Program gives faculty tools to expand service-learning

Faculty Fellows sizedFrom left, Stephen Black, director of the Center for Social Ethics and Responsibility; Libba Vaughan, coordinator of Service Learning; Linda Lucas, provost; Suzanne Austin, vice president of Student and Faculty Success; Lisa McCormick, Doug Barrett, Barbara Wech, Karolina Mukhtar, Martha Earwood, Heather Lee, Katie Buys, Nichole Lariscy, Julia Gohlke and Jaci Wells.During the past year, 11 faculty have worked together to create new service-learning courses or to integrate components in existing courses. In all, seven new service-learning courses will be offered to students this academic year.

Service-learning enables faculty, students and community partners to collaborate on projects that extend student learning, provide volunteer help for community endeavors and help UAB advance its mission to support and improve the community.

It also has the added benefit of enhancing UAB’s new Quality Enhancement Program — learning in a team environment.

“Having a faculty-development component is a hallmark of a good service-learning program,” said Libba Vaughan, coordinator of Service Learning. “Our program is young, but we knew that to build it we had to create a place where faculty could learn the best practices.

In May, UAB graduated its inaugural class of Faculty Fellows in Engaged Scholarship, a yearlong program of workshops and individual meetings to prepare faculty to integrate the philosophy, pedagogy and process of service-learning into UAB courses. Eleven faculty participated:

  • Douglas Barrett, assistant professor of art & art history
  • Katie Buys, nursing instructor in Community Health Outcomes & Systems
  • Dale Dickinson, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental health sciences
  • Martha Earwood, assistant professor of justice sciences
  • Julia Gohlke, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental health sciences
  • Nichole Lariscy, Ph.D., assistant professor of English
  • Heather Lee, instructor at the Sparkman Center for Global Health
  • Lisa McCormick, Ph.D., assistant professor of health care organization and policy
  • Karolina Mukhtar, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology
  • Barbara Wech, Ph.D., associate professor of management, information systems & quantitative methodology
  • Jaclyn Wells, Ph.D., assistant professor of English and director of the University Writing Center

Connections and corrections

Martha Earwood, who has never taught a service-learning course, was concerned about tackling such a unique pedagogy without support from those with experience. She said she learned the most through collaboration with the other fellows.

“Hearing the stories from other faculty who have been successful motivated me to pursue the development of my own course,” Earwood said. “I now have a list of other professors who are experienced and creative to whom I can reach out.”

In Earwood’s new Community Corrections course, students will research community supervision of criminal offenders, observe the process of parole decision-making and — through a partnership with Aid to Inmate Mothers — will help incarcerated women maintain a relationship with their children by recording video messages for them.

“I think this is going to be a terrific service-learning course because Martha is going to give students a chance to research what’s going on now with the prison system, explore ways to help reintegrate female prisoners into society and meet and help these inmates maintain a relationship with their children,” Vaughan said.

It also fulfills one of the most important elements in a service-learning course — an opportunity for critical reflection.

“Students need the chance to talk to and learn from their peers as the project is ongoing,” Vaughan said. “They need to be able to connect the project with what they are learning in the classroom.”

Earwood said the course also will help her students understand the immediacy of the problems the prison system faces.

“The most poignant goal is for students to evaluate their own perceptions of criminal offenders in the community as probationers and parolees,” Earwood said. “Alabama is facing an enormous crisis in criminal sentencing and prison reform. In the immediate future, there will be more convicted criminals living in our neighborhoods than ever before. I hope my students will be able to differentiate stereotypes from realities of those who have broken the law in our society.”

outpace1 sizedService meets science

Karolina Mukhtar has created a summer research program for undergraduate students from UAB and Miles Colleges. The pilot Outreach Plant Pathology Clinic and Education (OUTPACE) program was launched this summer with six students, four from UAB and two from Miles College. Mukhtar created the program as part of her $1.1 million National Science Foundation Career Award, which mandated a service-learning component.

Mukhtar believes her participation in the fellowship program helped her secure the rather unique grant.

“Overall, I believe that first-rate science is perhaps not enough these days to secure major federal grant funding. The sponsoring agencies are looking for innovative ideas that take the proposals to the next level and provide groundbreaking discoveries and high-impact manuscripts for the project personnel and also stimulate training opportunities for the next generation of American scientists,” Mukhtar said. “The combination of service-learning and citizen science that I put forth in my proposal was, at least in my case, the magic ingredient that helped tip the scales and convince the NSF to fund my work.”

The six-week OUTPACE program is funded through 2019 and will include 12 students each summer for the next five summers. Students will acquire laboratory- and field-based knowledge of plant immunity and assist community growers in diagnosing plant diseases.

Mukhtar said the fellowship program has helped her understand how beneficial service-learning can be to science classes.

“There is a misconception that service-learning is considerably harder to implement in hard sciences as opposed to humanities, and that’s why science faculty often are more reluctant to depart from their syllabi and use service-learning as a teaching method,” Mukhtar said.

She said after some initial awkwardness, the efforts were rewarded.

“I can see how excited and engaged my students are and how much they enjoy the blend of service-learning in their scientific explorations. I also noticed that they are forming the connection between the scientific object of their work — plant-pathogen interactions — and the social context of the disease — gardeners whose plants are affected — and how that affects their lives.”

Passing the baton

As the first group of fellows undertake teaching their courses, the Office of Academic Engagement and Global Citizenship announced the 2014-15 class:

  • Bryan Breland, J.D., assistant professor of health services administration
  • Henna Budhwani, Ph.D., assistant professor of health care organization and policy
  • Cecilia Cheon, DMD., instructor of pediatric dentistry
  • Jessica Dallow, Ph.D., associate professor of art and art history
  • Cassandra Ellis, Ph.D., assistant professor of English
  • Laurel Hitchcock, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work
  • Christina Barger Hurst, assistant professor and interim program director of the Genetic Counseling Program
  • Pamela Sterne King, assistant professor of history
  • Tondra Loder-Jackson, Ph.D., associate professor of human studies
  • Erika Hille Rinker, assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures
  • Anne Zinski, Ph.D., assistant professor of infectious diseases

“These eleven faculty fellows will be vital in expanding the philosophy and process of community-engaged scholarship in our academic environment and will serve as models and mentors for other faculty,” said Suzanne Austin, vice provost of Student and Faculty Success.

Learn more at uab.edu/servicelearning.

Direct questions to Vaughan, 996-7080 or libbav@uab.edu.

Learning & Development