Service Learning Gains Ground at Pacific Union College

By Jonathan Watts on September 17, 2007

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Billed as a combination of outreach ministry and alternative learning technique, service learning is quietly gathering steam in Pacific Union College's classrooms. While some professors have long included a community service component in their classes, a growing number of their colleagues from a wide range of disciplines are finding ways to encourage their students to learn by serving others. More students are reinforcing their classroom learning with hands-on experience, helping their community as they master their material.

"Service learning caters to other types of learning styles," said Linda Thorman, associate academic dean, who points out that for some people, listing to lectures is not the best way to learn. "It also helps you come to a different understanding of who you are as a person and a citizen."

The service learning committee, headed by Linda Thorman, gives service learning workshops to teachers who want to include service learning as a course component. "We try to make sure that service learx is matched very closely with the content of the class," said committee member Marilyn Glaim, professor of English. Glaim is incorporating service learning into her English 102 class, which is built around the theme of the American family. Glaim's students will have the opportunity to work with agencies that provide services to families, including volunteer agencies and churches. They will also write a term paper on what they have learned about the American family through their experience. Glaim views service learning as a way for students to do first-hand research on the American family, rather than rely solely on the written accounts of others. "This is just one more way to help them build their writing skills," she said.

Service learning is optional in Glaim's English class; students can choose to do an alternative research project if they want to. This is true of most of PUC's classes which include service learning. "We want to be careful that students do not feel that they are forced to do service learning," said Glaim. "We want to make it interesting enough that students want to do it."

Sylvia Rasi Gregorutti, assistant professor of modern languages, gives her intermediate Spanish students a broad range of service learning options. Beginning next school year, each student is required to complete six hours of volunteer work in the Hispanic community. (They may opt to write a seven page research paper in Spanish instead.) Service possibilities include working with food distribution programs, counseling troubled teens, visiting the elderly at retirement homes, and participating in prison ministries. "I want [the students] to get off-campus and meet real Spanish-speakers," said Gregorutti. "I'd also like them to get in contact with immediate community. I want them to learn to connect what they've learned in class with the real world."