Service learning combines several of NDSU’s main missions. By completing hours of volunteer work in their courses or for credit, students are engaged in an immersive learning environment with current practitioners in their fields. Nearly 350 students in the College of Human Development and Education completed more than 29,000 hours of service in the 2010-2011 academic year.
Nancy Kaler, senior lecturer of human development and family science, earned the first NDSU Service Learning Award this year. The award was established to recognize a faculty member who exhibits “exemplary dedication to student learning” through community service with meaningful reflection. Kaler provides students opportunities through course work, field experiences and student organizations to have a positive impact on the surrounding community.
Students in human development and family science are required to complete 328 hours of service in order to graduate, and Kaler matches many of them to non-profit groups.
“The idea is to apply what they learned in the classroom to a professional setting,” Kaler said. “It helps them to decide what career path to follow.”
The service also gives students a leg up in the job market. Kaler said her main hope for each student is to get a good letter of recommendation. Each semester at least one student is hired by the organization where they volunteer.
While most students complete their service in the immediate area, some have volunteered at sites in New York, Florida, France and Japan. They work for agencies such as the Alzheimer’s Association, Big Brother, Big Sister, NDSU Extension and others.
Students write about their experiences on blogs, and Kaler hopes students learn what their classmates are doing and are exposed to more career ideas. They also keep journals for evaluation by Kaler. Service learning gives back to the community, Kaler said.
“I’m really proud of how students are doing in the community,” she said.
In addition to the required field experience hours, classes may have service learning projects built into the curriculum. For example, in the course, “Aesthetics and Visual Analysis of Apparel Products,” senior lecturer Sara Sunderlin’s students spend several hours at Clothing and Connections, a nonprofit that helps unemployed people find the right look for job interviews and office life. The challenge for the students comes from finding proper outfits from the limited selection in the client’s size.
“I think it reinforces what we teach in the classroom,” Sunderlin said. “They learn so much from having to interact with people outside their college bubble.”