Service-learning project helps students learn how language affects resources

  • Language and Community class students take lessons on language and equity off campus.
  • Service-learning projects show students how non-profits operate.
  • Language and Community is a Wichita State Cohen Honors College course.

Abigail Sheahan needed to work 15 hours at Our Daily Bread Food Pantry to fulfill her service-learning requirements for her Language and Community class.

Instead, she more than doubled those hours, opening possible new avenues for her future at the Catholic Charities program in south Wichita.

“My dad said, ‘That’s real volunteering,’” said Sheahan, a Wichita State sophomore majoring in human resource management and marketing. “’You’re doing it because you want to.’”

Rachel Showstack’s class in the Cohen Honors College requires a service-learning project, which includes reading, discussions and a journal. Language and Community is an undergraduate honors course with an applied learning component that fits with the honors mission.

The service often becomes the highlight for the students.

Sheahan, from Valley Center, worked as a volunteer shopping assistant twice a week at the food pantry. She helped people who spoke little or no English use the pantry.

“The different things that I saw over the weeks, it made me want to go back,” she said. “There were tough days, where somebody wouldn’t agree with something or they wanted to break the rules a little bit and get more than they were supposed to. There were so many people that do express their gratitude, it makes up for that.”

Sarah Myose, a senior from Wichita, taught a weekly pre-literacy class at the Wichita Indochinese Center. They are an Honors Baccalaureate major with concentrations in art and biological sciences.

They introduced immigrants and refugees to the basic English needed to fill out forms and applications, often to help with employment, health care or education. Their teaching got people started into the center’s five levels of language training.                     

“About my 10th week there I was able to see my first cohort graduate,” they said. “It was really exciting – that day they were all smiling. They really saw how much knowledge they had gained, even though it was frustrating at times.”

wichita Paul Suellentrop

Wichita State student Abigail Sheahan worked at Our Daily Bread food pantry for a service-learning project.

The final component of the class, Showstack said, is to write a grant proposal for a project that addresses a community need. Many of her students volunteer in Wichita’s primary schools, and this spring some of the students proposed projects that would improve education for children who speak minority languages.

“The students learn about the role of language in being part of a community,” she said. “We talk about the notion of what it means to be part of a community and what our role is in the communities in which we participate. We address issues of equity related to language and communities, specifically in education and in health care. A large focus of the class is equity for minority language speakers.”

The service-learning project gave Sheahan a peek at what a career in the non-profit area might entail.

Myose used the hands-on experience to improve their leadership skills. They needed to direct lessons and learn when to move on from a subject and when to return. They learned patience while using non-verbal communication to help their students understand an unfamiliar language. 

“I came in not feeling really very confident about my soft skills, being able to teach people and be in that leadership position,” they said. “I’m still confused about where I want to go in life, but it was helpful because I learned more about how I can react in a position where I’m the teacher, where I’m the one with some of the leadership authority.”