College of Visual and Performing Arts student Mohamed Jalloh 01 believes students are guests in the communities in which they live and learn, and have a duty to participate in service projects to maintain and improve those communities. The speech communication major didnt always feel this way. The call to community service inspired him only after hed enrolled in Writing Studio 1 as a freshman and Writing Studio 2 as a sophomore. Both courses were taught with a service-learning component, based on the idea that writing skills would improve if students were engaged in critical thinking through community involvement.
The concept was expanded more broadly when a proposal titled "Linking Experiential Learning to Writing: A Service-Learning Cluster in the Writing Program Curriculum" was selected as a 1999 Vision Fund award recipient. The funding allowed faculty, including Eileen Schell and Margaret Himley from the College of Arts and Sciences, and Pam Heintz, director of the Center for Public and Community Service, to develop a cluster of service-learning courses in the Writing Program. "We wanted to offer students the opportunity to write not just about the community, but also with and for the community," says James Ineich, the Writing Programs service learning facilitator. The grant gave the programs service-learning group the opportunity to develop links between experiential learning and writing; support inter- and cross-disciplinary teaching excellence; and contribute to writing scholarship, curriculum design, and innovative teaching practice. "The students puzzle through cultural issues, class issues, discrimination issues," Ineich says. "They are motivated to write by what they have experienced in their service-learning projects."
Jalloh took part in a one-on-one tutoring program for his first project and volunteered at the local Boys & Girls Club for his second. At the club, he spent three hours twice a week participating in arts and crafts with the kids, baking brownies, and even taking the kids to an SU football game. "We had fun," says Jalloh, whose experiences inspired his writing. "Every day I left that place I felt I had accomplished something good. I can only hope that somehow something I said or did touched one kid."
When service learning was incorporated into the Writing Program, it generated immediate instructor interest. The number of service-learning offerings in the Writing Program jumped from 3 to 19 sections in just three years. In addition, the Vision Fund grant allowed the Writing Program to build a web site (wrt.syr.edu) that describes service-learning writing courses, introduces faculty and syllabi, and presents student narratives about service and examples of their work. "The web project itself was a service," Ineich says, noting the site was created by undergraduates in instructor Maureen Fitzsimmonss upper-division service-learning writing course. "Some classes read books and then wrote about what the books said a community was," Jalloh says. "Our class actually went out and experienced a community. That made class much more interesting."
Providing such interesting, creative, and innovative ways to teach and learn is integral to the Vision Fund initiative. And by sharing this knowledge with the campus community, the Vision Fund generates the creative energy and enthusiasm for research and learning on campus that it set out to. "The success of the Vision Fund has definitely exceeded our expectations," Wilbur says.