Fox students engaged in community through service learning courses

Assistant Professor of Geography and Geology Erin DeMuynck teaches GEO 297, a service learning class. Students in the class are working with refugees to help welcome them in the community and to help them grow accustomed to everyday life. • photo by Coulson Richards

Each semester, students at UW-Fox can enroll in service learning courses, which are designed to incorporate community service and civic responsibility both in the classroom and within the community.

Michael Jurmu, former service learning coordinator for the UW System, said service learning enriches students’ educational backgrounds.

“Service learning is one of those techniques called high impact-activities. It is designed to give the student a better educational experience. Service learning gives students exposure to a lot of different activities to allow them to explore what they are interested in,” Jurmu said.

Service learning courses offered this spring at UW-Fox include Environmental Science (BIO 191) with Teresa Weglarz, Concepts Issues and Field Experience in Education (EDU 201) with Tammy Ladwig and Intro to the City (GEO 297) with Erin DeMuynck.

In these courses, students must participate in community service as part of their final grade. Weglarz requires 48 hours of service learning while six are completed outside of class, Ladwig requires 30 hours of work with 12 outside the classroom, and DeMuynck requires 30 hours of community service.

Ladwig said the community service make up about 20 percent of the final grade for EDU 201.

According to Professor Weglarz, students assist Riverview Gardens and St. Joseph Food Program as part of the BIO 191 curriculum. This relates to the food production element of the BIO 191 course where student learn about industrial, organic and sustainable food sources.

“[Students] volunteer at Riverview Gardens in Appleton or at St. Joe’s Food Pantry across the street from UW-Fox. In addition, students also participate in collecting compost on campus and growing greens …, and, if we grow enough greens, they are donated to St. Joe’s Food Pantry,” Weglarz said.

In Professor DeMuyncks GEO 297 class, students assist refugees who resettled in the Fox Cities through an organization called World Relief.

“Some of the families the students are working with are from the Republic of Congo, and some are from Afghanistan,” DeMuynck said.

Students help refugees with their needs in the community, which may include getting a library card and learning how to ride the bus.

“I think the most important goal for students is to be a welcoming presence,” DeMuynck said.

In Professor Ladwig’s EDU 201 class, students assist teachers in the Appleton, Hortonville, Neenah, Menasha, Kaukauna, Seymour and Oshkosh school districts.

“They plan lessons, do small group work, present lessons, and assist with field trips, teaching, attendance and grades,” Ladwig said.

Students also help out at St. Joe’s food pantry, BEAMING equine therapy, Clothes Closet, Salvation Army, humane societies and book drives, according to Ladwig, in order to gain a deeper community understanding as it applies to education.

“At St. Joe’s they get a firsthand understanding of what food insecurity means in our communities, and at BEAMING they [meet] students who [have] special needs and who [have a] lower socioeconomic status or poor who benefit from equine therapy,” Ladwig said.

DeMuynck said the community service can be difficult, but rewarding for students. She finds that flexibility is necessary in the service requirement.

“The students have been experiencing language barriers and cultural barriers. Some of the students are still having difficulty making contact with the families they are assigned to and are getting a bit frustrated,” DeMuynck said. “Navigating all of these things … is not always easy. I’ve found that flexibility is important in any community-based learning activity.

According to Professor DeMuynck, service learning is about making connections between the course topic or course content and the real world.

“As a teacher, I am most interested in helping students see how what we are learning in the class plays out in the real world ,” Professor Ladwig said, “[Service learning] applies the values gained from the classroom regarding civic knowledge in real-world settings, directed at improving the quality of life in the communities.”

Jurmu believes that service learning gives students the opportunity to get hands-on experience alongside the traditional classroom format.

“Service learning [lets you say], ‘Look, I have done these things in the community. I don’t just have a 3.98 [GPA]; I have also done all of these other activities.’ Service learning gives you more to put in your portfolio and is also beneficial down the road,” Jurmu said.

Proposed service learning courses for the fall 2017 semester are BIO 191 with Teresa Weglarz, EDU 201, Education in a Pluralistic Society (EDU 220) with Tammy Ladwig and Selected Topics (GSW 291) with Ellen Wilson.

Students interested in enrolling in service learning courses are encouraged to look for the “SL” designator, which will be indicated in the course title. In addition, students can visit the service learning webpage for more information.