Sophomore Shelby Stephen and senior Kayleigh Rivera are urging their classmates in residence halls to “Lock it or Lose it.” This fall, they surveyed current on-campus students about their safety habits and realized that most of the students they spoke with were leaving their doors unlocked, encouraging theft. At the end of the semester, Stephen and Rivera and their classmates in CMS 310K earned not only a course grade for their problem-solving skills but also the gratitude of Hemlata Jhaveri, Director of UT Division of Housing and Food Services (DHFS), to whom they submitted the results of their consulting work—two slogans and posters for a proposed campus-wide safety campaign.
CMS 310K was a service-learning course on team-based communications, in which part of students’ final group project grades were derived from the 20 hours of service that they undertook with a community partner and the quality of written reflections that helped them connect their service to their academic readings. The course instructors, Ashley Barrett, Angie Pastorek, and Jeff Birdsell, were connected to their partners—DHFS, English@Work, Workers’ Defense Project, and the African American Youth Harvest Foundation—through the ASL office, which also provided resources for and advice about the successful incorporation of a service component.
Over the semester, relationships became truly reciprocal, benefitting both students and partners. Stephen appreciated the “room for creativity” that students were afforded in their project as well as UT DHFS’s trust in her group’s insight into how students live on campus. In addition, “working with DHFS was a great opportunity to get experience with consulting for the first time in a professional atmosphere,” says Stephen. And Jhaveri was pleased with the results: “This is a win-win from for the faculty and departments like us since it provides a practical training field for the students and a well-researched product for the department.”
Students were also inspired by the nature of the social justice issues involved in their work. Albert Alhmada, a senior, worked with English@Work, an organization that teaches English to immigrants at their workplace. Alhmada was motivated to create a communications campaign intended to attract more businesses to teach Spanish speakers because he felt he “wasn’t just working hard for a grade but for a cause.” Ultimately, the work that Alhmada and his colleagues did for the nonprofit enabled them to “restructure English@Work’s current content on their social media sites and website into a more organized fashion to serve better function.”
For Birdsell, the chance to promote social justice is an excellent reason to offer service-learning opportunities, as “this is a way for the academy to partner with surrounding communities and have our work not only seen and heard about but felt by a diverse group of shareholders.” Pastorek agrees, adding, “service learning projects are a great opportunity to establish new relationships with other organizations on and off campus, bringing our various communities together in a way that has a positive impact for everyone.“