Fellows in the Community

For me, the activity that The Living Lab Fellows participated in with volunteers of the Bay Improvement Group (BIG) in Sheepshead Bay on March 15, 2013 created a long lasting impact on my experience and understanding of the people who live on the water front of New York City and on creating an academic service learning project.


Like many of us, I too survived the direct impact of Sandy. Living in a waterfront community myself that will be forever changed but was thankfully not devastated, many memories were brought to life again on this day. I, like so many people in the rest of the City, have move on to other poignant issues ranging from gun control to soda consumption, However, this day reminded me that our attention must remain with rebuilding what makes our diverse city so appealing to so many people from around the world.

Surveying members of the the community provided significant importance to the experience of the community and how we as faculty members can help support communities in need with the added benefit of supporting our course learning objectives as well. Our students are too at a point in their lives that service can help  develop a meaning of importance and empathy to those around us and help build greater purpose in what we have to offer our communities.

What I learned about academic service learning on this day and through the process of planning the activity was that the needs of the community must come first and that there must be well defined learning objectives and communication with all the people involved in the project. It also became important to me to make sure that even if there is a long term goal set for the project that immediate action can make a huge impact as well. May it be

that food is donated to a local food bank or that local businesses are patronized. The immediate “give back” helps in as many ways as the long term project will.

7 thoughts on “Fellows in the Community

  1. Thank you for this lovely blog Karen.
    Yes, when we provide a give back in the here and now, we avoid
    some of the paternalistic traps which consume so many of these
    efforts. Mutual aid is different than charity. We have to help
    participate together.

  2. Karen,

    I agree that this type of interaction with a community in need is an excellent opportunity for our students. I have heard many critiques of our students, some fair, some perhaps not. But from what I have seen from my 3.5 years at Citytech, our students desire deeply to go beyond the conceptual world of the classroom, to do REAL THINGS, things that have an impact on the REAL World. I believe we will see more intense engagement from our students if we integrate academic service learning into our courses not as an exception, but as a standard mode of operation.

  3. I agree with the real-world issues. Students get tired of abstractions. With our course, we often show or describe things that are fundamentally important but not directly observable. When things have an effect that is direct and in plain sight, they pay attention.

    What I was reminded of from the day was some of the cavalier attitudes that others had prior to the storm. The amount of preparedness or the desire to leave was lacking in some cases. Having an active freak-out bag is important as a means to prepare. And reminding others to be vigilant in these circumstances is significant.

  4. Karen, great post and so well balanced – you considered this experience from all angles, and you didn’t leave out any of the interested parties, which I really appreciate. I think you managed to capture all the essential elements of planning an Academic Service Learning in the first sentence of final paragraph – “needs of the community must come first … well defined learning objectives … communication with all the people involved” – yes, if can do this the rest will come naturally. Great!

  5. Great comments, everyone. Altruism, like chivalry, should not be dead; this is what our students need to learn. There is a big, wide world waiting out there for someone to make a difference. The difference does not need to be immense. In fact, the smaller impacts often live out a longer life. The premise of service learning is to provide an entity with what they name as a real need. There must be an assessment before the activity, a tangible product, and an assessment after the activity. We leave the ones we serve with a “road map” of what we have done, so it can be replicated. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t want someone to come into your home and tell you what it needs without mutual discourse. So goes service learning. The benefits to students, faculty, and community can be quite rewarding.

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