HDRG Recap: “From Charity to Justice: Optimizing the Impact of Service Learning and Community Service”

The final Health Disparities Research Group (HDRG) meeting for the 2016-2017 academic year was held Friday, May 19th. Dr. Erik Goldschmidt, the Director of the Foley Community Service Center at Spring Hill College (Foley Center) was the presenter. Dr. Goldschmidt described the integral role community service plays in the mission of Spring Hill College and the ways in which the Foley Center advances community service efforts by supporting the volunteer work of nearly 50% of the student body each year.

The Foley Center administers service learning courses for many of the departments at Springhill. Service learning classes must provide students with opportunities for authentic interaction with community groups and the individuals they serve. Springhill strives to ensure that these authentic interactions result in student experiences that are characterized by substantial and sustained onsite service to local non-profit, direct-service organizations. This interaction focuses on building relationships which then become the vehicle for student development of self-knowledge, awareness of others, and systems thinking.

In addition, Dr. Goldschmidt discussed the Foley Center’s plans for future growth. A core principle driving the next phase of development is the goal of facilitating systemic engagement that advances beyond charitable work to justice oriented action. The College intends to support students as they work alongside partners to solve real-world problems. Ultimately the expectation is that there will be a “reciprocal learning process” that will improve the community while supporting students in their academic and spiritual journey.

The Foley Center is also exploring ways to bring community members on to the Spring Hill College campus for authentic interactions. One approach is “college exposure” days for students from area middle and high schools. More than a campus tour, the exposure day is designed for two way interaction between the 25 visiting students and approximately 70 faculty, staff and students involved with the group throughout the day. The day also provides for cooperative learning activities in the classes.

Another approach to bringing the community into the campus is a semester focus on one community partner. The partner organization’s leadership and staff can visit the campus, interact with students, and speak in various classes. The interaction includes asking, “what more could we be doing with you.”

Throughout his presentation, Dr. Goldschmidt stressed the potential for personal development of students of service learning, while reinforcing the need to authentically engage with partners with respect and humility.

 

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