Students Share Service-Learning Experiences

Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service symposium examines service-learning opportunities.

service learning panel
Sophomore Carmen Paulson, sophomore Joanne Zalatoris, junior Sean O’Connell and freshman Caitlin Wuebbolt share their service-learning experiences.
December 04, 2013

By Julyssa Lopez

For freshman Caitlin Wuebbolt and junior Sean O’Connell, learning Spanish took on a whole new meaning this semester. 

They signed up for Service-Learning in Advanced Spanish with Adjunct Instructor Dolores Perillan, a course that required them to join forces with a local nonprofit. Mr. O’Connell and Ms. Wuebbolt worked with We Are Family, a senior outreach network that leads the Somos Familia program for Spanish-speaking seniors in Columbia Heights. While delivering groceries, organizing social events and building friendships, Ms. Wuebbolt and Mr. O’Connell perfected the Spanish taught in class—and, more importantly, learned about giving back to the D.C. community.
Ms. Wuebbolt and Mr. O’Connell shared their experience at the Academic Service-Learning Symposium hosted by the George Washington University Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service on Tuesday. The event was composed of several sessions designed to give students a forum to discuss service-learning with their classmates, faculty and members of local nonprofit organizations.
Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Terri Harris Reed welcomed students and thanked them for their commitment to civic engagement.
“All of you are so actively involved in helping GW fulfill its commitment to being a model institution, and also inspiring, motivating and supporting our faculty, staff and students who are interested in partnering with our community,” Dr. Reed said.
Executive Director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service Amy Cohen also provided brief remarks, telling students that the event represented the achievements of 62 service-learning courses offered this year at GW. 
“We’re developing more high-quality programs and more opportunities for students to learn from the community,” Ms. Cohen said.
Maurice Smith, coordinator for academic service-learning, led a group of undergraduate and graduate service-learning scholars and an academic service-learning liaison to put together the symposium sessions. The morning events included a panel on social entrepreneurship organized by Melanie Fedri, coordinator for social entrepreneurship, and a roundtable discussion in which students shared issues they’ve encountered while engaging civically.
Another session focused on what students learned in three service-learning courses: Human Services and Community taught by Senior Associate Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski, Writing for Social Change taught by Associate Professor of Writing Phyllis Ryder and Interpersonal Communication taught by Internship Advisor Abbie Weiner. Each course integrated service-learning components with academic content.
Dr. Konwerski’s Human Service and Community course promoted teamwork and civic-engagement by splitting the class into groups to coordinate events for last month’s Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week. Senior Angelica Gallo and junior Peter Sacco described the process of organizing activities like a student performance, a hunger banquet with speakers from the D.C. Mayor’s Office and the National Coalition for the Homeless, and a food drive that raised more than 1,000 items. 
Mr. Sacco explained that the experience exposed him to all the opportunities available to GW students in the nation’s capital. 
“One of the great things about being in D.C. is that there is such a wealth of opportunities for getting involved. For instance, you have access to a greater variety of nonprofits working on social issues, and you have more chances to volunteer,” Mr. Sacco said.
The symposium continued with a networking lunch that gave students a chance to meet with faculty and representatives from local nonprofit organizations. In the afternoon, students were able to participate in another roundtable discussion and a “speed-dating” session to connect with community partners. 
One session featured winners of the 2013 Steven and Diane Robinson Knapp Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Service-Learning. The award was established in 2010 to encourage creative public service and academic engagement, and winners receive $2,500 to $10,000 to implement a service-learning project. This year’s winning projects included a mobile medical service and Ascension GW, an organization that works with survivors of sexual assault.
An afternoon service-learning class panel highlighted independent research students did in the course Issues in Human Services, and connections students made to the community in Service-Learning in Advanced Spanish. Sophomores Carmen Paulson and Joanne Zalatoris joined Mr. O’Connell and Ms. Wuebbolt to discuss learning Spanish while working with a partner organization. 
“We Are Family made me realize the importance of everyone in our community—not just those in Capitol Hill, but everyone in underprivileged communities, too. This program made me take a step back and remember to take in the value of each person,” Mr. O’Connell said.
Ms. Cohen said the symposium was an ideal way to bring GW students together over similar experiences and raise awareness of other service-learning opportunities available at the university.
“This event is a culmination of all that the students have learned,” Ms. Cohen said. “The other great thing is that we bring together the faculty, students and community partners so that we all get a chance to reflect and think about how our service, research and learning have worked and how we can do better.”