Q&A with Wichita State's service-learning leaders

  • Wichita State's service-learning programs pair community service with classroom work to produce an experience that benefits the community and applied learning.
  • Students from all academic areas can find service-learning projects that fit their interests.
  • The volunteerICT website helps students track their service time and use it for job applications, scholarships and graduate school applications.

Wichita State psychology professor and chair Rhonda Lewis and Chelsea Redger-Marquardt, associate director of student involvement, want their students to get out of the classroom and into the community.

Then there is another step that makes the experience “service-learning.”

The students perform community service that is connected to their class, giving them an applied learning experience that motivates them in the class and the community. 

As separate words, “service” and “learning” are separate experiences. As one word, “service-learning” joins and amplifies both experiences.

The hyphen is where everything makes sense,” Redger-Marquardt said. “I’ve heard it described a lot of times as it’s the reflection piece. It’s where service and learning come together and students actually understand the connection to that through that reflective thought process, whether that looks like class discussions or journaling or a reflective paper.” 

Wichita State’s service-learning integrates community service with instruction and reflection.

“It really is what lets the students pause and think about the work that they’ve done, how it helped the community meet their goals and needs,” she said. “How it also helped them learn through that course in maybe a more robust way.”

The Service-Learning Showcase highlights the classroom projects and learning. Last fall, Marta Mendez presented her wok “Service-Learning through the eyes of an Interpreter” as part of Dr. Rachel Showstack’s Advanced Spanish Grammar and Composition course. She served as an interpreter during a Cleft and Lip Palate Clinic at the Plastic Surgery Center to help medical professionals communicate with patients.

This is just one example of the many student projects that are happening at WSU.

“In my mind, applied learning is when you’re not sitting in a classroom the entire time,” Lewis said. “I’m not just picking up trash off of the highway. What does this mean? I’m beautifying the entire highway. It’s tied to a social justice concept, back to my Community Psychology class, or I’m tying it back to the geology class, I’m tying it back to this is good for the environment. You’re reflecting on why it’s good for the environment.”

What is service-learning?

Redger-Marquardt: Service-learning is a form of applied learning that asks student to connect their course and learning objective with a community-based service project and then to reflect on that project.

Lewis: It’s really important that it’s connected to a class. One of the examples I really like is students going to an elementary school and reading to students and doing that on a weekly basis.

I usually require my students to do service 15 hours throughout the semester. They would go to a classroom and read to students and that would be part of their service. They would reflect and ties that opportunity back to the principles of my class, whether that would be prevention or a sense of community or empowerment. How does that relate to the core principles of my classroom?

Whatever class you’re teaching, whether that’s history or engineering, how would whatever the service is in the community tie back to the class? Whatever you’re doing needs to be connected to whatever that community-based organization is needing and you’re tying that back to the learning objectives for your classroom?

What are examples of service-learning projects?

Redger-Marquardt: We have students that are active out in the community through lots of different language courses and are able to build a greater understanding of the language they are learning by aiding in communication in health clinics, youth programs, and mentoring.

How are they making, meeting and understanding the language that they are learning? Or, maybe it is a way to connect with youth or different health clinics in town. Then being able to connect that back to the barriers that that can break down for the course components.

One that’s been a long-running partnership has been a connection in Washington D.C. and looking at systemic causes of those that are experiencing hunger and homelessness. What does that look like in D.C., but also what does that look like in our home community of Wichita? How can we compare and contrast some of the interventions that are happening? 

We have faculty in business that are looking at marketing projects for our non-profit sector. We have folks in sport management connecting with tournaments in town and really looking at ways they can be of service, but also get some great, great experience so that they’re competitive when they’re out applying for their careers or graduate school.

How does service-learning fit with applied learning?

Redger-Marquardt: All of the things you do in applied learning where you’re applying course concepts, you’re connecting it in a meaningful, real world way, all of those apply. But it’s service-related. We’re working with non-profit partners.

It’s a form of (applied learning), but the service is what makes it into a subset of its own.

How does a student get involved with service-learning?

Redger-Marquardt: You can seek out courses that have a service-learning component. We’re hopefully going to work towards the ability to put a distinction on each of those courses, but a lot of courses will explain that in part of their course description.

You can be active in our Alternative Breaks program.  Certain majors have design courses and you can work with your faculty to select a non-profit partner for this project.  This has been a popular option in many engineering courses.

The other partner that’s been really great in our initiative has been our First-Year Seminars. They all have a different approach to service-learning, but have service components built into the course. That’s one of the easiest ways for our new-to-campus students to get connected.

How does Wichita State’s partnership with the United Way of the Plains, using the volunteerICT website, help students, staff, faculty and the community?

Lewis: Students and faculty can have access to and categorize: Where can you volunteer? If it’s mentoring, if it’s for aging adults. It’s easier access for students to know where to go.

You can categorize it by colleges. Now, you can run reports. You can do all the reporting and tracking. Now we have the numbers. That helped us move the needle a lot. We can track the hours by college, so the colleges can have a competition. It’s been a wonderful asset to the program.

Redger-Marquardt: If an agency, I’ll use our friends up the road at the Boys & Girls Clubs, put an opportunity out on (the United Way’s Get Connected website), it mirrors to our campus site. Students are able to see those opportunities and respond to those opportunities with a couple clicks of a button.

What makes (volunteerICT) unique is the hours tracking component. Students are able to track their hours, to get those hours verified. Then they have a volunteer resume that is created for them in real-time that shows how many hours of service they have completed, what areas might be of interest – is it health-related, is it physical labor, is it sustainability? It also gives them some information on their impact value, so the value of that service in dollars that our community has benefited from.

How is the volunteer resume helpful?

Redger-Marquardt: It’s always going to stay with an individual and it becomes a PDF resume that can be used to support a lot of different things. I’ve had students use it as an attachment to graduate school applications. There’s this wonderful, verified, listing of all of these hours of service that you’ve done. You can use it as a piece for scholarships. We’ve also had students use it as a piece to be able to have conversations for internships and job interviews.

It goes beyond one dot on a resume that says ‘I did 350 hours of service,’ which is great. Being able to show this in a visual manner that is speaking languages to lots of different folks, whether it’s by hours or interest or impact value. It really puts a bit more of a story to what those 350 hours meant.