Nancy Williams, like a number of other UGA faculty members, was incorporating service learning into her teaching long before she heard the term and became acquainted with its philosophical and pedagogical underpinnings. Now the associate professor of social work has become such an enthusiastic proponent that she has agreed to serve as the faculty associate for UGA’s newly established Office of Service Learning.
The creation of the office, housed within the Office of Instructional Support and Development and staffed by coordinator Shannon Wilder, is part of an institutional effort to promote and expand service learning at UGA. An official kick-off celebration for the office is scheduled from 10 a.m.-noon on Sept. 29 in the OISD North conference room.
“Our overarching goal is to educate the larger university community about the pedagogy of service learning and the benefits it offers to students and to faculty development,” says Wilder.
Those benefits were noted by the Task Force on General Education and Student Learning, which recommended the creation of an Office of Service Learning in its report to Provost Arnett C. Mace Jr. in August. But momentum was already building in that direction.
The service learning initiative is jointly supported by the Office of the Vice President for Instruction and the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach. The hope is that it will spur new collaborations between teaching faculty and public service faculty, who got a chance to interact this past January at the annual public service and outreach conference, which focused on ways to link academic study, civic engagement and scholarship.
“We got a lot of momentum going at that conference,” says Williams. “The keynote speaker was Kenneth Reardon, who created the Cornell Urban Scholars Program, and he really galvanized us. It was an important moment in the history of service learning on this campus.”
To encourage and support faculty interest, the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach started a seed-grant program in 2004 and is funding a second round this year for the development of long-term, sustainable domestic and international outreach projects with a focus on service learning.
“The number and quality of proposals submitted in the 2004 cycle exceeded our expectations,” says Art Dunning, vice president for public service and outreach. “We hope this year’s response will be greater still.”
Dunning says he particularly wants to encourage multidisciplinary collaborations focusing on strengthening the economic and social well-being of people in the Southeast and in other parts of the world, including Africa, Asia and Latin America.
A global focus is evident in several service-learning activities already under way. As one example, students in the School of Environmental Design have worked for several years with local planners and community activists in Ghana to produce sustainable development plans that utilize principles of smart growth, economic restructuring, cultural tourism and environmental planning.
On the local front, examples of service learning activities include several projects with Clarke County schools. These run the gamut from science majors in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences helping elementary school science teachers to Spanish majors tutoring Hispanic students and serving as interpreters for parent/teacher conferences at Chase Street Elementary School.
Williams says she is glad to see the university community “stepping up to the plate” in embracing service learning.
“Service learning has sound philosophical roots,” she says. ” But it also is increasingly grounded in scholarship that shows this is a productive and viable learning approach.”
Service learning is a focus of the National Outreach Scholarship Conference being hosted at UGA Oct. 2-4. Among the presenters will be Richard Kiely, an assistant professor in the College of Education who has just been named a John Glenn Scholar in Service Learning by the John Glenn Institute at Ohio State.
Connecting faculty like Kiely and Williams with others who want to learn about service learning is one of the goals of the Office of Service Learning, according to Wilder.
“The creation of the office is a way to build infrastructure and support for service learning,” she says. “We want to help faculty connect with and learn from each other.”