Service Learning expanded students’ view of the world

There’s more to education than lectures and seminars, and two of the first students to take the Foundations in Service Learning course can testify to that.

Ruchama Lelie and Lana Dajani, both entering their second year at Brock, were part of the inaugural Foundations in Service Learning class, a group of about 70 who took the elective. Service Learning combines in-classroom lectures and seminars with OOCLOs – out-of-classroom learning opportunities – such as serving lunch to the homeless population and attending art gallery openings to write about their experiences.

Lelie, 19, says SOCI 1F99 gave her what she was looking for in her education – the ability to see the broader picture.

“I wanted to take something that makes me think about the community,” said the History major and St. Catharines native. “I didn’t think that existed in a university. Attending university is a privilege, and if you go, you have an obligation to expand your view as much as possible.”

Offered for the first time in 2010/11, Service Learning is a multidisciplinary course taught by Mary-Beth Raddon, an associate professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences. Raddon is a 2010 Chancellor’s Chair for Teaching Excellence and author of the book Community and Money: Men and Women Making Change.

There are lectures and small group seminars every other week. Between each lecture, a student participates in a three-hour OOCLO. After each experience, the student writes a short essay reflecting on the experience. The reflections are eventually compiled into a portfolio that documents each student’s academic and out-of-classroom learning throughout the year.

Lelie’s favourite activity was with Start Me Up Niagara, when she distributed food to homeless people. She enjoyed it so much that she stayed even when her three-hour shift finished.

“The OOCLO showed me that they’re people just like you and me,” she said. “There’s a lot of misconceptions when it comes to homelessness. These are people just like you and me, but as soon as you get in that situation, it’s hard to get out of it.”

Lelie also enjoyed attending a documentary screening from the Ontario Public Interest Research Group at Brock, or the opening of the Burtynsky Factories at Rodman Hall. The exhibit by Edward Burtynsky showed abandoned factories, including a St. Catharines General Motors plant.

“We build what we want and discard it without thinking about the aftermath,” Lelie said.

Dajani, a 19-year-old Mississauga native majoring in English Language and Literature, enjoyed the pow-wow she attended at the Fort Erie Friendship Centre. She also volunteered at the Niagara Wine Festival setting up Grapeland, a section of kids’ activities.

Before Service Learning, “I used to be more reserved,” said Dajani, who is now a literacy tutor in Mississauga because of her experience. “It was harder to approach people, but with this course, you have to do it. You learn to socialize.”

The course inspired a lot of conversation, enthusiasm and online discussion from students, said Kristen Smith, manager of Student and Community Outreach who organizes the OOCLOs for students.

“We’re very fortunate to have lots going on in the community that students can get engaged in,” she said. “It was really neat to see how dedicated the students were.”

Foundations in Service Learning can accommodate a maximum of 200 students. More than 100 are enrolled for its second year.

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