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Cathy Sayer, Service-Learning & Civic Engagement

Cathy Sayer, Service-Learning & Civic Engagement


I’m Cathy Sayer, and I’m the Director of Service Learning
and Civic Engagement at Wright State. And mostly what that means is that the work of the center supports the
university’s mission to transform the lives of our students and our
communities through significant community service. Now, we also support the other two
bullets in the mission statement by creating innovative, high-quality
academic programs. And we deal with community-based research as
well, so we really support all the three pieces of the university’s mission. We started very small–the center
just started in the winter of 2007; we kind of did some groundwork
in the fall of 2006. And because we have started small, we
have chosen to focus on trying to develop depth in a few areas
instead of just trying to do everything. Although anytime someone in the
community calls, we try to find some way to address the
need they have, the request that they’ve made. There are a number of
different ways that we go about doing our community engagement work. One of them is through service-learning,
and that’s defined as partnerships that exist between faculty,
students and community members to achieve academic learning objectives
and meet community needs; and then also to promote civic
responsibility. And that kind of community engagement
happens in credit-bearing courses. So students might be in an English
course–a business-writing course– where they’re creating various kinds of
documents that nonprofit organizations need, like policy and procedure manuals or
newsletters or marketing packages. We have students in a public school that
are doing reading assessments for their early childhood education reading
class. We have students in capstone classes. We had an MIS
capstone class last spring that developed an inventory tracking
system for our food pantry. And then we have social work students that are tutoring
as one of their classes in child development. They’re tutoring at one of our elementary
schools, and then they’re having the opportunity through that to observe the
children’s development and see how the theory they’re learning
in the classes comes into play in those children’s lives. So that’s one of–that’s probably the
major way that the office focuses on community engagement, But we also do coordinate national days of service. We have one
every quarter. We do Make a Difference Day in the fall. And we do Martin Luther King Day of Service in the
winter, and Global Youth Service Today in the spring. We also support student
organizations that are very engaged in community service, helping them find
projects that are appropriate for their clubs and the kinds of interests that
those students have. And we work with individual students who just want to get
involved with the community and help them find placements where they can have
a meaningful experience and really make a difference for their own
lives as well as the community. So one of the things that we’ve been able to offer
here at the Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement is a few
scholarships. We’re building a scholarship fund; Dayton Power and Light
endowed a scholarship for us that we are looking right now to fill that
position; we have a citizen’s scholar scholarship fund; and we have four students that are part of an Americorps program called
Students in Service And for committing to 300
hours of community service they will get an $1,100 scholarship award. One of our students that is in our
Students and Scholars program is Adam French. And he took our SRV 200: Citizenship in a
Democracy course and got all excited about being involved in the community. My name is Adam French, and I’m a
Mechanical Engineering student at Wright State. I started volunteering with Feed Dayton
about two years ago. Feed Dayton is an urban farming program founded by Ken Carmen. Since then, I decided that I wanted a garden closer to
me where I live, so I got in contact with the church and
started this garden. Our main crops are kale, which is high in nutrition, and tomatoes, for their popularity. Hopefully next year we’ll plant in the
rest of this space and grow things like watermelon and just more and more kale. So, that’s fun: being involved with students
whenever they get that excited about things. The other chief area focus
that we have for programs here in the center is poverty programs, and we also have an Ohio Campus Compact Americorps Vista
working in that program. I’m Rebecca Fensler, and I am the poverty
programs coordinator in the Office of Service-Learning at Wright State. And I’m also an Ohio
Campus Compact Americorps Vista volunteer so I’ve been placed here by Ohio
Campus Compact to serve at Wright State. The idea of the pantry and came about,
actually, before I got to campus. There’s a committee on campus; it’s
called the Service Learning and Student Activities Committee, and they had been
meeting regularly to discuss how they could incorporate civic
engagement into different areas of the university, collaborate on different projects. And they were
in a meeting, and one of the faculty members who serves on that
committee had heard about a campus food pantry at another university. And she thought, ‘You know,
we’re having tough times here in Ohio, especially in this area. Students here have to be struggling
if students in other areas of the country are struggling.’ So they applied for
a grant through Ohio Campus Compact to place Vista here on campus. And that’s what
I do. Obviously we provide food to students. We know we have
some non-perishable items, obviously, that’s a big part of it. But we were able
to get a refrigerator so we can store some perishable items so
that students can really get the nutritious food they need so we can
start getting some of those items like dairy products and things like that
especially that, you know, families might need. We do stock baby items.
We do have a lot of student parents that use the pantry, so
we try to have diapers, formula, baby wipes. Those are things that a lot of
parties in the community don’t–aren’t able to offer their clients. So we are really
fortunate to have been able to get donations of those things so we
can be able to provide those to students. I think our main mission and goal is
to help students who are in crisis situations or are experiencing difficult times,
to really allow them to stay in school, to know that there’s support here on
campus for them, know that it’s a community that
cares about their success, and hopefully help them achieve that goal of
getting a decree, being able to open up opportunities for them after
they graduate from Wright State. Coming to Wright State means jobs,
and that’s what the service-learning and civic
engagement project – projects can do for students as well. While the things that may feel most meaningful to the students are
those emotional changes that they experience of caring more about things they didn’t care about
before, understanding something they
didn’t understand before about someone else’s experience that’s different from
theirs, the same skills that it takes to be a good citizen, to be able to speak up and advocate for
the causes that you believe in, to create the change that is needed in your
community–those same kind of skills make you very marketable on the job market. And we’ve seen this happen over and over
again. We have three students who are over at Dayton Urban Ministry who are in school right now, but they have gotten jobs at Dayton Urban Ministry
based on their experience and their service-learning courses.
We’re really in a big collaboration across campus through
Student Activities, the staff and the faculty working together to make sure that the university’s
resources are not caged up here on campus, but are really accessible and available to
the community for addressing all the biggest
needs the community has. This university is such a wonderful resource for this
community and our region, even beyond. But when we talk about our community
engagement, we’re not– we’re not talking about leaving campus and going out into the
community because we are the community. Our staff, our faculty live in the
community. We’re connected to all the problems and the
issues. They’re our problems, they’re our issues, and we’re working with the community members and all these different organizations to make a difference, to make this a
better place for all of us.

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