A different kind of classroom

Four co-curricular ways for students to learn and serve at the same time


Most students spend their weekdays sitting in a classroom, listening to lectures or discussing readings for several hours with scattered CIO activity in between. But there are several courses that seek to expand upon the traditional classroom experience, working to integrate service projects with learning across a variety of disciplines. Here are just a few highlights of the more than 50 such course offerings:

PPOL 3050: Intro to Social Entrepreneurship

In this class, originally student-initiated through the CIO Student Entrepreneurs for Economic Development, students learn to use entrepreneurship to solve global social issues. Classroom time is spent learning about global issues and possible ways to solve them, and students are then asked to apply what they have learned by consulting actual entrepreneurs.

“The way people generally think about the world is that business is there to make money, non-profits and government are there to solve major problems in society, and the two don’t cross,” Batten faculty member Ross Baird said. “In reality, strong entrepreneurship can be a great way to solve problems.”

This year, students are consulting for 12 Tibetan entrepreneurs who have come to the United States on a six-week study program run by the University’s Tibetan center. Students are dealing with issues such as clean water, educational environmental sustainability, cultural preservation and job creation for low-income Tibetan populations.

EDHS 2891: Issues Facing Adolescent Girls

Students who are part of the Young Women’s Leadership Program are paired up with a middle school girl, or a “little.” The student mentors his or her little, spending at least four hours with them per month in addition to weekly group meetings. In order to be a part of this program, students are required to take a complementary academic course, “Issues Facing Adolescent Girls,” which teaches students how to address certain problematic scenarios, such as issues with the girls’ parents or boyfriends.

“I really have liked getting to know my little,” second-year College student Allison Ivener said. “We come from very different backgrounds, so it’s been interesting to see how much our lives are different, but [also] how similar we are.”

Ivener said she sticks to fun but cheap activities with her little such as getting frozen yogurt or going for a hike, but students have free rein in planning events. Additionally, the program has two sister groups — one in Nicaragua and one in Panama — so the girls spend some of their group meetings learning about these places.

CS 4970: Computer Science Service Learning Practicum

In this class, students apply their computer programming skills to a year-long project in which they develop software to assist local, charitable non-profits. Past projects have included creating a data collection database for Habitat for Humanity, and a website for local non-profit “giv2giv,” which allows individuals to make micro-endowments and then accrues these donations into an interest fund to give charities a more constant stream of revenue. Through the website, users could sign in, donate to a charity and track how their donations have built interest.

“It was really neat to see a group of motivated students come together and work towards a positive cause,” giv2giv President Michael Blinn said. “It was an enriching and rewarding experience for myself and for giv2giv.”

Students are additionally able to interact with mentors who are software engineers in the local community, allowing them to learn from people with real-world experience and then immediately apply that knowledge.

“That’s why I like SLP — because it is all-encompassing, making [a] product from scratch to completion,” fourth-year Engineering student Eric Tsai said. “You get an idea of what it takes to build from the ground up.”

This year, projects include creating an online registration system for the Virginia Piedmont Regional Science Fair as well as a data management system for LEAP, or the Local Energy Alliance Program.

“[Students] get a chance to interact with real customers, to have real requirements and to have a long project that is not a homework assignment,” Assoc. computer science prof. Aaron Bloomfield said. “From a community point of view, there’s so many non-profits that need something to make their [job] easier … so it’s something that has a real positive impact on the community as well.”

EDHS 3240: Peer Health Education

Peer Health Educators are quite visible around Grounds, hosting presentations about mental wellness, nutrition, sexual health, and alcohol and drug safety. They also organize sexually transmitted infections screening days and the fourth-year 5k. In class, future educators learn the material they will present to larger audiences as well as strategies they can use to engage their audiences. Students hear from different presenters in the public health field throughout the semester to remain engaged with the most up-to-date health information.

The Peer Health Educator program is based on the “PIE” model, which stands for “positive, informative and empowering.” They focus on providing statistics and presenting students with healthy alternatives.

“Our main [goal] is not to tell people how to do things, but to give them the information so they can make their own decisions,” said fourth-year College student Mackenzie Long, outreach coordinator for the program. “I think that has made us really effective.”

Through this course and the subsequent presentations across Grounds, students are able to both hone their knowledge of public health issues and develop their public speaking skills.

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