“It was an amazing way to start my college experience,” said Oona Gourlay (’23) about her service-learning course that involved community work with the Boys and Girls Club of Burlington. “The class encourages so much compassion and consideration. It gave me a deep understanding of the material and an opportunity for practical application of my studies while providing support for my community.”

Gourley and her classmates participated in service-learning through HDFS 001, a course for students in the Human Development and Family Studies Program taught by Dr. Nicole Conroy. Students engage in fieldwork through community partner organizations in Burlington where they gain real-world experience through the lens of human services professionals. Along with direct service experience, students also participate in intensive written reflection.

“Burlington became more to me than just the people I know at UVM,” said Julia Wenick (’21) about her service-learning experience at Sara Holbrook Community Center. “My peers and I were passionate about the kids at our service-learning site. We looked forward to seeing everyone and cared about their well-being beyond our weekly visits. I feel as though the bulk of my learning in human development has come from these hands-on learning experiences.”

UVM students at the Sara Holbrook Community Center

The University of Vermont’s Office of Community-Engaged Learning (CELO) recently announced that Conroy will receive the 2020 Outstanding New Service-Learning Faculty Award. Conroy joins Dr. John Lens, Professor of the Practice in Civil and Environmental Engineering, as winners of the award.

HDFS Program Coordinator Dr. Jackie Weinstock described how Conroy worked collaboratively to deepen student learning and increase reciprocity with community partners. In particular, she stressed that Conroy increased the course's attention to social justice in critical reflection, recognizing that the reflection process must be attentive to the needs of all students in the classroom. Conroy also enhanced the students’ service-learning journals into a three-part reflection process, introduced over time, with scaffolded grading and opportunities for revision.

“In preparation for taking over the instruction from Jackie, I participated in CELO's Faculty Fellows for Service-Learning Program and the Writing in the Disciplines Institute,” Conroy explained. “I continue to bounce ideas off of Susan Munkres and Dan DeSanto each year. The result is a class strengthened by group effort and a shared investment in student development, all starting with the solid foundation Jackie created for HDFS 001.”

CELO Director Dr. Susan Munkres said the review committee found Conroy’s course to be a true exemplar of direct service best practices.

Conroy’s research and teaching focus on the transactional nature of development between individuals, couples, families, and sociocultural contexts, particularly around issues of gender, sexuality, and violence. She has experience teaching courses on interpersonal violence, human sexuality, research methods, lifespan and family development, and development in adolescence and late adulthood. Her current interests include the role of gender in intimate partner violence (IPV), experiencing violence at the intersections of marginalized identities, and community and system responses to IPV and sexual assault.

Human Development and Family Studies is available as either a major or a minor for undergraduate students at UVM. HDFS graduates can pursue career pathways or graduate studies in a variety of fields such as Counseling, Education, Family Therapy, Family Law, Health Care, Higher Education, and Public Health.

In the College of Education and Social Services (CESS), all undergraduate majors participate in service-learning in addition to the extensive fieldwork and internship requirements for their respective academic programs.

Girls outside gardening at Sara Holbrook Community Center

Altogether, about 50 UVM faculty members teach 100 service-learning classes in collaboration with 200 community partners to create high-impact, real-world learning experiences for students

Each year, CELO awards recognize exemplary UVM faculty, students and community partners for their leadership in creating transformative learning experiences that meet community needs. Service-learning courses, designated at UVM since 2007, connect academic learning goals with community work and projects.