Common Reading Experiences and Service-Learning

Does your institution select a common text every year for first-year students?   Have you (or those on your campus who oversee service-learning) ever created service-learning experiences that could be tied to the common text?  Both the common reading experience and service-learning are high-impact practices, according to High Impact Practices:  What they are, who has access to them and why they matter, (Kuh, 2008).  Combining two high-impact practices seems worth pursuing, doesn’t it?

One of the criteria that our committee keeps in mind when selecting our common text each year is “does it offer service-learning connections and opportunities?”  While I’m not directly involved in designing these service-learning experiences related to the common text,   I am one of three co-chairs of our common text committee, and I obviously love service-learning.   This is something I think about.  Our committee has just written the memo to the administration with our top three recommendations for the 2014-2015 text.  I don’t think I’m at liberty to say just yet what our first choice was, but what I can tell you is that I’ve already thought of a few great service-learning connections.

I checked around in the education literature to see if there were examples on other campuses of combining these two high-impact practices.  So far, I’ve only been able to locate this article, although it’s a good one:

Hanna, K. A. (2013). Campus and Community Connections: The Evolving IUPUI Common Theme Project. Metropolitan Universities, 24(1), 60-69.

If you have an example to share from your institution, I’d love to hear about it — post it below.

And these are just a few examples of past service-learning experiences that we’ve related to our common text at Wright State:

Common Text 2011-2012 Zeitoun (The story of a man who did not evacuate from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and spent the days after the storm canoeing around the city to help abandoned animals and people.  Zeitoun was then wrongfully arrested and detained in a temporary prison erected following the storm, and was unable to communicate with his family).

  • One class of UVC 103 Students traveled to New Orleans to serve with communities most hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina.

Common Text 2012-2013 Girl in Translation (This novel tells the story of Kimberly Chang, a Chinese immigrant who must navigate two worlds:  student by day, sweatshop worker at night).

  • English 1100 students became language partners with our LEAP tutoring center

Common Text 2013-2014 The Other Wes Moore:  One name, two fates.   (This book is about two young men with the same name who grew up blocks apart from one another in Baltimore.  Despite similar backgrounds and situations in life, one becomes a Rhodes Scholar, the other is convicted of murder and is serving a life sentence.  The author, Wes Moore the Rhodes Scholar, asks questions about our society – what factors played into our very different fates?)

  • Students in some UVC 1010 classes (First-year seminars) will work with at-risk youth at after-school programs.  They might tutor, depending on their skills, or they may simply converse with the youth about the challenges of college, how they prepared themselves for college – not only the academic rigor, but the financial and personal challenges involved.
  • Students in some UVC 1010 classes will become pen pals for individuals who are imprisoned – just as Wes (the author) wrote to “the other” Wes Moore (although Wes “the author” will be the first to tell you that HE is the “the other” as well – so I hesitate, and really dislike, to describe these men this way).

Wes Moore greets Wright State students after his presentation to the University Community

In Wes Moore’s address to our University community and first-year students a few weeks ago, he challenged our students to answer the question:  “What will it mean to the world that you’re a [Wright State] Raider?  What will you contribute to humanity because of it?”  He told our students, “If you leave here with just a transcript, you’ve missed the point.”  As he spoke, the connection to service-learning was clear in mind, of course I’m a little biased. This is exactly the reason I became involved in service learning.  Our students’ lives as Raiders must amount to more than the transcript — and while I realize this may encompass a plethora of things — lifelong learning skills, making friends, learning how to deal with conflict (roommates and otherwise!), joining student organizations, and, in general, discovering new things about themselves in their “new” environment — most important in my mind is that students learn to contribute to their society.  And when that service is connected to learning, the impact is often greater than them just showing up for a two-hour shift to distribute school supplies.

After Mr. Moore’s presentation, during the question and answer period, the Director of the Center for Service-Learning & Civic Engagement stood up and told Mr. Moore about the service-learning activities our students will experience this year, related to his text.  “What advice do you have for them?  It will be challenging for them to interact with these populations.”  Mr. Moore explained that most  people in these situations experience nothing but inconsistency, which causes a lot of disappointment and frustration.  People don’t show up when they say they will, they don’t do what they say they will do.   “Be consistent.  Be loving,” he said.

Isn’t that good advice for us all?  No matter who we’re talking to or what we’re doing.  Wouldn’t our society be all the better for it?  Perhaps I’m having a rose-colored glasses moment…okay, I AM having rose-colored glasses moment.  I’ll leave it at that.  “Be consistent.  Be loving.”

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