Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Service Learning Provides Unique Opportunities for UIS Students

By Courtney Westlake

Cristina Bowman, a UIS sophomore and Springfield native, hadn't given much thought to homelessness and hunger until she decided to take a service learning course at UIS.

Bowman's class, Learning and Serving: Hunger and Homeless, requires that everyone meet certain amount of hours toward assisting and bettering the local community.

"We spend 20 hours at St. John's Breadline, and 40 hours working on group project, which is collecting items like plastic bags, small plastic containers, tea and sugar (for the clients of the Breadline)," Bowman said.

The Service Learning Program was started as an effort to get students involved in volunteer and service opportunities, and is currently led by service learning coordinator and professor of applied study Kathy Guthrie.

Under the new curriculum set by the campus senate in 2005 called ECCE (Engaged Citizenship Common Experience), students must fulfill 13 hours in various categories such as U.S. Communities, Global Awareness, a Speaker Series and more. Guthrie sets up courses that connect community service to academic credit under the ECCE requirements.

Past and present courses on community service focus on issues, including hunger and homelessness and the environment, Guthrie said. There are also online courses that center on general service and a new course that will be offered in the spring on social change and leadership.

"It's important to get not only students but any individual to think about how they can be active and involved in their community," Guthrie said. "Everyone is passionate about something, but it's finding that passion and actually acting on it."

Recently, students taking the course on environmental issues created an anti-littering campaign for city and worked with waste and recycling manager within Public Works. The students recruited high school students to pick up trash one day around the State Fair Grounds. Fifty to 60 high school students showed up to work with three UIS students, which sparked residents in the surrounding area to join the students in cleaning or offering them beverages, Guthrie said.

There is also a current group of UIS students performing service at the Animal Protective League, working with the animals and providing advocacy for the animals, she said.

For her hunger and homelessness class, Bowman is working on an additional, individual project that includes videotaping the guests of the Breadline, asking questions such as "how has the breadline helped you?" Then she will compile the information for the Breadline to help them better their services.

"It's really opened my eyes to the problems in the community," Bowman said. "We do need to help the homeless around here. My projects may seem a little small, but I know I'm doing my part in helping the community of Springfield."

As for the future of the service learning program, Guthrie is working to start an immersion program for students to provide service in other parts of the country or internationally.

"There seems to be a lot of interest in that, so once those (courses) get established, that will be quite popular because it's taking people out of the area they're used to living in and being engaged in and taking them to another part of the country they've never seen," she said.

Ideally, Guthrie hopes to build the program up and inspire students to find their passion and make a positive social change.

"I think a lot of time people get stuck and think 'I can't make a difference' or 'I can only give one hour of community service a week, a month or a year' and so then they feel it's such a small amount, they don't even do that," Guthrie said. "That hour does make a difference."