Experiential learning is an important facet of a Suffolk education, and courses that include community engagement or service often give undergraduates experiences that help them sort out personal and professional goals.
“Community engagement is vocational in the sense that it can help a student with professional development,” said Lisa Celovsky, associate dean in the College of Arts & Sciences. “It also might connect deeply with how you see yourself in society, your role in the world, citizenship.”
Celovsky is working closely on shared general education goals with Laurie Levesque, associate dean and dean of undergraduate programs in the Sawyer Business School. There always has been an energy and interest among many faculty to emphasize experiential learning, she said. Freshman-year experience courses have students attending events on campus; other courses have students tackling real-world projects. And the courses with service learning get students off campus and into the community.
Understanding others' views
One of the undergraduate educational themes puts an emphasis on social, cultural, and global perspectives. In the Business School, this also encompasses local and global engagement, which aims to bring students to a recognition and understanding of various perspectives and the ability to adapt in situations where viewpoints differ.
“Community engagement provides experiences where students can interact with others who may be quite different, said Levesque. “It offers a lens on and appreciation of how people might view things differently.”
This sort of involvement not only benefits the community and connects the University more closely with the city, but students also gain skills, confidence, and understanding.
Putting experience into perspective
Reflection is a critical component of classes related to community engagement and service. It helps students, their community partners, and faculty process the experience, place it in a broader context, and connect it to academics.
Faculty find creative ways to tie service to the academic discipline, said Celovsky, such as having students reflect on how philosophical principles might apply to work in a soup kitchen.
Celovsky teaches a Shakespeare class that engages students with the community through volunteer work with Actors' Shakespeare Project, a theatrical group that seeks to inspire civic dialogue by bringing the Bard’s plays to Boston-area people of all ages and backgrounds.
“The students are asked to think about why it’s important to bring Shakespeare to a diverse community,” said Celovsky. “It’s not merely another volunteer activity, but a way to help them think about not only what Shakespeare’s plays meant to people in his time but also how they can impact people beyond the university today.”
Putting learning to work
The Business School has long required a one-credit leadership and social responsibility course but is transitioning to a three-credit model to allow students and instructors to go deeper in reflecting on their leadership and managing a project. The new course will continue to focus on finding solutions to the real challenges faced by a local non-profit. These partnerships open students’ eyes to how their education and skills can assist others.
Business School transcripts will include the designation Local Engagement for courses that engage with that theme.
“Students also are encouraged to include service they have done when writing resumes,” said Levesque. “It is important that students articulate what they learned from these experiences and how they leveraged their skills and knowledge to improve the world.”
The Center for Community Engagement is recommending that all service-learning courses be indicated on student transcripts. The center is collaborating with the provost and deans to further develop criteria for service-learning courses.