WFU expands service-learning with new $384,000 grant

With the help of a $384,000 grant, Wake Forest University will strengthen the links between community service and learning.

The new Pro Humanitate Fund for Service-Learning in Action will help faculty integrate community service into their courses. Service-learning involves using community service to complement and enhance classroom learning. The grant from an anonymous donor allows Wake Forest to expand its existing service-learning program.

The new program will build on the success of the Academic and Community Engagement (ACE) Fellowship program, begun three years ago. That program introduces selected faculty to service-learning techniques so they can include community service as course requirements.

The new fund will allow more professors to complete this training and will also provide grants to faculty engaged in community-based research.

“The professors want to explore how the knowledge students gain in the classroom can help the community,” said Paige Wilbanks, director of volunteer services at Wake Forest. “They also want to explore ways student experiences with community agencies can enhance classroom learning.”

As part of the new program, up to five students per year will be designated Pro Humanitate Fellows. In partnership with faculty members, the students will design field work and service projects connected with an independent study course. Money from the grant will cover the students’ expenses and the cost for faculty to visit the students on-site during the project.

The new grant will also help pay for existing international service trips and encourage the development of others. Wake Forest students currently volunteer each year in Calcutta, India; Tblisi, Georgia; and the Agalta Valley of Honduras.

New funds will also be available for creative and innovative programs that unite service and learning to address urgent community needs, such as responding to a natural disaster.

Wake Forest’s service-learning program has been developed by Wilbanks and Katy Harriger, associate professor of political science. It is administered by the university’s Teaching and Learning Center, the Dean of the College, and Volunteer Services.

The faculty who have incorporated service outreach in their classes after completing service-learning training represent a wide range of academic departments.

Political Science Professor Kathy Smith is among the 18 faculty who have been trained in the ACE Fellows program since it began in fall 1998. To better understand the complexities of urban policy issues, the 28 students in Smith’s Urban Politics class each volunteer a minimum of 15 hours in agencies such as Head Start, Crisis Control Ministries, the American Red Cross and the Samaritan Inn.

“The goal is two-fold-to help establish a habit of helping others and to let them see how urban problems discussed in class materialize in their service placements,” Smith said.

In her Principles of Marketing class, Karen Mishra’s students learn from textbooks, but they are also learning from their experience writing marketing plans for Samaritan Ministries and the Winston-Salem Arts Council.

Associate Professor of Mathematics Jim Norris wanted students in his probability and statistics courses to apply what they learned in class to help local charities develop donor surveys and gather useful data about their organizations.

Daniel Kim-Shapiro, assistant professor of physics, has taught an independent research course on sickle cell disease. His students have gone to the Pediatric Sickle Cell Education center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to spend time with patients and create a brochure, animated video and/or a Web site to help patients understand their disease.

Andrew Rich, assistant professor of political science, is using service-learning in his first-year seminar, “A New President in a New Century.” To learn more about educational accountability measures, some of his students are spending at least 15 hours working in two local public schools with teachers, students, and administrators taking part in North Carolina’s accountability project. Others are working in the Winston Salem/Forsyth County Schools’ central district office with the staff who oversees testing.

“The service experiences add a useful dimension to learning in the classroom,” Rich said.

“The Pro Humanitate Fund will provide additional resources for linking serving and learning in and outside the curriculum,” said Wilbanks. “At its core, the fund seeks to extend and enhance service-learning opportunities by providing more training for faculty, resources for specific community projects, and opportunities for student-led service-learning programs.”

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