Our university enables faculty to make connections across various disciplines, schools, and centers, and being a part of the College of Arts and Sciences provides my colleagues and me with a broad platform to support this kind of effective interdisciplinary work. Even in the short time I've been at UAB, I have developed three interdisciplinary courses that have service learning goals and ongoing research endeavors.
By working with willing faculty members from the Departments of History and Art and Art History, we developed a "Birmingham Neighborhood Studies" course that involves student examination of four specific Birmingham Neighborhoods from a historical perspective, a contemporary perspective, and an artistic perspective. In that course, students complete a project-based final portfolio. Their projects range from architectural histories of places to walking tours of women buried in Oak Hill cemetery.
This year, in a joint effort between the Departments of Social Work and Criminal Justice, we have enhanced an existing "Community-Based Corrections" course—making it interdisciplinary and including both team-based learning and service learning elements. Students in the course participate in re-entry simulations in which they experience what it is like to be a person returning to the community after a period of incarceration. The U.S. Attorney’s office developed this curriculum and the Department of Social Work has taken a lead role in bringing the simulations to our campus. Last year, we received a Quality Enhancement Plan grant to continue the simulations and to conduct research around their effectiveness. Students also work with women incarcerated at Tutwiler Prison and Birmingham Work Release to produce holiday greeting videos for their families, as well as with Jefferson County Veterans Court to recruit veteran volunteers to support court efforts.
Last year, I developed a study abroad course that examines women’s rights and health in Kenya. This year, the social work course will be team-taught with Dr. Tina Kempin-Reuter, director of the UAB Institute for Human Rights, and will involve international service learning in which students create health-based lesson plans and assemble reusable feminine hygiene supplies that they deliver in rural Kenya. Since last year’s successful trip with 12 students, we have written a grant to support the continuation of the women’s hygiene project and the addition of a micro-business sewing initiative. All of these efforts will be evaluated through community partners in Kenya.
The common thread through all of these courses are that they all involve social work principles that advance human rights as well as social, economic, and environmental justice. And they are all led by female faculty and directors from across the College.
As service learning is considered a high-impact learning tool, these courses are expected to strengthen student learning and engagement in multiple ways outside of the course content. And just as women are leading the efforts to craft these high-impact courses, women are benefitting from them as participants—as student and as community collaborators.