Kristen Allen ’09 sits down on Sunday evening to do her homework for her grant writing class. She searches different Web sites looking for applicable grants for the organization Homes for the Brave, a transitional living facility for homeless veterans and non-veterans. She works extra hard, not only because she wants an A, but because she has met the veterans who live at Homes for the Brave and knows how important it is that she finds funding sources for them.

Grant Writing, co-taught by Tom Sobocisnki and David Sapp, is one of the 20 Service Learning classes Fairfield University is offering for the current school year. Service Learning links academic studies and community-based service together to give students real life experience while meeting the needs of the community.

Sapp was inspired to design Grant Writing as a service learning course by a service learning class he took himself as an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota in 1989.

‘The experience motivated my interest to become a teacher and researcher. That service learning course remains one of the most important experiences I had as an undergraduate student and I hope that, 20 years from now, a few of the students in the grant writing course feel the same way,’ he said.

Service Learning is built upon the Ignatian pedagogy of experience, reflection and evaluation.’ Students working with organizations in communities impacted by poverty further illustrate Fairfield University’s mission of ‘men and women for others.’

‘Service learning helps students to explore how they can be nurses, accountants, etc. while contributing back to society,’ said Melissa Quan, director of the Office of Service Learning. ‘And that’s what the Jesuit ideals are about.’

Service Learning has existed on campus unofficially for 20 years in Greiner’s and Primavera’s classes. However, in 2005, a group of faculty and administrators attended a conference where they discovered Fairfield was one of two Jesuit Universities without an official service learning program. Under University President Fr. Jeffrey von Arx, Fairfield developed an Office of Service Learning in the Center for Faith and Public Life.

While many of the Service Learning classes are concentrated in the School of Arts and Sciences, there are currently three classes designated in the School of Business, two in the School of Nursing, and one in the Graduate School of Education.’

‘We started out behind and we’ve moved ahead of other schools,’ said Quan. ‘Service Learning is in line with our strategic plan and we have had the support of Fr. von Arx and enthusiasm from the professors.’

The Service Learning Program recently changed so professors can apply for their class to be a service learning class. This allows the school to track how many service learning classes a student has taken. There is potential for honoring students who have taken multiple service learning classes at graduation or for creating a service learning scholar track.

‘That method of teaching is unique to Jesuit institutions, and is a way for the instructor and the students to ‘make the journey together’,’ said Winston Tellis, professor of IS220 and IS350. ‘One aspect of Ignatian Pedagogy is that the course material should be brought to life for the students. I feel that service learning is a marvelous tool for doing just that.’

Students in IS350 traveled to Managua, Nicaragua to work on two projects at UCA, a sister Jesuit school. The students assisted FDL, the largest microfinance institution in Nicaragua, in selecting appropriate software to run the banking business and helped the organization create self-sustaining businesses for its poor population.

Michael Curran ’09 was a student in IS220. ‘We had one class to do assignments and presentations while the other class was a trip to Prospect House where we taught the residents there to use computers,’ explained Curran. ‘It was incredible to see people who didn’t know how to turn on a computer, much less use one.’

There are also many professional advantages to service learning classes.’The students benefit by getting writing samples and reference letters that they can use for graduate school, post-graduation employment, and summer internship applications,’ said Sapp.

‘They also benefit from the experience of working with community leaders who are dedicated to solving important social problem.’

‘I think one service learning class should be part of the core in the future,’ added Curran.
Colleen Gibson ’09 said the service learning classes have been fundamental in her education and shaping who she is as a person.

‘The ideas I’ve been taught through service learning have lasted with me long after I forgot what I needed to know for the midterm,’ said Gibson. ‘Ultimately, by putting my education into action, it has become a part of me, a part of who I am and how I live my life.’

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