to the target demo they’re trying to reach.”

Another popular service-learning course, offered through the Theater Department, goes out to work with a community and is very hands-on. Called Teaching Practicum, the class is taught by theater faculty member Brian Shaw. The course helps students become teaching artists and gives them the opportunity to work with youths in Chicago.

Columbia’s programs may be signaling a larger movement toward service-learning in the United States. Service is also an area included in President Barack Obama’s agenda. Specifically, Obama wants to expand service-learning in education and encourage students to participate in volunteer work and community programs.

Columbia is already advancing the goal of service-learning, and in the works right now is a partnership between the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Center for Community Arts Partnerships with the Office of Student Engagement to advance community partnerships.

Teruel said the offices want to create a permanent position in the Office of Student Engagement that works with service-learning and different types of community service at Columbia.

The three offices are pursuing a government grant worth $195,000 to help finance their service-learning projects. Because they are not given as much money as they need from the college, they must seek outside funding.

This grant, called the Learn and Serve America Grant, will be paid out over three years. If Columbia receives the grant, it will mostly go toward community partnership building.

Hill said there has always been a missing piece for students who want to be involved in service but don’t necessarily need it to be connected to class.

He said the government grant “is an opportunity for us to build that missing link on our campus so students can take leadership.”

Teruel said the priority of the grant would be “to embed service-learning, where appropriate, within the college and to help provide more professional development opportunities for faculty, college students and the community partners involved.”

If Columbia were to receive the grant, however, some money would also be earmarked to be used for Critical Encounters, Faculty Fellowships, projects in the Office of Student Engagement and salary support, Teruel said.

One issue with the service-learning courses is lack of knowledge.

Hill said the college is working on making the distinction of what is a service-learning course more apparent to students when they register for classes through the online OASIS catalogue.

Some students are unaware of what will be expected of them if they sign up for one and may drop the course, while others may take on the challenge and do well.

In the coming months, CTE, along with CCAP, will be awarding three fellowship grants to faculty members. The recipients, who will be announced on May 1, will use the money toward implementing more service-learning into existing Columbia courses.

Called the Timothy J. Densmore Service-Learning Faculty Fellowship, it is worth $3,000 for an individual faculty member or $5,000 for a team. The money will be used toward a class that will be offered in spring or fall 2010.

Service-learning education is becoming a topic on the federal agenda in Washington, D.C., and is gaining momentum at Columbia. With the potential government grant, Columbia’s programs may expand further, involving more students in projects within their field of study. The programs give students real world experience before graduation and something within to put in their portfolio.

“Service-learning in the arts is really somewhat groundbreaking,” Teruel said.