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Students talk about service-learning

Clark College’s Volunteer & Service-Learning program matches students with volunteer experiences, while encouraging faculty to promote service learning to their students. Throughout the year, students volunteer for an assortment of projects such as delivering meals to seniors, cleaning up beaches or pulling up invasive ivy. Student Jennifer Gaines writes about her experiences and those of other Clark students.

By Jennifer Gaines


Appearing left to right, Volunteer & Service-Learning Team members Jennifer Gaines, Heather Hansen and Katie Colleran

Left to right, Volunteer & Service-Learning members Jennifer Gaines, Heather Hansen and Katie Colleran

Societal issues faced in the community are often topics of study or discussion in academics. How we go about solving these problems can make for lively classroom debates and a great student project.

Implementing problem-solving skills mixed with small group dynamics is the basis of the Small Group Communications course at Clark College. Deena Godwin, a communications professor who has been teaching the course since 2002, is always surprised by her students, “…they don’t realize [at first] the resources they have to make a difference.”

It is said that the best way to learn something is to experience it. In that spirit, the Clark course takes an independent approach. Students select the members who make up their group, as well as the topics and how the work is divided. Activities such as cooperation, leadership and conflict resolution are some of the lessons students experience as a part of the process.

Student Eboni Spruill was a little wary at the beginning: “…to put my grade and faith in these individuals not knowing if they would have things finished in a timely manner was a struggle for me.” Ultimately she settled into her group’s momentum. “I learned how to allow myself to sit back and let things roll and when to jump into the process.”

While the projects vary, all groups are required to write a term paper, log work service-learning hours and present their findings at the end of the term. Overall, in addition to finishing the project, learning how to function as a part of a successful team is one of the main goals in the end, “…we successfully formed cohesively as a team to accomplish more than we could have done ourselves,” agrees student Matthew Allen.

Godwin’s class during the spring quarter presented an array of impressive and ambitious projects. The topics ranged the gamut from drug abuse to foster care. One group, called Synergy, created a public service announcement to highlight drug abuse for the organization Prevent!

For group member Vanessa Peacher, a recovering alcoholic, it was important to, “…work on something that would prevent a teenager from picking up that drink. They don’t need to start down that path.”

The topic of racism was presented by the Squabbits team. Unfortunately, their racism survey was prevented from being distributed on campus. Eventually it was allowed at Washington State University Vancouver. The results caught the attention of the Clark College Cultural Pluralism Committee which intends to use the data for possible campus policy changes on diversity.

Another group, Apples to Ashes, worked with several driving schools in the area to warn their students on the dangers of distracted driving. The message was especially personal for group member Sara Grubelnik who recently lost a friend due to an auto collision caused by a distracted driver. “For me it was important to raise awareness,” she said.

One team highlighted problems faced by children in the foster care system. They paired with the Oak Bridge Youth Shelter to interact with the residents and paint a mural. The time spent with the children moved them. Student Heidi Sebunia said, “I’ve gained a place where I would really like to go back and volunteer again. [Oak Bridge] turned out to be a really great partner to work with.”

Godwin’s intent is to have students get more out of the class than a letter grade, “My hope is that students leave with a heightened sense of responsibility for civic engagement.”

The course not only strengthens interpersonal skills, but also leaves students empowered by helping their community. That is what service-learning is all about.

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