TSU program combines service projects, learning
It's latest example of regional trend
By TRAVIS LOLLER
Clark Darnell couldn't hold back a smile Wednesday as he surveyed a room full of summer school kids who had just created their first Web sites with his help.
The graduate student in Education Administration and Supervision at Tennessee State University completed his undergraduate degree in computer science this spring.
"I always get excited about how relevant TSU is," he said. "I'm learning about teaching, and I'm going into the community, and I'm doing computer science. It's like everything I've ever done at TSU is right here."
Darnell has a summer job at the university's Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement, the office that made all of this possible.
The center began only last year, but it is leading the way in a growing trend to integrate community service and academics. It's a program called service learning, and universities across Middle Tennessee are embracing it.
TSU president Melvin Johnson is leading an effort to form a state office of the national service-learning organization Campus Compact, making TSU the first historically black university to do so.
Johnson accepted the role at the behest of Mani Hull, a doctoral student in higher education leadership and policy at Vanderbilt University, who received two grants to help spread service learning across the state.
Service learning differs from community service, Campus Compact spokeswoman Karen Partridge said. A student could serve food at a soup kitchen for community service. But a service-learning project might have a student of social policy volunteer at a soup kitchen and then use that experience to explore the conditions that create hunger.
Many local colleges and universities have offered service-learning opportunities over the years without calling them by that name. David Lipscomb University has a missions program that coordinates projects like the one mechanical engineer Kris Hatchell participated in this summer.
Hatchell, who graduated in the spring, was one of a group of students who designed and built a bridge across a river in rural Guatemala. He said he loved the project but did not receive academic credit for it.
That could change in 2007. As part of its re-accreditation, Lipscomb is formalizing a service-learning program, though the details have not been finalized, said Randy Bouldin, an associate professor of mathematics who is in charge of planning the program.
Other Midstate universities are expanding and formalizing their service-learning opportunities, too.
Vanderbilt University student David Amsalem took a class last semester on health problems and their impact on East Africa's economy and development. This summer, he will be in East Africa, working with The AIDS Support Organization in Uganda as part of the Kampala Project, offered through the Office of Active Citizenship and Service.
The program fits in nicely with one of his majors Medicine, Health and Society.
The trip illustrates how the Vanderbilt service office has begun to seek out ways "to create service opportunities for students and connect them to the classroom," office director Mark Dalhouse said.
At Middle Tennessee State University, individual faculty members have offered some service learning for years, but beginning this fall, service learning will become a big part of a newly formed Office of Experiential Learning, said Jill Austin, the experiential learning director.
Last fall, Belmont University started including service-learning courses as a way to fulfill some core course requirements, officials there said.
But TSU has begun what is perhaps the most ambitious service-learning project of any school in Middle Tennessee, a multi-year program to improve technology access and literacy for low-income residents of north Nashville.
The center received a $600,000 grant this year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to improve the physical condition of Watkins Park and five area community centers. The school is using its resources to supply those sites with computers and train children and adults to use them.
The computer labs are expected to form the backbone of an expanding tutoring program that, within the next three years, will see service-learning students from many disciplines teaching career training, GED training, preparation for standardized tests, and basic skills like reading and math.
"The ultimate goal is to use computer technology to improve the educational, economic, career, and health status of community members," the grant application reads.
Meharry Medical College students have designed a Web site for Friendship Community Outreach Center, and the future could see much more collaboration from students at other universities, said Sue Fuller, director of the service-learning center.
Link to actual article in the Tennessean
Nice article and an excellent community program for TSU. Many of us on this board have said TSU needs to do more to improve its relationship and visibility in the community. This is a wonderful step in doing just that. Way to go TSU. Excellent. I'm glad TSU is starting close to home as well. Build with your neighbors first then branch out.