Reach of Service-Learning Programs Expands at UMass Boston

November 07, 2012

Colleen Locke

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When you’re one of Professor of Human Services Joan Arches’s students, only part of your time is spent in a UMass Boston classroom. Arches’s students are also in class at the Walter Denney Youth Center at the Harbor Point Apartment Community (HPAC) tutoring and mentoring youth from the Dever Elementary School across the street.

“It’s exciting. They’re out there doing and connecting. They connect with each other and they feel a part of something,” Arches said.

As part of a UMass Learn & Serve grant, in 2009 Arches established the Service-Learning Outreach Team (SLOT), an intercollegiate, interdisciplinary group of faculty all coordinating service-learning activities at Harbor Point. She says the service-learning classes in sociology, English, nursing, management, and the College of Public and Community Service (CPCS)’s youth work classes enable students to put into practice what they’re learning in the classroom. A 2010 Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning study found that first-year college students involved in a service learning course were more likely to continue their studies the following year.

“Service-learning courses address mutually defined areas of concern by the university and the community. It’s academic content, but it’s being applied to a real community issue,” said Arches, the coordinator of the college’s youth work concentration since 2001 and the director of the Harbor Point Outreach Partnership (HPOP) since its founding in 2004.

Participating in several after-school youth programs through Arches’s classes helped Stephen Muse to learn more about youth development, as well as giving him an opportunity to practice working with youth.

“All that I learned from these experiences I have already been able to use in my own work overseas, and I know I'll continue to use it and build on it in the future,” said Muse, a 2012 human services graduate who founded the volunteer-pairing organization UNiTED: Unifying Neighbours Through Education & Development in Ghana in 2009.

The after-school activities at Harbor Point range from philosophy to creative writing to cooking and art; other topics depend on the interests and skillsets of the UMass Boston students. Last year, one student really enjoyed Double Dutch so they had a Double Dutch tournament. This year students are running groups in financial literacy, smart art, sports and positive youth development, and reading.

“Students [in service-learning classes] become much more active learners. When people become active learners, they realize that they are co-creators of knowledge—that their knowledge is power. They start to sense how they can use this knowledge for the rest of their lives and how they can impact issues,” Arches said.

UMass Boston alumnus Journel Joseph is proof of that. Joseph, who earned a bachelor’s degree in community media and technology and human services from CPCS in 2007, trained middle and high school students in how to use video editing software to strengthen their grant application for a basketball court.

“This has led to the rehabilitation of a basketball court, a place where they could play and stay out of trouble. Today, I carry with me the skills that I have acquired during my involvement in some of these projects,” Joseph said. He is the founder and managing partner of SunXtrade Group LLC, an international trade company.

The reach of the service-learning courses at UMass Boston is expanding. For the second year, about a half-dozen students at Greater Egleston Community High School are joining UMass Boston students in class. Arches is currently working on a civic engagement minor with the Division of Student Affairs.

In September, Arches joined faculty members from the five UMass campuses to present "A System-Wide Working Group on Civic Engagement and Service-Learning: How, Why, and So What?" at the International Association for Service-Learning and Community Engagement's 12th Annual Conference in Baltimore. Discussions included the results of a five-campus model of academic collaboration formed to grow and support civic engagement and service-learning throughout the system.