Trinity Service-Learning Featured in The CoRAL Brief
Kisha Kantasingh (far left in photo), Class of 2005, didn’t expect to launch her college experience skimming across the Chesapeake Bay wetlands with her classmates, uprooting non-native plants and collecting trash along the banks of the Anacostia River. As part of Trinity’s required interdisciplinary Freshman Year Seminar, Kantasingh participated in a community project to monitor aquatic vegetation and research how humans affect the physical and biological characteristics of the Bay. Looking back, Kantasingh says, “That community-based learning project made me realize what a positive impact I could have in my community. That class inspired me to continue to find ways to make a difference.” Today, she serves as a tutor for Heads Up, Inc.’s after-school enrichment programs at Plummer Elementary School in Ward 8.
Unique among other DC-area universities, Trinity’s community-based learning seminar is required for all incoming first year students. Taught by a diverse interdisciplinary team of professors, the course engages students in the community by allowing them to choose a community-based organizational (CBO) partner and reflect on their service or research experiences. According to Dr. Minerva San Juan (Philosophy), “Most of our students have loved it. About two-thirds of students who took the first year seminar in fall 2003 kept volunteering with their community partner after the courses were completed.”
In 2003-3004, the number of service learning courses jumped from 1 or 2 in previous academic years to 13. This surge resulted in students dedicating over 2000 hours of service to the community. While most is accounted by direct service to the community, courses with community-based research components are also offered. Dr. Roxana Moayedi (Sociology) notes that community-based research helps students to develop skills in gathering and analyzing data and to think systematically about social problems. Last year, her students participated in an asset mapping project for the Perry School Community Service Center Inc., in which they created a database of 189 programs and services that are available for the North Capitol community. In another Sociology course, students collaborated with the National Student Partnerships and interviewed almost 400 landlords in order to create a public database of Section 8/Voucher and low-income housing availability in the District of Columbia.
The First Year Seminar’s community-based learning component is an enriching experience for faculty as well. Dr. San Juan thinks that “community-based learning has really enhanced my teaching experience because it allows students to learn how to reflect and the practicality of their real-life experiences enriches their writing skills. It makes it easier for me to teach since they become deeper thinkers and more articulate.”
Being a comprehensive yet small university, Trinity’s appeal to students has been in its nurturing environment and the interpersonal relationships it fosters between faculty and students. Beyond teaching and research endeavors, faculty also serve as advisors and mentors. Given her wide range of responsibilities, English professor and department chair Dr. Jacqueline Padgett was, at first, cautious of not over-extending herself when she accepted a fellowship in CoRAL’s 2004 Faculty Fellows Learning Circle. Through common readings, group discussions, and syllabi and curriculum development workshops, Dr. Padgett and her colleagues deepened their understanding of community-based learning and research and incorporated this knowledge in their curriculum and teaching for courses offered in Fall 2004. Marie Troppe, Program Director for Faculty Development at CoRAL, shares that by the end of the inaugural Learning Circle seminar, Dr. Padgett had “become one of community-based learning’s best advocates.” Dr. Cynthia Chance (English) and Dr. San Juan will represent Trinity in the 2005 cohort of the Faculty Fellows Learning Circle next spring semester.
Faculty at Trinity are also developing a workshop for faculty at the University of the District of Columbia on to how develop and implement service learning courses. The CoRAL Network PI and Faculty Director of the Community-based Learning Center on campus, Dr. Moayedi, shares that they “are looking forward to collaborating and learning from [our] colleagues at UDC” and that “the CoRAL Network has played an important role in the development of learning communities within and across our campuses and I hope that this sense of cross-campus community continues to grow.”
The Community-based Learning Center, co-funded by the University and CoRAL, assists professors and students in partnering with Ward 8 CBOs serving Trinity’s surroundings neighborhoods. According Dr. Moayedi, the shift this academic year to limiting community-based learning partnerships to a single geographic area “minimizes transportation costs for our students, many of whom are holding down full-time or part-time jobs, and allows students to become more engaged with the university’s own neighborhood and the issues faced by community neighbors.”
In conjunction with the community-based learning initiatives propelled by the faculty and students, outreach to the community is also in full-force at the institutional level at Trinity. The University has partnered with Marriott International, Verizon, and the U.S. Department of Labor to help build technology-focused programs that include a high-tech training component for underemployed local residents. The School of Education has also partnered with America Online to provide technology training exclusively for teachers in the D.C. public school system. The new Trinity Center for Women and Girls and Sports, which opened in Fall 2003, includes recreational and educational services for community residents. President Patricia McGuire stated in a Washington Post article that “a decade ago, Trinity might have built a smaller gymnasium just for itself; then again, 10 years ago, we could barely afford basketballs. Trinity’s rebound coincides with the economic recovery of the District, and our future is clearly tied to the city’s continuing improvement. For urban institutions such as Trinity, joining forces with our city-in the citizens we educate, in the institutions with which we partner, in the academic programs we develop, and in the cultural and recreational opportunities we provide-is essential to effective higher education in the future.”
Being engaged in the community is perceived as a mandate set forth by Trinity’s founders. Established in 1897 by the Sisters of Notre Dame, Trinity is one of the nation’s first Catholic higher education institutions for women. The Sisters of Notre Dame declared their mission to be to “continue a strong educational tradition, take a stand with poor people, especially women and children, in the most abandoned places. [For each] of us to commit her one and only life to work with others to create justice and peace for all,” and founded Trinity in the nation’s capital to rival the quality of education accessible only to men at that time in Washington. Today, Trinity continues the mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame through its commitment to “prepare students across the lifespan for the intellectual, ethical and spiritual dimensions of contemporary work, civic and family life.” Dr. San Juan adds that “the Catholic tradition of social justice teachings all rearticulate service to the community. All social justice questions of leadership and morality are core values of the university’s mission. Community-based learning is an amazing way of furthering Trinity’s mission.” Trinity undergrads like Kisha Kantasingh, and the Heads Up children and families whose lives she touches at Plummer Elementary School, couldn’t agree more.
Source: Monday, October 18, 2004, The CoRAL Brief, Early Fall 2004 Issue
Trinity’s service-learning program has sought to develop campus-wide support through meetings with the Academic Vice President to share past Progress Reports highlighting the benefit of SL for the Trinity community. At the invitation of the President McGuire, a presentation was made on the program for Trinity’s Board of Directors.
Additionally, a session was presented by Professors Moayedi and Padgett entitled “Let’s Hear It from the Experts Panel” at the Student Summit on Community Leadership Conference at Catholic University. Dr. Moayedi also gave a presentation at the Applied Sociological Association Conference which took place in Washington, D.C.