'Service learning' brings FHSU students into the lives of the people of Hays and northwest Kansas

HAYS, KS -- People who live in Hays and surrounding communities experience Fort Hays State University in varying ways. Some become part of the university by enrolling and attending classes. Some visit the campus to attend concerts, plays and athletic events. Others enjoy economic benefits by providing real estate, goods and services to FHSU students, faculty and staff.

However, even those who never set foot on the campus and never interact directly with university people likely have been touched in some way through a teaching approach called "service learning."

It may be agriculture students planting flowers along Main Street, leadership studies students conducting research for civic projects, education students tutoring children in the neighborhood schools, or English students writing news releases and newsletters for area agencies. Service learning takes many forms and extends across the university's academic disciplines. Other recent service-learning projects by FHSU students include building and refurbishing playgrounds, assisting in establishing a local chapter of Big Brothers/Big Sisters and participating in the effort to renovate downtown Hays.

With the creation of FHSU's Center for Civic Leadership last year, the university's chief academic officer, Dr. Larry Gould, saw an opportunity to promote and facilitate more service learning between the FHSU campus and the community. He established the FHSU Service-Learning Committee, chaired by Christie Brungardt, instructor of leadership studies, to coordinate the university's efforts and increase opportunities for service learning.

Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, also has encouraged service learning. In the spring 2003 semester, Kansas became the 30th state to join the growing national trend toward service learning by creating the Kansas Campus Compact, which supports participation by students and their schools in community and public service. Brungardt said that by forming the compact, Hammond and 15 other presidents from around the state provided leadership to guide their institutions down the path toward increased civic responsibility and community service.

"Service learning is a teaching and learning methodology that is meant to be used as a teaching tool, not merely as an add-on to a course," Brungardt explained. "It means getting students involved outside the classroom to enhance their learning and growth while also benefiting the community. In addition to acting outside the classroom, students must also reflect on their actions. The experience is closely related to the academic goals of the class."

She said that all service-learning projects must incorporate four elements:

1. Preparation. The goals must be stated. The student plays a valuable role by identifying community needs and planning the project, which contributes both to the student's learning and to the community.

2. Experience. The project must involve interaction between the student and a real-life problem.

3. Reflection. The student analyzes and draws lessons from the experience.

4. Assessment. The student assesses the results in terms of the goals that were established for the project.

Members of the FHSU Service-Learning Committee represent a cross-section of FHSU's academic departments. Besides Gould and Brungardt, they include: Dr. Cheryl Duffy, associate professor of English; Joe Chretien, assistant professor of technology studies; Sharon Wilson, instructor of English; Dr. Charles Gnizak, assistant professor of business administration; Lynn Maska, instructor of health and human performance; Dr. Debbie Mercer, assistant professor of teacher education; Michael Walker, instructor of sociology and research scientist for the Docking Institute of Public Affairs; Dr. Tom Jackson, dean of graduate studies and research; and student Lyndsey Schaffer, a business education junior from Dodge City.

"The committee members have been aggressive in their commitment to expand service-learning opportunities," Brungardt said. "Provost Gould told us he especially wanted to see service learning expanded into our Virtual College offerings. We have already been doing that in the Leadership Studies Department, and Sharon Wilson teaches a course through the English Department that has a service-learning component."

FHSU's Virtual College makes a college education accessible via the Internet and other mediated forms of instruction to place-bound students across western Kansas and beyond. Service learning presents different but not insurmountable challenges for these distance education students, Brungardt said.

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