Incorporating service and learning into coursework is always a beneficial experience and one that students take advantage of. DeSales University Doctor of Physical Therapy Program is ensuring that students get the most out of their education by incorporating this service-learning method into their courses. The DeSales Doctor of Physical Therapy program has a Pediatric Physical Therapy Clinic where students provide services free of charge for six weeks.
Students are given the opportunity to put what they are learning in the classroom into practice while helping those that would not normally be able to afford the services they are offering. The students are under the mentorship of a professor and are given feedback on each of their client appointments. One student noted that “We are used to sitting in the classroom all day and learning about these conditions and diagnoses. On top of that, knowing that we’re helping out kids that really need therapy, it’s just an indescribable feeling.”
Notre Dame of Maryland University first-year students are beginning their time at college by serving those in their local community. During the students first semester at Notre Dame, students take an orientation course, NDMU 100, where they “learn about and enter into active service learning.” The program is part of the university goal of having students “recognize and help meet the needs of external communities but also offer a mutually transformative experience.”
Recently, the University partnered with Govans Elementary of Baltimore City Schools to offer third, fourth and fifth graders basic tools to begin the school year. The university collected funds to stuff backpacks with basic supplies such as pencils, crayons, rulers, notebooks, personalized flash cards and hand written notes wishing the Govans’ students well. This program demonstrates the university’s commitment to service and offers a “valuable interaction with diverse groups that provide rich learning opportunities when coupled with guided reflection, class discussion, and skilled analysis relating to course content.”
It has been a little over two years since Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si’, “Care for Our Common Home,” which urges Catholics to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi as he “invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness.” October 4-the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, presents the perfect opportunity to reflect on our call to care for our common home.
One of the ways in which care for the Earth manifests itself is through our dependence upon it for nourishment and growth. Since the release of Laudato Si’, Catholics across the world have responded by making changes that positively affect the world around them. Progress has been made but, according to World Hunger one in every eight people worldwide remain undernourished, leading to the death of about 3.1 million children annually. Catholic colleges and universities are responding to this issue and the call from Pope Francis by creating initiatives that promote food justice and sustainability in their local communities.
Stonehill College has been responding to the food crisis in its local neighborhood since 2011. Stonehill recognized that the neighboring city of Brockton, Massachusetts lacked access to fresh produce due to several social, economic, and geographic barriers. The Farm at Stonehill came about as a solution to this issue. The two-part mission of the Farm is: “to make available, fresh, nutritious, locally grown food to Brockton-area food pantries and meal providers to address food desert conditions, and to enrich Stonehill students’ academic and service endeavors by educating and actively engaging them in local and global food justice issues.”
Most recently, the Farm at Stonehill launched its Mobile Market. Using a $10,000 grant from the Vela Foundation, a $5,000 grant from Project Bread, and a $1,250 grant from Inner Sparks Foundation, the Farm is able to sell organic produce at or below market cost in the parking lot near the Brockton community center. Bridget Meigs, the Farm manager, says “A partnership with Project Bread specifically is exciting because we share their vision of implementing both immediate and long-term solutions to food access issues in Massachusetts. Together, we are taking steps to have a significant impact on food accessibility and personal empowerment for a diverse community of people seeking to make healthier choices for themselves and their families.”
One of the goals of the Mobile Market is for Brockton residents who do not live near a grocery store to easily access healthful food options. The Mobile Market also partners with other organizations in order to increase general wellness in the community by offering cooking demonstrations, providing recipes and nutritional information, and focusing on the relationship between healthful eating and the dignity of the human person.
Another Catholic university that has dedicated time and resources to addressing food justice and food sustainability issues is Walsh University. Walsh is incorporating these themes into its course curriculum by partnering with local Canton, Ohio non-profits on various service-learning projects. According to the university, service-learning enables students [to] learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service that meets actual community needs, is integrated into the students’ academic curriculum, and that fosters civic engagement and person development through structured reflection. Several business, English, and leadership courses partner with local non-profit StarkFresh and aid in its mission “to help break the cycle of poverty by increasing people’s consumption of fresh, locally-sourced foods through equal food access and educational opportunities for everyone.”
Abigail Poeske, the director of service-learning at Walsh University, explains how an English course titled “Professional Writing” and a business course titled “Global Information Systems” collaborated to create new marketing and outreach materials for StarkFresh. StarkFresh came to class to speak about its mission and what the organization is looking for in terms of new marketing tools, she says. In addition, students received a tour of StarkFresh and its urban teaching farm. From there, students broke off into groups to create marketing and outreach tools designed specifically for StarkFresh. Poeske adds that working with StarkFresh has helped make “students aware of the issue of food insecurity globally, locally, and even on campus, and has inspired and empowered students to do something about it.” The work of food justice and food sustainability, she concludes, is part of Walsh’s mission to “educate leaders in service to others through values-based education in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
Santa Clara University (SCU) is another Catholic institution taking initiative to fight for food justice and community development. The Forge Garden is the university’s organic garden that acts as a hub for sustainable food education. Since the 2008 opening of the Forge Garden, 900 pounds of produce have been harvested and 232 pounds have been sold to SCU Dining Services. The Forge engages the community to promote food justice through a series of workshops, events, and programs. One of the most successful programs is Bronco Urban Gardens (BUG), which is SCU’s food justice outreach program. According to the university, BUG works in “solidarity with marginalized neighborhoods, supporting their urban garden projects and spaces in order to create hands-on learning experiences for students of all ages and backgrounds.” This work is accomplished through partnerships with underserved schools and marginalized communities in Santa Clara County that create engaging learning spaces and inclusive garden-based curricula. Students from SCU volunteer at the schools by hosting garden clubs and workshops for students to increase their knowledge about gardening and healthful eating, delivering fresh produce to schools, and supporting teachers in their goal of providing hands-on lessons. Bronco Urban Gardens gives students the opportunity to show how they can make a difference in their communities and the world by recognizing how what they eat affects their environment.
By focusing on food justice and food sustainability, students as Catholic colleges and universities are living the call “to care for our common home.” These colleges and universities hear both the cry off the earth and the cry of the poor and are responding to this call by putting their faith into action. They embody the mission of Laudato Si’ through their work of helping people receive proper nutrition and educating people on the benefits of locally sourced produce.
In the year since Pope Francis released his encyclical on care for the environment, Laudato Si’, many Catholics have taken seriously the message to be better stewards of the earth. Pope Francis encourages a connection between environmental concerns and issues of justice, noting that the issue of climate change involves hearing “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (Laudato Si’, no. 49). Catholic colleges are addressing this dual call in many ways, incorporating the theme of environmental justice into classes, study abroad opportunities, and campus events.
Earlier this year, the University of St. Thomas (UST), began a three-part program incorporating environmental justice into a freshman symposium class, local service-learning efforts, and study abroad program in Costa Rica. The projects were funded by the Global Solidarity Grant program, a collaboration between Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and Catholic Relief Services, which awards grants to colleges and universities as a way of increasing awareness of global injustice and expanding student involvement in a faith that does justice. In the UST freshman symposium, Sister Damien Marie Savino, chair of the Environmental Studies program at UST, recently gave a guest lecture and led a discussion on Catholic Social Teaching, climate change, and sustainability efforts on campus and in the local community.
In addition to classroom learning and discussion, students served at Plant-It-Forward, a local community farm-share that partners with refugees to provide fresh local produce to the Houston area. Additionally, the UST sustainability committee hosted a sustainability dinner for the students in the seminar with a farm-to-table meal, along with a discussion on how to improve sustainability efforts on campus.
The final part of the expansive program was a service trip to Costa Rica where students worked with a small coffee-producing community. While serving in Costa Rica, students connected their knowledge of climate change from the seminar and experience in the local community to a global perspective. The students were moved by the relationships built across cultures that helped them shape their understanding of care for creation. They also reported that their lives were changed by meeting the people in Costa Rica and experiencing a culture that is so intertwined with the environment. One first-year student, Elena Dang, said she learned that “a huge difference in lifestyles between the USA and Costa Rica is the respect for Mother Nature. Children walk the streets, people sit outside, many restaurants have outside seating. There’s a sense of respect and veneration for nature because of how it provides so much for everyone.”
UST plans to continue this program so that service learning will flourish as a foundation of a UST education.
In another project funded by the Global Solidarity Grant program, students at Cabrini University organized a climate change simulation that focused on the effects of climate change on the poor and vulnerable, called “Tame the Change.” The simulation was led by students in a class called “Our Interdependent World,” a part of the Engagements with the Common Good core curriculum and taught by Jerome Zurek, in collaboration with the Wolfington Center, the center for community engagement and research at Cabrini, Catholic Relief Services ambassadors, the university communications department, and Cabrini Mission Corps. “Tame the Change” started as a topic study on how climate change is not only affecting the environment but also harming vulnerable people who lack the resources to safeguard themselves against the negative outcomes of environmental changes. The simulation modeled how climate change has a greater effect on the poor who rely on the land for their livelihood. In the simulation, students were put into pairs, where one was assigned to a developed country and one to a developing country, to represent the effect of daily decisions of those in developed countries on those living in developing countries. At various stations, participants were presented with everyday choices they typically face on campus, involving food waste, plastic water bottle use, and energy use by electronics. Every choice that the person in the developed country made affected the other to indicate the interconnectedness of people across the globe. At the conclusion of the event, each of the over 200 participants were given reflection booklets based on passages from Laudato Si’ to help them reflect upon what they had learned during the event.
“Tame the Change” promoted solidarity with those who are strongly affected by climate change. As the class ended, students expanded the project to share it with more of the campus. To conclude the project, students built a website that enables other student groups to facilitate events similar to “Tame the Change.”
Tom Southard, the director of the Wolfington Center, noted that the event has resulted in a renewed commitment among Cabrini students and faculty members to combat climate change. Student groups are looking to facilitate more programs with an environmental focus and faculty members are shifting their research to include the sociology and science behind climate change.
Another example of encouraging students to thinking critically about care for the environment is Loyola University of Chicago’s third annual Climate Change Conference. The conference, hosted by the Institute of Environmental Sustainability, was titled “Global Climate Change: Challenges and Economic Solutions,” and focused on the effects of climate change on the global economy. During the conference, students in the Dance Theatre and University Chorale performed Earth Song, a song composed by Frank Ticheli, to highlight the connection between human actions and the environment. The performance reflected on and celebrated climate change initiatives, bringing the conversation into the realm of the arts. The students aimed to convey meaning through art, as a language that can be understood on multiple levels. Emily Miller, a first-year student in the University Chorale, commented that she hoped the performance would “appeal to the emotions of those who attend” the conference. A video of the performance is available on the conference website. This interdisciplinary approach to the issue of climate change enables Loyola University to engage students, faculty, and staff in a dialogue to effect change.
Through the classroom, student programs, and university events, Catholic universities are addressing the environmental crisis in a variety of creative projects. These colleges and universities embody Pope Francis’s call to care for our common home as stewards of creation, hearing both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
Camilla MacKenzie is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.
Mount St. Joseph University, whose mission incorporates service learning into students’ education, took part in an annual Employee Service Day last month. University employees spent a day pulling weeds, painting, and helping some residents select groceries, partnering with local non-profits to give back to the community.
Warren Grove, one of the Mount’s organizers of the Employee Service Day explains, “Embracing service to others is a core aspect of the Mount’s mission and a major influencer on our traditions.” Read more here regarding Mount St. Joseph University’s employee service day projects.
Manuscripts are currently being accepted for a new journal, Engaging Pedagogies in Catholic Higher Education (EPiCHE), created by ACCU member St. Mary’s College of California. It is an open access peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the advancement of the theory, research, policy and practice of civic engagement, community-based research, service-learning, leadership, and social justice education in the context of Catholic higher education. Read the call for papers online.