Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Women’s Studies Service-Learning Project = Success!

Back: Christina-Alexa Liakos, Aurora Lenz-Watson,
Jessica Arnold, Kelsi Lessard, Molly Austin;
Front: Miles Cleary, Rebecca St. George, Professor Stefanie Wickstrom

So, way back in October I accosted Stefanie Wickstrom in the dining hall about making her Introduction to Women’s Studies class a service-learning course; I had the idea that her students could do outreach at Poultney High School focusing on body image issues and gender. After vigorously writing down these ideas on a piece of scrap paper, she agreed that this was something she was interested in pursuing. Neat-o!

This, my friends is the birth of a service-learning project! At first this baby is new and fresh and full of such wonderful possibilities, then time passes and you begin to grow weary of the unemployed adult that is living in your basement who insists they are a product of your gene pool. Needless to say, as things began to develop with the project the situation got a little...complicated.

I connected with two teachers at the high school who were interested in this type of education being integrated into their classes: one in a creative writing class and the other, a senior seminar class. Stefanie and I also agreed to expand options out to other community partners, one being the Poultney Oral History Project (OHP) and the other, upon request of a student in her class, Aurora, the Rutland Women’s Network and Shelter.

When being involved in a service-learning project where you are working with multiple community partners, it’s a juggling act. In no particular order, the following things must be in place when undertaking such an endeavor: work with a professor who is willing to be completely invested in the project. Luckily Stefanie is totally open to integrating innovative pedagogy so she was a breeze to plan things with. One must also determine the amount of time and during what time slots students will be willing and able to work. This was a tad tricky because this class met at 8 a.m. Eek! Stefanie had her students “in the field” or working on their projects in some way during multiple class-times throughout the semester. Another key ingredient is a willingness to be flexible!!! When you are juggling all these things, random situations are bound to occur. For instance the high school ended up having a snow-day during one a scheduled meeting time. This really jostled planning time for the high school groups.

However, this morning my adult-child living in my basement (yes, we’re still using this analogy) got a job and moved on out! Like any parent I wanted what is best for my child. Meaning, I wanted the ideal service-learning project: fulfilled a community need, was academically challenging and meaningful, and an overall good experience for all those involved. This morning, when the Women’s Studies class gave their presentations on their projects, I was pleasantly surprised! This is totally not to say that I didn’t think the individuals involved weren’t capable, but I was more so generally concerned about how all this coordinating would come together and also very concerned about whether or not the students found this to be useful to their understanding of Women’s Studies and gender issues generally speaking.

While we lost one group along the way because the students dropped the class, I would say, based on the presentations today, that the project was an overall success. The senior seminar teacher at the high school was impressed with the students who came to her class on many levels. The students in this group, Christina, Jessica, and Kelsi reported that the high school kids were a bit unresponsive to their presentation, but hey, they were presented some heavy stuff so I’m sure that they’ll need a bit of time to digest. The Oral History Project group conducted two successful interviews and opened up interest for further investigation on the subject of women’s roles at GMC and greater Poultney. Molly, Miles, and Rebecca had the opportunity to interview Rebecca’s grandma, who attended GMC when it was an all-women’s college, and long-time staff member Perry Moyer. And Aurora, who worked with the Women’s Shelter, not only got a very well-rounded understanding of domestic abuse issues, but volunteered her time to assist them where need be and also helped to deepen the relationship that GMC has with that organization.

The project turned out to be dynamic and innovative. These 7 students did a lot of great work!


Jesse said...

Well said, Dawn. This is the kind of thing that excites me about working here. Great job, all.

Willy said...

Also very funny analogy describing a service learning project. You and Sue should write an academic paper on that one.