Wednesday, October 18

Service learning classes on the rise

Students venture outside the classroom to bolster their education with work in the community

Like many other students in an English class at UCLA, Aarushi Sharma spends a lot of time working on essays.

But these essays are not the usual analyses of poems, plays or novels. They are personal statements by community college students looking to transfer to four-year universities that Sharma reads and revises as part of her English 4W service learning course.

“None of the other English classes offered experience outside the classroom. I thought this class would be a good way to get involved with the school more, especially since I’m a first-year (student),” said Sharma, an undeclared Humanities student who works at the UCLA Center for Community College Partnerships for the course.

Over the past nine years, the number of service learning classes has increased dramatically, said Kathy O’Byrne, director of the UCLA Center for Community Learning.

“It’s so much more exciting to get out into the community and to do something rather than sitting passively in a lecture hall,” O’Byrne said. “It’s an opportunity to learn new skills, go places in the city you wouldn’t have gone otherwise and meet truly inspirational people.”

According to O’Bryne, in 2000 only a handful of service learning courses were offered, but there are now about 50 per year held in a variety of departments. These classes combine academia and service through a reciprocal relationship with community partners: Students give their time and effort to an organization, but also gain a better understanding of the topic they are studying.

“The community service really ties in with what we’re reading in class,” Sharma said.

The literature for the course Sharma is taking examines how Italians are portrayed in other cultures. Since the Center for Community College Partnerships focuses on underrepresented students, Sharma and the others who work there have the opportunity to read college essays dealing with ethnicity, supplementing the books they analyze in class.

“It’s wonderful for students to see the applications of literature by going out into the community,” said Daniel Gardner, the teaching associate for the class.

The English department provides the widest selection of service learning courses, but the world arts and cultures, applied linguistics and foreign language departments are also at the forefront of the movement toward developing connections with community groups.

In addition to all the classes already offered, five or six new courses are usually offered every year, O’Byrne said.

During fall quarter, students interested in teaching could take life sciences and mathematics classes that give them the opportunity to assist in elementary, middle and high school classrooms. In a class called practice of statistical consulting, students analyzed data for groups such as the Asian American Drug Abuse Program.

“It’s one thing when a bank wants statistical help, but it’s another thing when it’s a group that works to keep kids from alcohol or drug abuse and doesn’t have many resources,” said Vivian Lew, a statistics lecturer who teaches the class.

Next quarter, UCLA’s largest service learning class, the General Education Cluster called Frontiers in Aging: Biomedical, Social and Policy Perspectives will send more than 100 first-year students to work with the elderly at 15 locations.

“I was a faculty-in-residence for several years and I noticed that students don’t get off campus a lot, especially in freshman year,” said JoAnn Damron-Rodriguez, a professor in the School of Public Affairs who spearheaded the creation of the cluster. “Through this experience, they get a bigger perspective of the diversity of the city.”

Students in the Chicana and Chicano studies major also spend a great deal of time off campus when they take the barrio service learning class. They work with organizations such as the Youth Justice Coalition, a group that works to challenge inequality in the juvenile justice system, or Lambda Legal, an organization that fights for the rights of lesbians, gays and people with HIV and AIDS.

“(The experience) puts real faces and real lives behind a lot of the theories that they’re learning about in this class. They need a young person who just got out of prison, or a young lesbian or gay Latino to make it real to them,” said Alejandro Covarrubias, a visiting faculty member in the Chicana and Chicano studies department who teaches the course.

However, some students like Hector Marquez only take the class because it is a requirement for their major. Marquez, a fourth-year Chicana and Chicano studies student, works at the nonprofit Pico Youth and Family Center.

“It was not a valuable experience; it was too demanding,” he said of the 50-hour work minimum. “As a full-time student, I didn’t really have time to do what the organization required me to do.”

Still, the overall trend is rising enrollment in service learning classes. When Covarrubias first taught the course last year, he had 25 students, but 40 are now in the class. The support from many of the deans has enabled the number of classes to grow along with students’ interest in putting a little bit of UCLA in Los Angeles, O’Byrne said.

“The university is a part of this huge urban area, and (through service learning courses) students see themselves as citizens, as residents that have a meaningful role in the community,” Damron-Rodriguez said.

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