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Helping and learning at home

Service learning opportunities abound at OHIO
Feb 8, 2010
By Colleen Kiphart

This is the fourth installment in a four-part series on service learning at Ohio University

Ohio University features a faculty, staff and student body that are as socially aware as they are intellectually curious. Their actions and initiatives prove to students that you don?t need to go around the world to find great opportunities for service learning.

Across the OHIO campus and across disciplines classes are engaging in service learning to further instill the lessons of the classroom in the real world. Instructors who are working with students to put their studies to use are spread throughout various colleges. There are handbook-writing English students and card cataloguing computer science majors. There are students volunteering in the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Lisa Kamody, the director of student and community engagement and an academic adviser in University College, assists instructors who want put an aspect of service learning into their classes.

"My position was new as of July 2009," Kamody said. "It grew out of a renewed commitment from the university to service learning. "

Ohio University has been refocusing its work with service learning, even including it in Vision OHIO. According to the 2008 draft of the Vision OHIO implementation plan, among other strategies, the university hopes to strengthen the undergraduate education through an "increase [in] undergraduate involvement in research, applied projects, and service learning opportunities at the local, regional, national, and international level."

It is a commitment that Kamody fully supports. "I value service learning as a lifelong commitment we should be making," she said. "Students come to Ohio University with a service past and expect to continue with it here."

For students who want to pursue service, but have difficulty finding free time to do so, or for students who want to see their lessons have real-world applications, service learning provides an excellent opportunity.

Chang Liu, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, teaches computer science 456/556, software design and development, and incorporates community service into his twice-yearly course.

"We want to deliver value to the community," he said. "The class works together to design software programs that community members want."

Computer science might, at first glance, appear to be one of the least likely places to find service learning in action, but Liu sees the benefits of this technique going beyond simply the community client.

"In the real world, working with a client, there can be miscommunications and things can be imprecise," Liu explained. "Here the students get the experience of working with real-world clients, communicating with them and delivering expected results. It?s a very valuable experience for students."

In the past, the class has worked with Athens and Nelsonville public libraries to improve their card catalogue systems. Students have also worked with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife to create a visualization of the department?s deer population growth model.

Most recently, Liu said, the class got to work on a project in one of the fastest-growing forms of software -- an iPhone application.

"We worked with Dr. [Ken] Holroyd in psychology and his work with migraines. We worked with him to put his program into an iPhone application. The students really liked it," Liu said.

"They did a surprising amount of work given the time they had to learn," said Holroyd, a distinguished professor of psychology. "They came in not knowing about migraine treatment to programming and debugging software that dealt with it."

His classes have tackled a variety of client needs and fields, and Liu is always on the lookout for new challenges. He encourages community members interested in working with the software design classes to contact him. "We are always looking for new projects," Liu said.

Real-world experience in courses that are often very hypothetical is one of the reasons that Jane Denbow, assistant professor of English, utilizes service learning in her English 308J classes.

Denbow asks students to volunteer at community service agencies in the Athens area to gain writing experience. "I teach composition, and it can get routine to students," she said. "This gives them something different to do."

In the first half of the class students learn how to write professionally and clearly. In the second half they work in groups to write a useful document for community service agency that they have volunteered for during the quarter.

"These documents should be intended to help the agencies get ahead," Denbow said. "Some don?t work, but most of the documents turn out pretty well."

Some of the documents have included a handbook for new teachers working in Chauncey, Ohio to introduce them to the unique culture of the southeastern Ohio community.

Like Liu, Denbow sees the service aspect reinforcing classroom lessons. "It gives students real things to write," she said. "This is different from a normal class format. They get to do something practical, to get out and get involved. "

Students who participate in service learning do more than just help their communities and hone their skills; they have an opportunity to learn about themselves.

"Reflection is a major part of the service-learning experience," said Kamody. "It?s a way to see the practical application of your field. But, the service in application often can be from a point of view students hadn?t thought of before. It can be a real eye-opener for them."

Creating a service-learning course can present challenges and limitations, Kamody explained. "It would be difficult to do service learning in a class of 400, but you need to be creative."

She continued, "Sometimes just getting started can be the hardest thing. Faculty who would like to have an aspect of service in their class could benefit from finding and talking to someone who has done it before."

For students who are looking for a service learning experience next quarter, Kamody advises them to speak to faculty to find the right class for them.

When taking part in service learning, "Students become so much more engaged with their majors and with themselves," she said. "It opens a door when you do something for someone without expecting a return."


Published: Feb 8, 2010 8:30 AM


Kimberly Jackson, a fourth-year medical student in the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, administers a finger stick to test a patient's blood glucose levels.


Bryan Grooms, a third-year medical student, plays to the crowd at the Little People's Hospital, a community outreach to teach children about health.

Photo courtesy of: Melissa Kemper 

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