Hands-on learning expands into St. Louis

| News Editor

The Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program is expanding its course offerings to include many more community-based learning classes.

Although service-learning classes are offered in many different areas through all of Washington University’s schools, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) is specifically institutionalizing community-based learning in its curriculum.

Across departments at the University, there are more than forty service-learning classes taught each semester. According to Jennifer Harping, the program manager for the Gephardt Institute for Public Service, these courses have been on campus for quite some time. However, they have only recently become popular.

The Gephardt Institute’s brochure on community-based learning courses emphasizes their many advantages, which include applying learning in real-life and developing critical thinking skills.

“You are engaging with whatever it is you’re learning about in a different way, so the community component becomes a new way to learn,” Harping said.

The Olin Business School is also working on making service-learning a larger part of its curriculum; one plan to achieve this is the enhancement of the Olin Experience program, in which second-year business school students can apply the skills they learn in non-profit consulting roles.

Neither WGSS nor the business school require all of their students to participate in the programs, but students are encouraged to do so.

“It’s not advisable to have students in the community who don’t want to be in the community, because that can often lead to projects that don’t go as well or students [who] aren’t as invested in the work,” Harping said.

Next semester, three community-based learning classes will be offered in WGSS. These courses will be capped at 12 to 15 students.

Unlike many of the service-based courses, Jami Ake’s course, “Projects in Domestic Violence,” has been offered for many years. Ake’s students work with Lydia’s House, a transitional facility for abused women and their children.

Ake believes that the service component of the course also allows students to better contribute academically.

The course concludes with a final project including research, reflections and students’ ideas about how to proceed with research after their new service experience.

Other courses offered include “Sexual Health and the City” and “Sex, Lies, and Myths of the Mother.”

The Gephardt Institute offers faculty grants each semester to encourage professors to add a service-learning component to their courses. Faculty can apply for grants in November, and they are given out in January. They then have three semesters to start a community-based learning course. These courses are generally based on professors’ research interests.

The Gephardt Institute is working with departments to assist them in implementing new courses and making connections with community partnerships.

“There’s more courses offered, so more students are involved,” Harping said. “I think we’ve also heard from students that [these community-based courses are] something they want.”

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