Service learning lets students see reality, inequality of world

by Ben Frotscher

Just one hour.

Sal Meyers, associate professor of psychology, gives her Social Psychology students the option to do service learning for one hour per week at places like The Village or Good Samaritan in Indianola.

Chaplain Angela Gafford teaches Women in Religion, where students go to the Catholic Worker House in Des Moines twice during the semester.

These two classes are both examples of how service learning allows students to get outside the classroom while keeping the themes of the class in mind.

“Sometimes to realize … the reality of the world and the inequalities that are in it, you actually have to see it,” Gafford said. “At the Catholic Worker House, you’re confronted with the reality of poverty as well as all the complications that go along with that.”

Meyers wants to show her students that what she teaches actually exists in the world.

“I hope they learn to see social psychology everywhere, that social psychology is not something that is just an academic discipline that you talk about in the classroom or read about, but that it is useful for understanding everyday interactions with people,” Meyers said.

But the service aspect of these classes is often just as important as the educational aspect.

Meyers said the two goals balance each other.

“It’s to help them see social psychological phenomenon that they encounter in the world, and in part, I hope to increase their commitment to doing service through helping others,” she said.

Meyers allows her students to choose what service they want to do, as long as they’re interacting with people at least 16 years of age or older.

She said interaction is a crucial aspect of the service learning in her class.

“Since this is a social psychology class, sorting clothes doesn’t help,” Meyers said. “It’s a useful task for somebody and it’s meaningful service, but I can’t connect social psychological concepts to an activity you do by yourself.”

The students have to journal about their experiences in Meyers’ class, while in Gafford’s class, students write a paper about their involvement with the Catholic Worker House. Gafford said this class and the house are a good combination because the class discusses Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker House.

“When there is a Catholic Worker House right here in Des Moines, it seemed like a natural fit to enhance learning,” Gafford said. “Not everyone learns by sitting in the class listening to someone lecture.”

Both professors are including service learning in their classes for the second time and have had decent success with it.

“I don’t have resistance, but I also let them read the newspaper as an alternative,” Meyers said. “I do that to deal with the resistance.”

Meyers said she doesn’t want people going to do service who don’t want to.

“If someone really, really, really hates the idea of having to go off campus and do service, they are going to be an annoyance to the people they are serving, not a help,” Meyers said. “I don’t want to inflict that on any of the agencies.”

Gafford said she had some problems with students not wanting to help last year.

“Last year a lot of people complained and griped about it the entire semester,” Gafford said. “This year no one has actually complained about it.”

Senior Amber Smith is currently in Professor Jennifer Ross Nostrala’s Culture and Identity senior colloquium class, and she said the class has to do 10 hours of volunteer work at locations such as Shalom Zone or Breakfast Club.

Smith said this has been a good experience for her. She continues to volunteer even though she’s no longer required to, and said it could benefit nearly everyone.

“I think it’s good because it opens up your eyes to what is actually out there,” Smith said.

The increase in service learning on campus is partly due to the Lilly Initiative.

“We have a Lilly Initiative on campus that’s been pushing it and has provided a variety of resources to faculty to help us learn more about how to do it in ways that are effective,” Meyers said.

Smith said people should volunteer with a genuine interest in others.

“I know the kids really well and it’s a good experience, and I don’t want to let the kids down,” Smith said.