Program calls for off-campus learning

by Beacon Staff • October 11, 2006

"Service learning" is now part of the curriculum for at least 15 classes this semester, according to Jennifer Greer, associate director of service learning at Emerson.,While some students are cooped up in dorm rooms, poring over textbooks or cramming for tests, other Emersonians are out taking part in a more hands-on kind of education.

"Service learning" is now part of the curriculum for at least 15 classes this semester, according to Jennifer Greer, associate director of service learning at Emerson.

The programs her office oversees involve making community service either an optional or required part of a class.

According to Greer, service learning has long been a part of Emerson classes, even before the school officially recognized the academic component of the service activities.

"Emerson has always been hands-on and used practical application for learning," Greer said. "Even without a title, this was used in many classes."

Greer, who earned a degree in Spanish and women's studies from Colgate University in 2000, said service learning officially became a part of Emerson classes eight years ago.

Jennifer Rhoads, a communication sciences and disorders major at the time, completed a directed study project on how much service learning was available at the college.

Rhoads, who graduated in 1998, went on to write a grant proposal at the end of her project to provide funding for starting an official program.

According to Greer, a Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA) volunteer came to Emerson to assist in the creation of a program.

In 2001, the school opened an office of service learning and community action.

Greer has been its director since the opening.

"It's applied learning and it expands the walls of the classroom," Greer said. "When I was an undergrad, we didn't even have service learning."

Emerson started out with only one class offering a service learning component, Greer said.

Grant MacDermott, a sophomore BFA acting major, said he was impressed with the virtues of the program.

As a freshman, MacDermott was enrolled in the interdisciplinary class Good and Evil. In lieu of a paper, he had the option of volunteering at a preschool.

Once a week for two hours, MacDermott read to the children and said he found it to be a rewarding experience.

"I didn't know that the class involved this when I signed up," he said. "But it was really fun. It was nice to apply the things I was learning to a real setting. The best part was being able to influence the kids."

Greer said service learning manifests itself in many different ways.

For some classes, such as MacDermott's, the service is voluntary, often used in place of a final paper.

For others, such as the Language Acquisition class in the Communication Sciences and Disorders major, service is required.

In that class, students go to a preschool for two hours a week to tutor the children.

"Some [majors] are more conducive to this activity, but we hope to see it part of the curriculum in all majors," Greer said.

"There are a lot in interdisciplinary and gen. ed. classes, so everyone has a chance to get into it. I am excited to see how it has grown throughout the classes."

Eric Tollar, a sophomore organizational and political communication major, said his Argument and Advocacy course uses the program as part of the curriculum.

He will go to a middle school once a week for two hours to teach the fine points of debate.

Though he didn't know this was part of the course when he signed up, he said he is still excited about the opportunity.

"Teaching kids is fun and I enjoy that part of it," he said. "And it's also a great way to develop my craft. I think the best way to do that is to teach it."