Carlson - Quarterly

"Geography Department strengthens commitment to service learning"

by Jennifer McCoy

Since 1992, three Geography faculty members have regularly incorporated service learning into their instruction, with the Carlson Office working individually with these faculty to support each course.

This year, with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) , the Geography department and the Carlson Office have formed a partnership to integrate service learning into the curriculum with the goal of coordinating service learning across courses, providing students with opportunities to sustain and deepen their involvement in the community throughout their undergraduate careers.

Integrating service learning at the departmental level in Geography has required a collaboration between many players. In addition to the faculty already involved in service learning, the department's chair, David Hodge, a University Distinguished Teaching Award Winner, has worked closely with the Carlson Office to develop a deepened learning partnership.

As part of this collaboration, Hodge incorporated service learning into Geography 277, a large lecture course which examines the systems, structures, and problems of cities. Because this course is part of the department's core curriculum, integrating community work with the issues addressed in this course was an important step in bringing service learning deeper into the department.

"One of the purposes of a general education is to create involved, educated citizens," Hodge said of the larger mission of the University. "By connecting course concepts with what goes on in the real world, students are able to make individual and collective decisions with a larger context in mind."

In another step toward integration, funding from the FIPSE grant was allocated for a graduate teaching assistant to serve as a resource to faculty interested in service learning, and to lead a class section devoted entirely to students involved in the community. Such a section was added to Geography 371 in fall 1995, and was led by graduate teaching assistant Sarah Hilbert.

"Students felt they needed to work through the ideas and emotions they had generated through their work in the community, but it was hard for professors to devote the time these students needed," explained Hilbert. "In the service learning section, we are able to address these concerns, and to focus our discussions more on how students' experiences relate to the theories of the course."

To further facilitate the connection between the Geography department and the Carlson Office, a Geography undergraduate coordinator was added to the Carlson Office staff. Jenifer Gager, a senior, joined the staff during Fall Quarter, 1995, to act as a liaison between the Geography department and the Carlson Office.

"By talking to professors and visiting community sites where students volunteer, I have rounded out my own relationship with all members of the partnership," said Gager. "As a student, I'm able to connect the concerns of undergraduates with the goals of service learning in the department."

To enhance understanding between all partners, the Carlson Office organized a service learning colloquium in February. Gager brought professors and teaching assistants from the Geography department, representatives from community agencies, Geography students, and staff of the Carlson Office together to share their perspectives on the roles and objectives of service learning. Professor Hodge gave a presentation on his experiences with Geog 277, and Professor Gunter Krumme discussed Geog 207, a service learning course which explores issues of economic geography.

Because of this partnership, Geography students can now participate in the service option of courses throughout their undergraduate careers. As they move through the curriculum, developing greater disciplinary understandings and skills, the nature of the service opportunities they can participate in increases in depth and complexity.

In the introductory course, Geography 100, themes such as industrialization and urbanization, patterns of health and nutrition, and the geography of culture and politics are discussed. The role of active citizenship in addressing these issues is stressed, and service opportunities in the Seattle area are presented.

Geog 397 has also been added to the department to introduce new majors to the varied sectors of the Geography discipline. Through the course, internships which relate specifically to students' areas of study are also presented, further connecting students with opportunities in their community.

The agencies students work with are conceptually linked with the learning objectives in each service learning course. In Geog 207, Economic Geography, one of the sites students can choose is the Seattle Community Network (SCN), a volunteer-run organization that provides a local "freenet"-free e-mail accounts for individuals and organizations which can not afford a commercial provider. At this site, students survey local human service organizations to identify their internet access and needs, and develop web-sites for those organizations.

As students move through the curriculum, there is also a connection in site placements from one course to another. A student who took Geog 207, might then take Geog 371, World Hunger and Resource Development. In this course the student could opt to serve at Common Meals, an agency dedicated to helping homeless men and women acquire necessary skills for employment in the hospitality industry. At this site, the student could serve as a job search coach, a role in which they could use and expand on their knowledge of the Seattle human service network gained by working at SCN in Geog 207.

"Through working in their communities, students develop more sophisticated ways of looking at the causes of problems in our society," explained Lucy Jarosz, Associate Professor of Geography. "As service learning is included in more classes, students have the option of achieving this kind of understanding in many different areas. The effects of this vary among students, but often they develop a sustained commitment to service, and many students change their career goals to incorporate service to their community."

The connections between these courses create a stronger link between the Geography curriculum and the community. As service learning is integrated into courses and students develop longer and deeper commitments with agencies, they create a stronger understanding of their role in the community and the importance of the discipline in their world. It also provides an environment in which faculty members can explore new areas of interest in their teaching.

Due to the local perspective provided by the inclusion of service learning into the course, Jarosz has recently changed the focus in her teaching of Geog 371. She has shifted from extensive coverage of sustainable agricultural development in developing nations, to a focus on hunger and poverty in America, and has widened her research goals to incorporate a more comparative perspective on the production, processing, and distribution of food.

New community service projects have also developed through this deepened collaboration. Students in Geog 371 have recently begun work on a long-term project originally initiated by a member of the Pike Market Senior Center, one of the course's community sites. A low income older woman at the Center had been single-handedly lobbying Governor Lowry and several state agencies to modify food stamp laws to enable people to use them in delis and restaurants, because many people who must rely on food stamps have no means to cook. Working alone toward this goal, the woman became frustrated with the amount of progress she had made, and gave up the project. Now, due to the continued relationship between students, faculty, and Nola Freeman, program coordinator of the Pike Market Senior Center, Geography students are working with this elder activist to accomplish her dream. n

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