The Academic Service-Learning (ASL) program is unique in that it caters to students and faculty alike by helping them to develop and find resources to enhance classroom learning.
Recently ASL director Dr. Suchi Gururaj and graduate research assistant Katie Pritchett organized a faculty panel to educate university members about the benefits of offering courses that tie community involvement with class assignments that allow students to garner real-world knowledge and a hands-on educational experience.
Dr. Kara Hallmark, art and art history lecturer, discussed the One Million Bones project she is overseeing, and ways that it has impacted individual students academically. The national project aims to call attention to genocide occurrences around the world by having students and communities in 35 states collaborate on making one million clay bones that will be collected, transported and displayed on the National Mall in 2013 as part of a symbolic mass grave art installation. So far, University of Texas students have completed about 5,000 bones. The goal is 10,000.
“Having a physical connection with the clay is more meaningful than watching the news,” she said. “It engages the brain in more than one way. You’re learning a deeper content.”
She says many of her students also learn how to approach their academic obligations differently, in terms of time they spend in the studio versus the time they spend reading for other classes. Both experiences offer different learning opportunities.
Another professor spoke about the Mart Community Project, a collaborative initiative that brings students to the town of Mart, 18 miles east of Waco, to promote historical and cultural preservation of the town’s sites, and community and economic revitalization.
Paula Gerstenblatt, doctoral candidate, co-teaches the course in the School of Social Work, that requires students to work in Mart to gain trust and involvement from residents. Through grants, Gerstenblatt was able to bring fellow artist, Muhsana Ali, who resides in Senegal, to work on murals. One community mural is at Chambless Field, a football stadium where during segregation Blacks and whites could not play against one other. Ali said before she even started to work on the project, she took time to meet community members by going to garage sales and hosting a movie night at the corner bakery.
“People of mixed races were there and talking about issues of concern,” Ali said. “I think it was sort of a mini-revolution.”
Gerstenblatt hopes that her project shows others at the university the benefit of such service-learning projects, and why they should not have a short shelf-life. Currently, Gerstenblatt and Ali’s work continues with the help of a recently awarded grant.
Bone-making sessions for the One Million Bone project are held every Monday and Wednesday from 5-6:30 p.m. in the Art Building 3.408. An art bones installation will occur on campus on Nov. 13 from 11-1 p.m. on the South Mall.