That impact, of course, can affect all those involved. Aileen Cangiano '96, G'98 knows what it's like to grow up in a poor neighborhood where every day can be a struggle. It's an experience she won't forget, and one that serves as a driving force in her desire to help others. She arrived at Syracuse in 1992 on an academic and athletic scholarship, ran track and cross country, earned a dual bachelor's degree in biology and Spanish literature and language, and received a master's degree in neuroscience this spring. She also had a desire to explore life off the Hill and devoted countless hours to the community. "A lot of kids won't have the opportunity I did," she says. "I feel like I need to help them and give them direction. I know that if I got the chance, someone else deserves the same chance." |
Cangiano's dedication to service is nothing short of remarkable. In high school, she volunteered in the Mt. Sinai pediatric emergency room, acting as an interpreter between doctors and Spanish-speaking families. Three summers ago, with a Gateway to Medicine grant, she arranged immunizations for children at the Syracuse Community Health Center. She befriended a 17-year-old teenage mother of two, helped her turn her life around, and guided her toward a college education.
She also worked with her sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho, on numerous children's activities, including volunteering at after-school programs, tutoring, and mentoring. They organized a minority bone-marrow registration drive on campus, and Sleeping for the Homeless, an annual sleep-out on the steps of Hendricks Chapel that collects nonperishable food and clothing. Cangiano received a Chancellor's Award for Public Service (CAPS) in 1995 and served as student chair of the CAPS Celebration in 1996. Sigma Gamma Rho has garnered CAPS accolades for four straight years, including an award for longevity in 1997. Cangiano has won several other awards, but to her it all comes down to making children smile and meeting challenges. "Everything I've done in life is a challenge," she says. "If I'm doing something and I'm good at it, I'll do a little bit more to give myself an edge to go that much further."
As part of an internship this past academic year, Cangiano, who plans to become a pediatrician, initiated "Science on the Brain," a program at the Hughes Magnet School designed to teach students about the brain's functions and medical school requirements. "I want to teach them in a lively, exciting way how the brain is the central seat of all our functionswhy we sleep, why we dream, why we taste vanilla instead of chocolate," she says. "They connect with this and when they get older and enter college, maybe they'll remember what I taught them and decide to study neuroscience."
To Heintz, projects like this epitomize the multidimensional impact service learning can have. "It's not just a teaching piece for Aileen, she'll bring the experience back into her area of study in a way that advances her intelligence and knowledge of what she's doing," Heintz says. "She's making a significant contribution to herself, the SU program, and the city school district."
More and more these days, community service crops up as a component of the classroom. Rosaria Champagne, professor of English and women's studies and director of Undergraduate Studies in English, added service learning as an extra-credit option to her Introduction to Women's Studies class. She views it as an opportunity to meld activist theory with real-world practice and, ultimately, provide critical self-reflection. Champagne is committed to social activism and sees an activist humanities classroom as a place where social transformation can occur. The course, which drew 200 students last fall, centers on feminist scholarship and requires students to examine issues and service-learning experiences from feminist perspectives, mainly through writing assignments. "It's important that students have this experience, translate it through paradigms or ideas we've been learning in the classroom, and then express it to others," she says. "Some students have very different experiences than others, and as teachers we need to be open to the complex diversity of our students' experiences."
Although Champagne doesn't expect the students to become feminists, she wants them to scrutinize their beliefs, including the underlying motivations of their perceptions. Unsettling situations and debates often arise in the classroom, which can help people see things in ways contrary to their original outlooks, she believes, and lead to a more compassionate society. "The course itself was organized around the question of child poverty and I began with this assumption that if we were really humanitarians, we would be enraged about child poverty," she says. "Instead, we say that's someone else's problem. So part of my interest in studying child poverty through the lens of women's studies and humanities scholarship is not only to think about what needs to be fixed, but also what needs to be changed inside our hearts."
More than 100 of Champagne's students participated, engaging in such activities as working for Meals on Wheels, giving swimming lessons to kids, and collecting books for the Success by 6 book drive. "Service learning becomes a text and an experience against which to measure and understand who we are and, more importantly, who we want to be," Champagne says. "What I try to do with service learning and any kind of political classroom is mirror what students are saying so they can take charge of their identities and decide who they want to be. This reflection on your identityseeing identity as a choice, not a convictionis really important."
By semester's end, Champagne knows her students have been tested both intellectually and emotionally, and have a deeper understanding of feminism and its relation to social change. "They learn they have more choice in how they interpret their worlds than they thought and that's what I want them to know," she says. "I want them to realize that interpretation is really key in how you act in the worldit's constructed, and you might as well take charge of it, because if you don't, somebody else will."