Fortunately for the community and countless nonprofit groups and agencies, college students tend to be generous with their time, burgeoning academic expertise and creativity. And it is to tap into that vast well of talent and energy that Pam Holland, the Director of Clinical Education in the Department of Communication Disorders recently agreed to wear yet another hat, this time as the Director of the Service Learning Program, a program that pairs faculty and students in designated classes with community partners for earned academic credits.
It’s a winning scenario for faculty, students and partners, Holland believes, but first you have to overcome some initial trepidation from first-time students in the courses. “Often during the first week of classes when I talk with students about the requirements of service component of the class I’m met with fear and anxiety. But that very quickly changes,” she says. “On Assessment Day in the spring one central theme that emerged from students across campus is that they learn more by ‘real life’ experiences; they learn by doing.”
That’s why Holland and her predecessors have been on a mission to expand the number of service learning classes throughout the university. She’s convinced the concept can be integrated into virtually all courses, no matter their content. It’s not a new concept, she says, but the results have been enormously rewarding since Marshall launched the program in 2003. “Sheri Smith, the Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning was the founding director of the Service Learning Program and then Kim DeTardo-Bora took over in 2007. I was asked by both to assume the position this past June when Dr. Detardo-Bora became the Graduate Advisor in the Criminal Justice Department.”
According to National Commission on Service Learning, SL is “a teaching and learning approach that integrates community service with academic study to enrich learning, teach civic responsibility and strengthen communities (which often involves reflection).” The stated purpose of the Service Learning Program is to provide an opportunity for a community to shape students’ values and prepare them to be engaged citizens. The community benefits through the thousands of hours of service to people in need, nonprofit agencies, private sector companies, and non-governmental as well as governmental agencies. And just as important, it allows Marshall to establish a partnership with the community by providing a sustainable source of assistance for years to come.
But there is a distinction between volunteerism and service learning experiences, Holland explains. Working at a blood drive, signing people in at races, passing out flyers for various events, participating in work days, collecting items for designated drives, all are examples of dedicated volunteers working for worthwhile causes, which she applauds. The difference is that service learning activities integrate rigorous academic standards and discipline- specific experience while providing much-needed assistance. There’s a clear academic objective to them, she emphasizes.
“Actually we try avoid using the term ‘volunteer’ because what we’re doing is teaching students a way to learn through hands-on experience," Holland says. For example, “Students could be doing marketing--learning how to create flyers, to mount a public relations campaign. It could be nursing students taking blood during a drive, speech pathology majors working with children in after school programs, criminal justice students helping at-risk students to stay in school. In fact, it can be any real-life situation where a student is learning about [his or her] future profession or developing a lifelong skill related to any discipline.”
Perhaps the whole concept was best summed up by a student who told Holland she was glad she had been “voluntold.”
Holland is hopeful that more faculty can be recruited to offer additional service learning classes. To that end, last year she and fellow faculty member Dr. Kim Detardo-Boro received a $5,000 Hedrick innovative teaching grant, which is funding an advanced learning workshop on Nov. 11 and which will also provide a stipend to participating faculty members. Holland sees it a way to encourage more faculty to take part, because “once they get into the program, they tend to stay.
“We were looking for an incentive for them to revise course syllabi, investigate community partners and edit their assignments to encompass the rigorous academic components SL requires. The students in SL courses tend to be more engaged and they make a real connection with the course content. Once faculty teach a SL class, they’re sold!”
And although many faculty members and their students are already engaged in various forms of volunteerism and serving the community, not all service projects in the university operate through the SL program. There are some distinct advantages for those taking part in SL courses, Holland believes.
“The SL Program is the parent program for students and faculty and how they are involved in the community. There can be glitches--sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned. We like to be the troubleshooter for that agency. We can mend problems and that frees up faculty members’ time.” For example, the graduate student in the Service Learning Program can assist the faculty member by making community site visits, taking pictures of the students in action and provide additional assistance as a faculty or community partner requests.
And there are innumerable advantages for participating students and the community partners she adds. “We help the agencies, many of which are currently struggling financially.” To have a committed student learn about a discipline when a grade is involved, that’s an added commitment ... so the agencies reap the benefit of the work and effort students put forth on their behalf.
Sometimes the relationships and projects are so successful that students voluntarily continue to work with them after the class is over. There have been cases where agencies have hired students on as employees. And sometimes the classes lead participants to unexpected locales. Last spring, for example, as an alternate spring break, a group of graduate students traveled to Jamaica to provide speech therapy for children living in orphanages.
Holland’s own background is deeply rooted in the helping professions. Although the Ceredo-Kenova native originally received a scholarship to West Virginia University, she chose Marshall instead, a choice she’s never regretted. After receiving a B.A. and a M.A. in Communication Disorders, Holland worked as a speech language pathologist in the Kanawha County Schools, at the Geiger Easter Seal Speech and Hearing Center, at Preferred Home Health and at King’s Daughter’s Medical Center in Ashland, Ky. She was instrumental in a pilot program that helped establish and expand the Scottish Rite Childhood Speech and Language Disorders program at Marshall. As a full-time faculty member in Communication Disorders, Holland specializes in the pediatric population, providing services to children with speech, language and feeding disorders. She has been actively involved in the state’s Birth to Three program, a federally funded program that provides services to children in that age group who are developmentally behind their peers.
“While my passion is working with children with communication and swallowing disorders, the Marshall Speech and Hearing Center provides services for a person of any age who has a communication disorder. And after a patient ‘ages out’ of a program such as the Birth to Three, they can still come to Marshall for further services,” she stresses.
The active Holland family are homebodies at heart, she says, but she and her husband, J.T., maintain a full calendar attending events involving children Dylan, 14, and Lauren, 4. “The kids keep us busy and they’re our main priority on weekends. We all love movies and we travel when we can. The whole family enjoys going to special Marshall games such as Homecoming but otherwise we fit our schedules around the kids’ church, tennis, ballet and dance activities.”
And it’s not easy, but sometimes she does manage to work in some personal time for some of her favorite off-duty interests--reading, exercising and “of course, shopping,” she says laughing.
She points out that this year eight SL classes are offered and she’s excited about the required freshman seminar course. It’s a perfect forum to introduce service learning to students, she believes. There are community agencies that students can choose to work with, and there’s an added benefit to introducing incoming students to the service concept.
“The students want to be connected to the community,” she says
enthusiastically. “They tend to stay at Marshall if they feel that connection.
This is a great forum to offer these kind of opportunities. Students put forth a
great deal of energy and effort and the agencies reap the benefits.”
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