Conversation continues regarding service learning
Students report different experiences with the program
The Center for Public Service offers students a variety of service learning, internship and independent study options to fulfill their 40-hour public service requirements. The students who partake in the service activities, the faculty who create the service learning courses, and the community partners that benefit from the service are the three major aspects of the program. Tulane offers 130 service learning courses that are designed to benefit both students and the community.
Are all programs the same?
Tulane’s public service requirement is two-tier: Students must complete 20 hours during their freshman or sophomore years and another 20 hours during their junior or senior years. Katie Houck, assistant director of the Center for Public Service student training and leadership development unit, said each service learning course requires a 20-hour time commitment, but the distribution of the hours depends on the particular program.
“One of the challenges is trying to communicate to students that it’s not a cookie-cutter experience,” Houck said. “Not everyone is going to have the same experience, and that’s okay.”
Sophomore Rachel Berzon tutored in an English as a second language class for her service learning and said because of the way courses are designed, some require more of a commitment than others.
“Service learning is uneven,” Berzon said. “Some are going to a museum once, and mine was once a week for two and a half hours on Monday night, which was when I generally had a lot of work to do, so it was a big commitment.”
Houck said there is a distinct goal for each course, which necessitates creating programs that are not exactly the same as one another.
“If you were to do 10 hours of tutoring in one day, you’re not going to have the same impact as if you were to do two hours once a week for 10 weeks,” Houck said. “In one day you’re not going to be able to develop a relationship, but in 10 weeks you might be able to develop a relationship with one student.”
Public Service Fellow Lea Bogner said time commitment should not be a problem.
“There shouldn’t be inconsistency with time commitment,” Bogner said. “I think a big piece that’s missing is that there’s not enough training on the professors’ end of how to have a service learning component of a course.”
Faculty training and creating the courses
Professors are responsible for designing the service learning components of their classes. Houck said the Center for Public Service assists faculty in choosing a community partner to work with and in designing a syllabus that includes service learning, but that ultimately, the course is the professor’s responsibility.
“While our office lends support, faculty members really are the ones that are initiating service learning,” Houck said. “We try to suggest changes, but it’s not our place to say ‘You need to change your course,’ so we are acting in a support role.”
Optional seminars are offered every semester for faculty members interested in learning how to incorporate service learning into their courses. Houck said they train between 12 and 20 faculty a semester, and have been doing so since 2007.
“That’s about 100 faculty members that have been trained,” Houck said. “I would say for the most part new faculty are opting to do it.”
Bogner said by mandating faculty training, the Center for Public Service would eliminate a lot of the complaints students have about service learning.
“The professors who have to have service learning as a part of their courses need to go through a specific training,” she said. “Some professors have too many organizations and some professors don’t have enough options for students. I think it runs into issues when there are departments that mandate that professors have to do service learning and the professor has no idea what’s going on.”
Houck said the Center of Public Service does not decide which courses will have service learning components.
“We don’t have the authority, nor is it our place to say ‘You have to teach this course,’” Houck said. “Some departments have made the determination that they are going to say all of these courses have service learning, and some leave it up to the professor.”
Benefiting the community
Tulane introduced service learning in ’90s, but did not make public service a graduation requirement until 2006.
“They had 30 to 40 courses per semester,” Houck said. “After Katrina, with the Renewal Plan, that’s when the directors said, ‘We need to make a commitment to New Orleans,’ and the public service plan was something that they thought was important and a valuable learning experience.”
The public service courses enable students to take what they learn in the classroom and use their knowledge to better some aspect of the community. Senior Wyler Murray said he used the concepts he learned in his persuasive writing course to teach students.
“I had to go to middle schools and teach students how to debate, and we formed a debate league and put on debates twice a semester,” Murray said. “I actually fulfilled my service learning component, and I’m doing it again this semester even though I don’t need to.”
Sophomore Janine Wilkin said she enjoyed her service learning experiences and felt like she was helping the community.
“I loved it, and I definitely was able to see improvement with a few of the kids that I worked with,” Wilkin said.
Sophomore Carloline Grey said she also had a positive experience with service learning.
“I did service learning with my TIDES class freshman year, and we helped at 5K and 10K races around New Orleans,” Grey said. “I got to meet other people who like to run and I felt like they really benefited from us volunteering.”
Freshman Chris Farley said he used the management and leadership skills he learned in the classroom to help rebuild a New Orleans home.
“I did a Habitat for Humanity build, which was well organized, and it was really fun doing and you felt good afterward,” Farley said. “I felt like we really were doing something to help.”
Not all students are satisfied with their service learning experiences. Sophomore Kayle Borenstein said she enjoyed her service learning but did not feel as though she had truly helped the community.
“We did service learning for our Jewish studies class and we went to Sushi Series, which showed a series of movies and speakers, and then they served sushi after,” Borenstein said. “We also cleaned out the entire old Hillel house, which was serving a very small portion of the small Jewish community in New Orleans.”
Freshman Ashley Naron said organization was an issue with her service learning course.
“I felt like we didn’t really do a lot and it was kind of disorganized,” Naron said. “We worked with a program in the Ninth Ward, but they didn’t have a clear goal for us to complete, and even if they did, they didn’t really implement it very well.”
Senior Nicole Polichano said her service program was rewarding but was unrelated to the course she was taking.
“Right now I am doing it in my American Judaism class,” Polichano said. “So basically we go and we cook food and we go to the mission and give it to the people. It’s very fulfilling. I don’t understand what it has to do with American Judaism though.”
Bogner said it is difficult to design programs that make everyone happy, because many factors have to be considered.
“You have to deal with safety in New Orleans, the size of New Orleans, the many millions of organizations that are here, and then you also have to find one you can apply a class to,” Bogner said. “But, compared to other institutions of our size, our community service program is so much better.”
Houck said not all students enjoy their experiences, though the courses are designed in the hopes that they do.
“There are people that are wild supporters of it and there are people that don’t understand it,” Houck said. “And that’s going to be true of anything.”