By Daniel Montaño
Learning and doing are two very different things, and students enrolled in service learning are finding out that doing can be rewarding in many ways, Sharon Gordon-Moffett, director of service learning, said.
Service learning takes students out of the classroom and puts their knowledge to work at local non-profit organizations with credit toward a class, she said.
Gordon-Moffett said that most students say they find the experience rich and meaningful, and that it can sometimes even land students a job.
“It’s a great, great experience. This is real life, real world experience. Close to forty percent of the students stay on to volunteer once they complete their hours, and several years ago it was estimated that 20 percent of our students are offered jobs,” she said.
Instructors can choose to offer service learning as an additional teaching method for whatever course they plan to use it in, and students will receive a grade based on a reflection of what they learn, Gordon-Moffett said.
Cynthia Griffin Ediger, Math, Science and Engineering instructor, for example, gives her students in her geometry for teachers class a service learning option to volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club, actually teaching math to kids in an after school program, and then present their experience in lieu of a research paper, she said.
Griffin Ediger’s students get the real world experience that can prepare the would-be-teachers for what teaching children can actually be like at the Boys and Girls club with all sorts of different types children, she said.
“They’re not just ideal students. There are kids who are homeless, there are kids that come to school hungry and that type of thing,” Griffin Ediger said.
Service learning works with more than 20 different organizations around Albuquerque and Rio Rancho, with representatives for each that are trained in the goals of service learning so that these reps. can engage students in the sorts of activities that will teach them the things that are relevant to the student’s course, Gordon-Moffett said.
“I like to call it academics in action. You’re actually applying the theory,” she said.
Linda Fuller, Shelter Director at St. Martin’s Hospitality center, said the real learning happens when students get exposed to things that cannot be fully understood inside a classroom.
St. Martin’s, a day shelter for the homeless, is one of the many service learning agencies available, and caters to Child, Youth, and Family Development majors who want to go into social work, Fuller said.
Students often feel overwhelmed for the first few hours they work at St. Martins because they get exposed to the reality of homelessness, substance abuse, mental disorders, and much more, Fuller said.
“This is an eye-opener, this is the real world, and I think people really need that,” Fuller said.
Service learning students also get the ability to test the waters in their chosen field, which is beneficial to knowing if a certain career choice is best for that student, Gordon-Moffett said.
“It’s a great opportunity for students to kind of get their feet wet. Some think they want to work with kids, and then they get done and find out they can’t stand kids,” she said.
Service learning is offered by many instructors for many different types of courses, including psychology, social work, hospitality and tourism, communications and health sciences, Gordon-Moffett said.
Gary Peoples, CYFD Social Work major, is service learning at St. Martins Hospitality Center for his intro to social work class, and has learned just how important his chosen career will be, he said.
“I’ve learned there’s a tremendous need out here. There’s a problem in our society for those who have and those who don’t have,” he said.
Peoples’ experience at St. Martins has motivated him to get more involved with and set him in his career path, he said.
“There was no doubt before, but definitely this has solidified it. Absolutely,” he said.
In contrast, another student who volunteers at St. Martins, CYFD Social work major Johnel Reddic, said his experience at St. Martins has changed his career path — he now wants to work directly with people who need assistance, he said.
“I wanted to work in administration but I think I’ll probably be bored. This’ll probably be a bit more interesting, probably be a bit more fulfilling,” Reddic said.
By Daniel Montaño