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First-year counseling students in the Counseling Across the Lifespan course learn about the developmental stages of life through lectures, discussions, research and texts. But some of the most significant learning occurs outside of the classroom during their required service-learning project with local community-based organizations.
“Education is best when there is an emotionally evocative connection to real people and real experiences, and service learning is a perfect venue for that,” says Dr. Kristi Lee, who teaches the course.
She should know. Her dissertation focused on using service learning to train master’s students as social justice advocates. She has been involved in service learning through the Seattle University Youth Initiative’s Faculty Fellowship program and currently teams with colleague Dr. Sam Song, School Psychology assistant professor, training to be service-learning consultants for faculty across the university.
She has developed partnerships with such local service agencies as the Yesler Community Center, Asian & Pacific Islander Chaya (API Chaya), the Youth Tutoring Program through Catholic Community Services and Hope University. Each quarter her students select projects that require research to learn about the population with which they will be working. Students then develop projects that provide the organizations with a tangible product that assists in better understanding and supporting their clients.
“These projects are not academic exercises,” says Dr. Lee. “They focus on and work with real people with real challenges.” She explains that getting out of the classroom and working with people of all ages helps the students understand the concepts discussed in class.
“The study of human development is mostly based on white, middle-class males. Our students need to understand the ways in which development trajectories vary for those outside of that dominant group. It is critical that, as counselors, they have an understanding of the whole picture of humanity, so they don’t mistakenly apply concepts developed for one population to all populations.”
Dr. Lee says the service-learning course is a win-win for all involved. Students get to engage in real situations, and their work provides solutions for local agencies. Eleven projects have been completed since the course began in fall 2011. Projects offer students the opportunity to work with a wide range of populations and age groups, from preschool to the elderly.
One project included working with ROLE (Read Out Loud Early), a preschool program at neighboring Bailey Gatzert Elementary School that Alexa Wayman, a School Counseling student, developed. The group performed Kindergarten readiness research, learned about the development of immigrant preschoolers, gained an understanding of the cultural differences of East African communities and developed evaluation tools to ensure that the program was actually preparing the preschoolers for Kindergarten.
Counseling students also interviewed Asian & Pacific Islander teens about relationship violence. They shared their research and a survey they developed for teen clients who used the services of API Chaya. The organization is dedicated to education regarding the prevention of sexual and domestic violence, exploitation and human trafficking among Asian and Pacific Islander women. Employees will use the information and the surveys to gain a better understanding of their teenage audience.
“It is wonderful to watch the students develop during the course of their projects,” said Dr. Lee. “They learn so much, and they feel good about continuing the mission of the organizations they are supporting.”
While 75 percent of undergraduates participate in service learning during their time at Seattle University, graduate students are less likely to experience the out-of-classroom learning opportunities. Dr. Lee and Dr. Song are working to change that by developing a workshop for graduate faculty on overcoming the barriers of using service learning in graduate school. The College of Education offers several service-learning courses, and Dr. Jeffrey Anderson of the Master in Teaching program is a leading expert in the field.
“Education is best when there is an emotionally evocative connection to real people and real experiences, and service learning is a perfect venue for that.” —Dr. Kristi Lee
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