Service-Learning at Duquesne University
Posted by on July 29, 2011
An Interview with Tyra Good
Duquense University features a strong roster of service-learning courses for their students through their Office of Service-Learning. In addition to ensuring that service-learning is a vital part of the Duquense student experience, Lina Dostilio, the Director of Academic Community Engagement, has supported the development of a strong Scholars in Service to PA program; coordinated by Trya Good.
After earning her masters in elementary education Ms. Good became the director of education at YouthPlaces, an organization that supports under-served and at-risk youth in the Pittsburgh area. Currently Ms. Good is a member of the 2012 cohort of the Interdisciplinary Doctorate for Educational Leadership in Duquesne’s School of Education and the Community Engagement Scholar Program Manager for Duquesne’s service-learning program. I interviewed Ms. Good to learn how she uses her unique background in K-12 after-school programming and elementary education to shape how she prepares college students to serve their community.
Scholars in Service to PA or “Community Engagement Scholars” are students who commit to serving 300 or 450 hours in their community during the course of an academic year and the following summer. Students from all over Pennsylvania participate in this program through a variety of service placements. At the end of their term students receive an Americorps award toward their undergraduate or graduate education.
Q: How has your experience in K-12 service-learning influenced your work with creating service-learning placements and community partnerships for Duquesne students?
A: When community organizations think about college students, the first thing they think about is getting extra staff support and finding, “tutors or mentors”, so whether it is a full fledged all service family program, an after-school program or a student run program, that is the first thought of most coordinators.
As the Director of Education, Training and Community Partnerships for YouthPlaces I recruited college students all the time for our programs. Eventually I expanded my own vision of what college students could do beyond tutoring and mentoring, and I began to look outside of just the college of education to recruit students. I realized it was great to have college students to come and talk to YouthPlaces’ students about college or to do service-learning projects with them, so I started implementing “college access” in addition to immediate academic support.
YouthPlaces was also a 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21stCCLC) grantee and we had Supplemental Educational Services (SES) funding. We implemented service-learning into the 21st CCLC curriculum. I was constantly recruiting professionals from the community, college students and non-profit organizations to come in and work with the students in a variety of ways.
Q: What population of students did you work with at YouthPlaces?
We served 99% African American students, all of whom were from under-served, high crime, and high poverty communities in and around the Pittsburgh area.
Q: What were your responsibilities at YouthPlaces?
Some of my responsibilities included hiring teachers, college students, and professionals to come in and work with students in different academic areas according to their skill level. College students and part-time staff were hired as “academic coaches” for the after-school program and I trained both full and part-time staff.
For the part-time staff, I conducted trainings in youth development and working with teens. For full time administrative staff we did additional training in program management, scheduling, and working with school district personnel.
For the “community partnerships” portion of my job, I worked with for and non-profit organizations to deliver skill-based arts, educational, life-skills and recreational programs. Before a community partner was brought in to the program, a representative would meet with me and then meet with the staff to talk about expectations and parameters of the partnership.
For example: ALCOSAN: Allegheny County’s water, waste and sewer system, has a scholastic outreach department. I brought in their staff to talk about pollution, recycling, the watersheds etc. I would then make sure those workshops were aligned with the state academic standards.
Q: What institutional partnerships were necessary to run a successful after-school program?
I am a certified teacher in K-6 Elementary and I wanted to be a curriculum writer. I was a consultant with YouthPlaces before I was hired there. I became the liaison for all the school districts that all the students attended. They [the administration] looked at me as “one of them” [ie: an administrator] and the after-school groups looked at me as someone who could “work well with the community”. I helped both groups bridge the gap between community-based after-school programs and school district expectations.
Q: Once at Duquesne how did you develop service-learning as a pedagogy for your Scholars in Service students?
A: Lina Dostilio is the Director of Academic Community Engagement for the Office of Service-Learning at Duquesne University. Until this year, she also managed the Scholars in Service students, which we call Community Engagement Scholars. She had already built a strong foundation of service-learning pedagogy for the program, as well as for the students engaged in service-learning courses.
What I brought was the K-12 perspective. When I was at YouthPlaces I always had to do a separate training for college students to help them navigate through the “cultural differences” between themselves and the youth we served at YouthPlaces. When I came to Duquesne, I assisted the service-learning and Scholars in Service students with similar strategies because there were similar issues at most community agencies in which college students were working. When these agencies know that students were being trained in cultural diversity including race, class, and gender differences, they are much more likely to trust and feel comfortable with the students. I had forward thinking about that, because I experienced it on the after-school side.
Q: Besides providing the college students with an all inclusive cultural diversity awareness session, were there other supports you put in place to make sustainable community partnerships?
A: I had to do classroom presentations and personal consultations for professors on how to develop service-learning partnerships with community agencies. While at YouthPlaces, I supervised students from other local colleges who were completing their internship hours with the organization. I noticed that their cooperating professors would do some initial work to set up the partnership, but after the initial contact with the professor I never heard anything else. They did not follow-up with me via phone or email, and they did not do site visits. I feel that it is important during the student’s service-hours for professors to have some type of ongoing method to check in, communicate and interact with the community partner.
At the University level, you have to work with professors to overcome the mindset of the served “community and residents” being less sophisticated and not requiring a sincere ongoing investment or partnership development. It is important to encourage faculty to think of the collaboration as a partnership and not a placement that is to only benefit the students for credit hours. Upon request from professors, I speak to their classes about difference between community-service and service-learning, then the professors describes the service-learning project outlined for their class. Many times, the selected community partners attend the class period discussion and talk about their organization’s mission, goals and outline of the service to be provided with the shared desired outcomes.
Q: What do you do in particular to create manageable service-learning experiences for first year students?
When a professor is developing a service-learning course he or she often meets with me and our Associate Director for Faculty Development, Steve Hansen. We are able to suggest learning experiences appropriate to the content of the course and interests of students such as a community walk, opportunities for reflection or inviting someone from the organization to come to the class so that students can ask questions about the service-learning partnership. These types of learning experiences help students to have a greater understanding of the context in which they are working with organizations. Context is vital to arranging service experiences in which the dignity is retained of all persons involved in a service relationship. We want our students to realize that they are learning from their partner while they are contributing their own gifts and talents to an organization’s mission. I also help professors and community partners negotiate the scope and type of realistic projects in line with the academic semester.
For example, we may have computer science majors work with an organization that needs someone to update and refurbish computers, and to help develop a website. The professor would then have to determine how much the community partner is asking for and how much the class will realistically be able to get done in one semester considering holiday breaks and school vacation days. Many times the initial projects become ongoing partnerships and continue the next semester with the professors’ new students enrolled in the course. The professors also need to consider what point in the semester new concepts will be taught to allow for project implementation. It is also good when students continue to work on their own with the organization after the semester has ended.
Q: When you become a professor how do you hope to serve your students and the community?
A: I will be a service-oriented professor that will always integrate service-learning into my courses. I believe that true learning comes from serving others and putting your classroom knowledge into immediate use. This helps to both enrich the skills of the students and provide a needed service to the community. Educators should be interested in the whole development of the students, more than just subject or content knowledge, by fostering civic engagement to help students in developing to more well-rounded citizens of change.
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