Alexis Castle saves a life through a service-learning project on “Castle”

Service-learning can be a novel concept to explain; but once a student experiences a service-learning class it will stay with him or her forever. When students find out about service-learning, invariably they become very excited about volunteering on a community-based project as part of their coursework. But they often express concerns that it will be daunting – they wonder how they can find the hours to volunteer in what is already a busy day, often including full-time work, loads of reading for class, and family obligations. However, nearly every student by the end of one of my service-learning courses is grateful to have had the opportunity to “learn by doing” and the chance to reflect on their service activities.

It’s one thing to run a book drive or wash dishes at a soup kitchen, but it is quite another to dig deeper and think about the larger issues that people in our communities are facing and why they are facing them. Whether it is inadequate health care, a lack of food or a place to live, or a scarcity of other resources, there is so much more to providing service than clocking hours. In order for the service to be meaningful and to help bring about significant change, we need the chance to process these experiences, reflect on them, write about them, and most importantly, share our discoveries with one another.

Alexis Castle works on the Innocence Project at Columbia

Alexis Castle works on the Innocence Project in a service-learning class at Columbia University.

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Focus on Early Learning and Prevention at the Glazer Children’s Museum

In a stroke of serendipity, I was invited to the Glazer Children’s Museum to connect with potential community partners for building collaborative relationships with USF—“matchmaking” work that the USF Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships helps facilitate. The Museum is an amazing community resource for the Tampa Bay area, providing children under 12 and their families a chance to learn, play, connect, and grow together.

The Glazer Children’s Museum

This week, the Museum is celebrating the national “Week of the Young Child,” which is an initiative of the National Association for the Education of Young Children to draw attention to the kinds of hands-on activities that parents and educators can do with their kids to enhance their learning during the crucial 0-5 years. “The more people that participate, the louder and stronger our voice can be heard,” remarked Kerry Falwell, the Director of Education and Outreach for the Museum, in regard to how vital it is that very young children receive a quality education well before they reach kindergarten.

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Iconic film “Footloose” as a teachable moment?

In my efforts to ensure that students understand the impact politics can have on their daily lives and the importance of their own involvement, I find myself using the classic movie “Footloose” for shorthand.  Immediately, everyone gets it.  A small town bans singing and dancing in public; and it takes a big-City teen to help them realize that acts of civic engagement can be necessary to bring about desired social change.

In case you are too young to remember the original and made the wise decision not to sit through the remake, “Footloose” is the story of Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon), a Chicago teen who moves to a small town called Bomont, where dancing and rock music have been banned by the local city council.  Ren falls for the Reverend’s daughter, Ariel (Lori Singer), whose uninspiring boyfriend, Chuck (Jim Youngs) feels threatened by charismatic Ren.  This movie was among the first to feature a showdown involving dancing, which has inspired a host of films that in essence celebrate the significance of arts and culture to our daily lives. Continue reading

“I think I’m gonna like it here!”

I have recently joined the USF Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships (OCEP) as the first Director of Strategic Communications.  Among my assignments is to spread the word about the importance of the university’s role in community engagement.  Faculty, staff, and students are already involved in a dizzying amount of projects to help our local and global communities achieve their goals.

Since I started last month, I have been trying to wrap my mind around the multitude of existing programs both on and off campus, such as those designed to improve the lives of young people through the School of Education and the elderly population through the School of Aging Studies; the myriad of patents developed on campus for cures to intractable diseases; as well as the work of our own office’s poverty studies action groups. Continue reading