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Service-Learning Goes Global

By Jon Reidel Article published August 29, 2006

UVM offered a record number of service-learning courses this past summer in communities across the globe, continuing the rapid growth of community-based learning at the university.

The 11 summer courses sent students to parts of Japan, Puerto Rico, Ethiopia and the United States. With 22 such courses offered this fall and 28 in the spring, an all-time high of 63 service-learning courses will be offered during the year, according to the Community-University Partnerships and Service-Learning office.

“I think we’re seeing an increase in the number of service-learning courses because people are seeing the value of it and because they’re seeing new ways to include service-learning in a course,” said Carrie Williams, associate director of CUPS. “Learning how to address a community need through academic learning applied to a community-based project is what service-learning is all about.”

Sasha Davis, assistant professor in geography, took 11 students to Vieques, Puerto Rico in June for his “From De-Militarization to Re-Development” course, working with the Committee for the Rescue and Redevelopment of Vieques to come up with redevelopment ideas for an area that was damaged by the U.S. military. Students became familiar with local politics and the economic and cultural conflicts that exist on the island through meetings with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, local realtors and residents about gentrification, and with tourism operators working on conservation programs.

Kazuko Suzuki, lecturer of Japanese, took seven students to Japan on a cultural exchange program to give presentations to students at Niwano Elementary School about American culture. They also taught Japanese students English while leading classes.

Closer to home, Scott McLaughlin taught two summer service-learning courses that involved the town of Jericho. In “Small History Museum Curation Practices” and “Cemeteries as Social Documents,” students worked with community partners to enhance access to their historic resources. Two students worked with the Jericho Historical Society to develop a report with recommendations, strategic documents, inventories and resources for the care of the society’s collections.

Another group of students traveled with four professors to Ethiopia as part of a problem-based workshop called "Green Awassa: Investing in Natural and Human Capital in Ethiopia." A number of projects were spawned from the trip that focused on the restoration of local ecosystems and included an ecological economic assessment of critical ecosystem services that can support sustainable economic growth and poverty alleviation in Awassa.

The trip generated four grant proposals aimed at a number of future projects including the creation of a regional environmental governmental structure and the development of highly efficient stoves for cooking. The project was organized by the Awassa Children’s Center and AIDS Education Circus; the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics; the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics; the Town of Awassa; and the Foundation for a Sustainable Future.

“It was a tremendous experience in which we ended up learning more than people we worked with in Ethiopia,” said Chris Koliba, CUPS interim faculty director and co-director of the public administration program. “Philosophically, the trip was very well aligned with service-learning principles such as reciprocity, reflection and partnership, which can be applied anywhere in the world.”