Faculty » Spotlight

Throughout the MSU campus, faculty members are creating opportunities for students through service-learning.

Spotlight: Dr. Marty Brunson - Community Partner

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Service-Learning Class: AIS 3813 - Team Leadership in Agriculture and Life Sciences

Semester: Spring 2016

Course Description: This course connected students in Dr. Laura Lemons' AIS 3813 class with Catch-A-Dream Foundation's CEO Dr. Marty Brunson. The students were tasked with creating a fundraising event that brought awareness to the organization.

Comments from Dr. Brunson:

1. What was the impact of service-learning on your agency?

As a charitable non-profit, we always benefit by involvement of community members. But when that involves students in a combination of both learning and service, the resulting synergy results in increased benefit to both the students and our organization. We are not only better positioned to serve our clientele and our core mission, but our "sphere of influence" is conveniently (and at no cost) expanded to include the students and those associated with their efforts, thus allowing us the privilege of added ancillary impact and influence.

2. What advice do you have for other community partners interested in service-learning?

Be willing to invest the time and energy to embrace service learning; this is an equation that will always result in magnified benefits to your organization/business or project. It provides the gratification of knowing that your program has made "a difference" in new ways that otherwise would not have been possible while magnifying your ability to accomplish the organizational mission.

3. What do you believe that the students got out of this experience in working with you?

Students gained a deep appreciation for the realities faced by families with children who face life-threatening conditions. Simultaneously, they quickly learned that serving the needs of those families (or any other targeted program needs) requires not only empathy, but involvement, proactivity and work. As the students progressed through the steps required to formulate, then plan and implement a service project, they gained valuable individual and team skills that will serve them well into their future personal and professional endeavors.

4. Name something important you learned (as a community partner) through you work with CCEL and service-learning.

We gained an even deeper appreciation for not only the value of community-based service activity, but also the critical importance of having the volunteers/community fully understand and embrace our mission and vision. This service-learning experience validated our convictions that empathy and understanding of a mission by volunteers leads to passionate involvement and dedication from those same volunteers.

5. CCEL encourages collaboration and "withness" between the faculty, students, and community partners. How did you see this come to fruition in this project?

We provided opportunity for the students to not only "hear" about our organization, but to visit, to see and to "touch" not only our facility and our staff, but more importantly, to experience our mission and vision. The semester-long project required close communication between the class and our organization, and, hopefully, the students developed a sense of personal and corporate ownership in Catch-A-Dream that will transcend the close of the semester.


Spotlight: Dr. Skye Cooley - Faculty

Assistant Professor
Department of Communication


Service-Learning Class: CO 4803 - Research in Public Relations & Advertising

Semester: Fall 2015

Course Description:
This course is intended as an overview of the research process involved in asking and answering questions about the mass media. This class is designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to utilize research to be successful strategic communicators. Students should develop a better understanding of both quantitative and qualitative methods, as well as how to analyze data and create effective written and oral reports using that data.

Comments for Dr. Skye Cooley:

1. Please provide a brief description of the project.

My research class has conducted numerous service-learning projects, including surveys for local organizations and content analyses of web content for MSU extension offices.

2. Why do you use service-learning as a teaching pedagogy?

I believe students get more out of the educational process when they feel their work has some real-world value. Service-learning allows the classroom to be run like a business, with deadlines and expectations that have a tangible relevance to the students. The public relations concentration benefits greatly from service-learning, because it allows students to truly learn what it is to work in a professional environment. There is a great reward in seeing students learn, seeing them enjoying the learning process, and seeing the contributions that they are able to make to their community.

3. What advice do you have for faculty and students when considering service-learning?

The most critical thing for faculty is to make sure that you have a client that you can work with and who is invested in the service-learning project as a service to the students, as well as to their business. A client who is willing to work with the students and commit time to the project is absolutely vital.
Faculty should also make sure they set realistic objectives for the students, and understand that not every kind of project can be done in one semester. Students should enter into the service-learning class with a willing flexibility. They have to understand that with all of the benefits of service-learning, come some inconveniences as well: odd meeting times, out of class assignments, group work, etc. Both faculty and students need to establish the expectations of one another early in the semester, and the faculty member really needs to convey to the students what it is they will be accomplishing and what the benefits are to all parties.

4. Name something important you learned as a faculty member through your work with CASLE and service-learning.

I learned to challenge myself as an instructor. Teaching the same class over and over, over the course years, there is a tendency to find a comfort zone and stay within it. Service-learning semester are entirely different every single time! There is some stress in that some times, but there is also great reward whenever you can step outside your own established boundaries. I think the experiences I have had with CASLE have helped me to put new energy into all of my classes, even the non-service-learning courses.

5. What do you believe is the greatest benefit of service-learning?

The greatest benefit is to the students. They have to learn skills in service-learning that only life experiences can teach. Through each semester I watch students have to figure out workloads within their groups, set and coordinate meeting times, assign roles for one another, and, ultimately, come together to work for a common cause. There is a real sense of accomplishment at the end of the semester for the students.

6. Describe a moment from this semester that stands out to you.

The last service-learning semester I led my research class through, students in two classes conducted surveys with over 3,000 Mississippi residents in three counties. They worked the entire year building the project and constructing a validated survey instrument. I remember sitting down with a group of students to run the statistics from the dataset, once the students had converted the data over to an SPSS file. What stands out to me is how interested they were in statistics! I have tried to teach public relations students statistics for years, and nothing has ever worked better than having them be able to ask questions on a dataset they were so intimate with. It was a great moment to hear them ask for specifics tests they wanted to see analyses on.

Spotlight: Ms. Whitney Porter - Student

Senior - Public Relations major
College of Arts and Sciences


Service-Learning Class:
Research in PR & Advertising: CO 4803

Semester: Spring 2015

Course Description:
This service-learning project brought together Ms. Rachael Carter, an Extension Instructor in Enterprise and Community Res Development, and Dr. Skye Cooley's CO 4803: Research in PR & Advertising class. The students were tasked with researching the community's opinion on Agriculture in the state of Mississippi. The research data that the class collected was to be presented to State Farm Bureau.

Comments from Ms. Whitney Porter:

1. What was your initial reaction after learning about your service-learning project and community partner?

The idea of applying research concepts that I would learn in the class in real-world situations was very exciting. Our community partner tasked us with researching the Mississippi community's opinions on agriculture in the state. I enjoyed knowing that I would not be the only one learning from doing this project. I looked forward to having my work benefiting our community partner, not just being read and graded by my professor.

2. What advice do you have for other students considering to take a course with a service-learning component?

I would defiantly recommend courses with service-learning projects. I would tell future service-learning students to expect working with a wide range of people, which benefits one's communication skills. Service-learning courses are unlike typical classes because they do not follow a traditional lecture format. Some of the course work can be time consuming, however, it is very rewarding.

3. What was your favorite part of the project?

The project allowed me to get out of the classroom to work in settings that I would not regularly be in. I also liked that the project was agriculture-based because I come from a family of agriculture farmers in the state of Mississippi. It was interesting to see what the public opinions were on agriculture.

4. Named something that you have learned (as a student) through your work with CASLE and service-learning.

I learned a lot about teamwork and research. My group conducted focus groups with Mississippi community members that allowed us to understand people's perceptions of agriculture in the state. We then took our data and combined it with other groups' results to conduct statistical analysis. My experience of working with a community partner has taught me that the perspectives of others may be very different than my own.

5. Name a specific aspect or moment from this experience that prepared you for your future career?

Working with a community partner was much like working for a real client in a business setting. I enjoyed knowing that I had a deadline and that my work would influence real business decisions. I believe that this experience has definitely benefited me, both personally and professionally.

Spotlight: Ms. Vicki Burnett - Community Partner

College of Architecture, Art, and Design; Department of Art

Service-Learning Class:
ART 1133: Design II

Semester: Spring 2014

Course Description:
This service-learning project brought together Ms. Vicki Burnett, the chair of the Starkville Area Arts Council (SAAC) Oktibbeha County Barn Quilt Trail, and Mr. Neil Callander's Art 1133: Design II class. The students were tasked with researching, designing, and creating a series of 8-foot by 8-foot painted wood panels (barn quilts) to be located throughout the Oktibbeha County community.

Comments from Ms. Vicki Burnett:

1. What was the impact of service-learning on your agency?
Service-learning has become the backbone of the Oktibbeha County Barn Quilt Trail! Since few in our area (including myself) knew much about barn quilts, this entire project has been an educationally enriching experience for all involved. I am deeply grateful to the MSU students who have researched quilt patterns, planned their own original designs and created six stunning pieces of 8'x8' art to install in Starkville and Oktibbeha County for all to enjoy.

2. What advice do you have for other community partners interested in service-learning?
Do it!!! Working with University students on projects is like getting a shot of adrenaline; they bring to the table their enthusiasm, imagination, talent, and boundless energy. I have also thoroughly enjoyed working with Dr. Heiselt, her friendly staff, as well as the MSU faculty with whom I have partnered. You will not regret the decision to collaborate with them.

3. What do you believe the students got out of the experience of working with you?

I hope that they enjoyed the entire experience of seeing a need in the community and working together in creative ways to meet it. Through CASLE, I had the opportunity to work with both MSU art students and high school students who participated in the Mississippi Governor's School this past summer. I hope that both groups learned a lot about Barn Quilts and the benefits that quilt trails can bring to a community educationally, aesthetically, and economically.

4. Name something important you learned (as a community partner) through your work with CASLE and service-learning.

I have not heard of service-learning prior to my involvement with CASLE. I thought of "learning" as limited to getting an education, and "service" as using that education to benefit another. I love the process of combining them in a seamless process.

5. CASLE encourages collaboration and "withness" between faculty, students, and community partners. How did you see this come to fruition in this project?

"Withness" is an excellent word to describe the experience of working with CASLE and our MSU partners. We have supported, encouraged, and advised each other throughout the process. All parties involved have been invested in attaining a common goal through the vehicle of service-learning.

Spotlight: Dr. Penny Wallin - Faculty

Meridian Division of Education

Service-Learning Class:
EDL 8633: Human Resources Leadership

Semester: Summer 2014

Course Description:

The 2013-2014 Educational Leadership Cohort for MSU Meridian formed three groups of 5-6 each to work with a school district. After dialogue with Dr. Joseph White, Superintendent of Forest Municipal School District, Ms. Jackie Pollock, Superintendent of Kemper School District, and Dr. Suzanne Hawley, Superintendent of Quitman School District, a common area of need surfaced, which was to formulate guides for the state-mandated Professional Learning Community (PLC) model.
The Professional Learning Communities are groups of new and seasoned educators formed for the purpose of exchanging knowledge, past experiences, and new ideas in order to generate ways to solve particular challenges or generally enhance student learning in a given educational setting.
Each Service-Learning group used the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) mandate as core to the guides, and each developed a custom product to be used in the partner district. All three superintendents represented their districts at the presentations on July 21, 2014 at MSU Extension Center in Forest.

Comments from Dr. Wallin:

1. Why do you use service-learning as a teaching pedagogy?

Dr. Matt Boggan and I, the two major professors in the Educational Leadership Meridian Graduate Programs, are committed to offer the most relevant and pragmatic educational experiences possible for our Cohort students, which includes not only research and analysis, but opportunity to synthesize and 'pay it forward'. Service-Learning makes this possible.

2. What advice do you have for faculty and students when considering service-learning?

Developing skills as both learners and teachers are the two vitally important components of a holistic educational experience. To anyone who embraces this belief, there is no better way to attain than through Service-Learning, which sets the stage with training and common focus and mandates active communication and ongoing engagement. My students commented that the Service-Learning Projects provided more understanding and growth than any class they had ever taken.

3. Name something important you learned (as a faculty member) through your work with CASLE and service-learning.

There were many 'ah-ha's for me as a faculty member, but perhaps the most memorable was the realization that 'some of us are smarter than others of us, but no one is smarter than all of us'! CASLE provided the necessary structure and support for success. The collective spirit, intellect, and compassion that developed around the projects were palatable, inspiring, and enriching for me as a teacher, as well as for the students and the community partners.

4. What do you believe is the greatest benefit of service-learning?

The University is in the business of providing an arena where students of all ages can 'get' what they need to be successful in given fields. Service-Learning offers multiple paths where what students get enable them to develop as givers, supporters, leaders, and hope-builders.

5. Describe a moment from this semester that stands out to you.

As soon as we began the Service-Learning work this semester, I observed a fresh energy in attitude and work ethic when students became active listeners with their community partners, creative team members, and engaged critics and analyzers of the process. By the end of the semester, the class demonstrated mutual respect for each other and their partners as they participated in the process to product journey of Service-Learning.

Spotlight: Ms. Jessie Cossitt - Student

Sophomore - Psychology major
College of Arts and Sciences

Service-Learning Class:
ART 1133: Design II

Semester: Spring 2014

Course Description:
This service-learning project brought together Ms. Vicki Burnett, the chair of the Starkville Area Arts Council (SAAC) Oktibbeha County Barn Quilt Trail, and Mr. Neil Callander's Art 1133: Design II class. The students were tasked with researching, designing, and creating a series of 8-foot by 8-foot painted wood panels (barn quilts) to be located throughout the Oktibbeha County community.

Comments from Jessie:

1. What was your initial reaction after learning about your service-learning project and community partner?


Taking the concepts I had learned in class and applying them to a real, meaningful project was extremely exciting. I could not wait to get started because this project actually mattered rather instead of being just another homework assignment. I looked forward to a chance to have my work seen by people other than my peers and professors. The partner provided us with a great idea for a project that benefited the community and fit perfectly with the material that we had been covering in class.

2. What advice do you have for other students considering a course with a service-learning component?

I would definitely recommend courses with service-learning projects. I would tell future service-learning students to expect a more positive working environment than they are used to because they will be applying their knowledge to make a difference in the community. This is not to say that the work is not challenging; at times it was more difficult than normal coursework. However, it was much more rewarding.

3. What was your favorite part of the project?

The project allowed me to get out of the normal classroom routine and actually do something long lasting and productive with what I was learning in my design class. Having our art displayed publicly in the community still seems almost unbelievable.

4. Name something important you learned (as a student) through your work with CASLE and service-learning.

I learned a lot about teamwork and collaboration. When my partner and I first brought our ideas together, we had to take time to understand each other's style, but by working together, we developed a project that neither of us could have created on our own. My experience working with another artist taught me how to look at ideas from someone else's perspective and helped me step outside of my comfort zone.

5. Name a specific aspect or moment from this experience that prepared you for your future career.

Working with the community partner was much like working with a client. This aspect of the project helped me get used to incorporating someone else's specifications along with my own ideas into a design. We had a lot of freedom on the assignment, but it was essential that our work be professional and meet the partner's guidelines.

Spotlight: Dr. Suzanne Hawley - Community Partner

Meridian Division of Education; Department of Leadership and Foundations

Service-Learning Class:
EDL 8633 Human Resources Leadership

Semester: Summer 2014

Course Description:

The 2013-2014 Educational Leadership Cohort for MSU Meridian formed three groups of 5-6 each to work with one of the three Mississippi school districts to develop guides for the state-mandated Professional Learning Community (PLC) model. The Professional Learning Communities consist of new and seasoned educators and are formed to exchange knowledge, past experiences, and new ideas in order to generate ways to solve particular challenges or generally enhance student learning in a given educational setting.

Each of the three student groups used the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) mandate to guide the creation of a custom product for their partner district. Dr. Suzanne Hawley, Superintendent of Quitman School District, served as a community partner for one of the teams.

Comments from Dr. Suzanne Hawley:

1. What was the impact of service-learning on your agency?

As Superintendent of the Quitman School District I appreciate the work of our aspiring administrators. Three of our junior high teachers and a counselor from our high school [MSU graduate students] collaborated to develop a "Professional Learning Communities Handbook." The PLC model is one that we are seeking to implement in all of the schools in our district. The PLC's goal is to increase student achievement through collaboration.

2. What advice do you have for the other community partners interested in service-learning?

Service-learning is a great opportunity for our teachers and prospective administrators to learn more about the operations of a school district while developing documents that benefit school administrators and their co-workers. Through service-learning we can encourage the next generation of school administrators.

3. What do you believe the students learned from their service-learning experience?

I believe that by working closely with me and others in our district office, the students were able to see the things we valued and areas that provided our greatest challenges. For example, in the handbook they prepared, they recognized that Special Education was an area of importance to us and they made some specific recommendations to address it.

4. Name something you learned (as a community partner) through your work with CASLE and service-learning?

I learned that through service-learning we can integrate meaningful experiences for students and provide a valuable and needed commodity to, in my case, our school district. I think it gives students an opportunity to fulfill an unmet need and achieve the satisfaction of giving back to their school district.

5. CASLE encourages collaboration and "with-ness" between faculty, students, and community partners. How did you see this come to fruition in this service-learning project?

Having worked with the students as they prepared their project, it was exciting to listen to them explain it and present it to their classmates and to several other superintendents. As this school year has begun, it is rewarding to see their project (handbook) being used in our district.

Spotlight: Dr. Lyn Fogle - Faculty

English Department

Service-Learning Class:
EN 6453/4453: Methods in TESOL

Semester: Fall 2013

Course Description:

The goal of this course was to develop student teachers' understanding of the field of TESOL and professional competence through service-learning. The course emphasized methods for teaching the five language skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing, and grammar) with a communicative approach. The class also highlighted social, political, and cognitive aspects of language teaching as they connect with students' service-learning experiences. Students integrated theoretical perspectives with practice in a number of ways including, but not limited to: self-reflection on ongoing tutoring or teaching, development of original materials and lesson plans, and in-class micro teaching.

During the semester all students enrolled in the class served as an ESL tutor, conversation partner, or other role working with English language learners at one of the class partner sites. Graduate students served in developing curricula or materials for a site. Students gained valuable experience working with English language learners, reflected on that work weekly, created materials for English language teaching, conducted research on our service-learning projects, and disseminated the results of their work to the site partners at the end of the semester.

Comments from Dr. Fogel:

1. Why do you use service-learning as a teaching pedagogy?


Service-learning pushes the boundaries of my students' experience by providing opportunities to build new relationships outside of their established networks and take on new roles as advisors, counselors, teachers, curriculum designers, and teacher trainers. The students enrolled in Methods in TESOL want to become teachers of English as a Second or Foreign Language, but many have never learned a second language themselves or had meaningful interaction with someone who speaks a language other than English. Through the service-learning component of the class, my students are able to experience first-hand the processes and phenomena that we are reading about and discussing in class. Through service-learning my more advanced students begin to see themselves as experts and advisors to those in the community in search of ways to develop ESL programs or specific services for English Language Learners in our community. There is no better way for me to help students make the connections between theory and practice that are so important in our field.

2. What advice do you have for faculty and students when considering service-learning?

Developing the service-learning course was time intensive and required a commitment to identifying and reaching out to the right site partners. The more dedicated the instructor is to developing these relationships and being a part of the service (through site visits and regular communication), the more enthusiastic students and site partners will be about their collaboration. My best advice, however, would be to be patient with the process - the work invested in the outset will pay off in the end.

3. Name something important you learned (as a faculty member) through your work with CASLE and service-learning.

For three years I had looked for opportunities to involve my students in work being done with bilingual communities in Mississippi, but had not found many organizations who served these populations. CASLE was able to identify extension offices who were aiming to reach Spanish-speaking communities in their counties, and I have been thrilled to meet with the extension officers at these sites and observe my students developing their projects. I learned through this experience that MSU has a strong network of extension employees who are working to expand their services and improve their communities. CASLE worked hard to identify these sites for my class and provided valuable support that I did not know was available at MSU.

The second thing I have learned is not to underestimate my students. The meaningful goal-oriented tasks my students have undertaken in their service learning projects have motivated them to go way beyond my initial expectations and what I have been able to do with this class in the past. The institutional support provided by CASLE and the pedagogical training I received as a got ready to teach this course have helped make that happen.

4. What do you believe is the greatest benefit of service-learning?

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer whose service experience shaped my own academic interests and career, I strongly believe that academic work should connect with and address the needs of society at large and our local communities. The greatest benefit of service-learning for my students is the opportunity to experience the multilingual and multicultural world around them that they did not know existed - from helping a conversation partner apply for a driver's license at the DMV to writing tutorials for Brazilian STEM majors on how to apply to graduate school in the U.S., my students are engaging with the challenges of globalization and transnationalism and thinking about how these issues affect them as future language teachers.

5. Describe a moment from this semester that stands out to you.

One of the requirements of my Methods in TESOL class is for the students in the class to write their own teaching materials and demonstrate them in micro-teaching sessions. As part of the service-learning component to this class this semester, I have asked students to make a much tighter connection to their service-learning project and the topic of their teaching materials than I have in the past. The requirement is that they take an actual linguistic problem or challenge that they have heard about from their site partner and design an activity that would teach learners that specific linguistic feature or skill. One of my students, Charlton Gutierrez is working with DeSoto County to develop a short ESL course for volunteers who want to teach ESL to Spanish speakers in the region. When we met with the DeSoto County Extension Office, a member of the Spanish-speaking community was present and talked about her challenges as an English language learner. She specifically said that it was difficult to be a stay-at-home mom with no opportunity to learn English in the community and that she needed to use English when communicating with her son's school. My student Charlton designed a listening activity that was directly targeted at the needs for this specific population of learners in which a video of a parent-teacher conference was shown and learners were required to listen to the conference, notice the questions the mother in the video asked the teacher, and think of their own questions to ask a teacher in a parent-teacher conference setting. As Charlton led us through the steps of this activity, I became very excited and felt that I was witnessing the potential service-learning has to help my students develop their own professional competence and connect theory to practice.

Spotlight: Mr. Matthew Weickert - Student

Junior - Industrial and Systems Engineering major
Bagley College of Engineering

Service-Learning Class:
IE 3123: Industrial Ergonomics

Semester: Fall 2013

Course Description:
This service learning project was designed for students to be able to apply the topics they learn in the classroom to a project with a community partner, N&W Sweet Potato Farms in Vardaman, MS. Through the design project, student reflection, and engagement with the community partner, students refined their ergonomics and design skills, and gained an appreciation for how ergonomics can be used to help others in the community.

Comments from Matthew:

1. What was your initial reaction after learning about your service-learning project and community partner?


My initial reaction to the project was anxiety primarily. This seemed like a massive undertaking at first glance, coupled with the fact that we were "guinea pigs" for the CASLE program. I was intimidated with how much we had to get done, especially considering the client would be unavailable once November came around. I must say that I was also excited about the opportunity. Up to that point in my academic career, my courses almost entirely consisted of math and science classes. Sometimes I felt mired in all of the dry calculation and struggled to see how exactly this would help me in the business world. The service-learning project is as directly applicable as it gets, since you are working with an actual business and performing analyses learned in class to come up with an original conclusion to an original problem.

Concerning the partner, my interests were piqued. Being from a suburban area, the agriculture industry and lifestyle were very foreign to me. I was curious to see a large scale operation solely dedicated to an organic product.

2. What advice do you have for other students considering a course with a service-learning component?

I would definitely recommend taking a course with a service-learning component. It is important not to get too caught up with the initial volume of the task, because it is broken up well and things get accomplished naturally once the work has begun. I would also say to make sure you get to know your group quickly and begin working on some of the smaller initial tasks sooner rather than later.

3. What was your favorite part of the project?

My favorite part of the project was probably when we went to the actual facility to see it in action and take measurements. This made the analyses much more tangible and really helped solidify and formulate ideas that could be implemented on the system. I also greatly enjoyed presenting the results we came up with to the owners of the sweet potato farm as well as to other people in the industry. Hearing feedback from the people who deal with the system every day was very valuable and rewarding.

4. Name something important you learned (as a student) through your work with CASLE and service-learning.

One of the biggest things I learned was how to systematically tackle a large project. In terms of length and volume of the work that had to be done, this was the largest I had ever been assigned. With the help of Dr. Strawderman and working with my group, we were able to organize and implement a plan of action that led to an effective end product that I think will help our client.

5. Name a specific aspect or moment from this experience that prepared you for your future career.

A big aspect that I felt will help me in the future is working with a group under very specific circumstances and trying to accomplish a common goal by a certain deadline. This is something that I know will be a huge part of my professional life and getting this experience working with an actual client.

Spotlight: Dr. Alta Knizley - Faculty

Bagley College of Engineering

Service-Learning Class:
ME 1111: Introduction to Mechanical Engineering

Semester: Fall 2013

Course Description:
This course introduces students to the mechanical engineering curriculum, the profession, and career opportunities. Students in this class are partnering with Lori Neuenfeldt and the MSU Visual Arts Center, the Bagley College of Engineering Outreach for MS BEST Robotics and Family Engineering Nights, Mississippi 4-H Robotics, and Sudduth Elementary School.

Comments from Dr. Knizley:

1. Why do you use service-learning as a teaching pedagogy?


Actually, the decision to implement service-learning into our ME 1111 (Introduction to Mechanical Engineering) course is due to a joint effort between me and Tammy Coleman, the academic coordinator in our department. We both are enthusiastic about engineering education, and service-learning fits perfectly with each of our goals for the development of these young students and for the enhancement of this freshman-level course. I was particularly interested in making sure that students were introduced to some hands-on projects, and Tammy suggested a need for enhancing student perspectives and experiences through service projects. Both of us wanted to gently introduce freshmen students to the work ethic necessary for completing a mechanical engineering degree successfully. We met with Dr. Heiselt of CASLE, and she introduced us to service-learning, which meets and exceeds the goals that Tammy and I had in place for the course.

I suppose the short answer, however, is that I use service-learning because it gives the students a hands-on aspect to the course; it promotes responsibility and accountability for the students; it promotes a strong work ethic; it helps build leadership, teamwork, and communication skills (among others); and, certainly not least, it provides a valuable service to the community. This semester, that service is recognized by sending about 160 engineering role models into the Mississippi community.

Additionally, Dr. Heiselt and other CASLE personnel, as well as our community partners (Lori Neuenfeldt/MSU Visual Arts Center, Eric Heiselt/Bagley College of Engineering Outreach for MS BEST Robotics and Family Engineering Nights, Mariah Smith/MS 4-H Robotics, Stacy Weems and Elaine Warren/Sudduth Elementary), have been extremely helpful and an indispensable resource for these projects. I've enjoyed working with each of them and hope to continue gaining an appreciation for all of the awesome services and projects that are being undertaken in our community. Meeting these community leaders is inspiring to me, and I certainly hope that it is also inspiring to this freshman class.

2. What advice do you have for faculty and students when considering service-learning?

Be prepared for a lot of work; I won't lie about that. But, it's extremely rewarding work. You will also have to be very clear to the students about your motivations. Some of them will take to the idea right away, and a few of them never will. Fortunately, I think that the majority of students end up really enjoying and appreciating what they learn, and most of them actually do have a desire to give back to their communities. Also, as I stated earlier, the resources at CASLE are invaluable. If you are at all interested in the idea, go speak with a CASLE representative (and you will be convinced.)

3. Name something important you learned (as a faculty member) through your work with CASLE and service-learning.

The most important thing I've learned is how much I didn't know. After being a part of this campus for 10 years (beginning as an undergrad), I thought I knew everything interesting that MSU had to offer, but I didn't. I didn't know that old building on University Dr. now housed an Arts Center. (I should have, yes, but I didn't.) I didn't realize how extensive (or cool) the MS BEST Robotics competition was. I had no idea that a Center for the Advancement of Service-Learning Excellence existed. And I didn't know how many people worked so hard to help introduce young children to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) before it is statistically too late for them to consider such fields for a career. I've also learned that the majority of my students are very capable individuals, and I can't wait to see the final results of their service-learning projects.

4. What do you believe is the greatest benefit of service-learning?

That really depends on what your primary motivations for service-learning are, I suppose. Since mine are the development of the freshman students taking on the projects, I'll start there. These students are growing through this project, whether they recognize it or not. They are learning to work within and maintain a budget; they are learning how to interact with one another as a team; they are learning to take initiative; they are being creative and designing projects; they are changing their mindsets, and they thinking in a different manner. All of this will help them grow into successful individuals. Additionally, they are gaining an appreciation for time-management, responsibility, and accountability, which, in my opinion, are essential to complete a mechanical engineering degree.

I've learned, from students and from the community partners, that the benefit to the community is also substantial. While I was happy that we could provide a service to the community, honestly, it was not my primary motivation for incorporating service-learning into this course. However, it has become my primary motivation for wanting to continue these projects and wanting this program to be successful. With Mississippi's public education rankings, particularly in math and science, continually ranking well below average, educating and introducing the youth of Mississippi to STEM subjects should be a priority. Each of these service-learning projects affords freshmen students the opportunity to interact with elementary to high school age students and introduce them to STEM education.

5. Describe a moment from this semester that stands out to you.

I had a group of students come to my office to discuss their idea for a family engineering night (FEN) activity with me. They wanted to make a mouse-trap generator. They planned to make a prototype, then to provide materials and instructions for middle-school students to make their own during FEN. They had done significant research on generators, and they had a goal to get this project published. We discussed some of the challenges they might face and some things to consider, but ended the technical conversation with "try it and see what happens." What stood out to me, however, was the excitement that this group of students had for the project. One of them said to me, "We think this is really cool, but do you think that middle-schoolers will like it?" I said yes, of course, because I think if the college students are excited about it, the middle-schoolers will follow suit, which really summarizes the benefits of this project. Later, that group of ME 1111 students told me that they didn't get the mouse-trap generator to work, but that they were still able to make a simple generator, within budget, using another mechanism to provide the work input. They problem-solved on their own!

Spotlight: Ms. Lori Neuenfeldt - Community Partner


Coordinator for the MSU Visual Arts Center Gallery and Outreach Programs

Service-Learning Class:
ME 1111: Introduction to Mechanical Engineering

Semester: Fall 2013

Course Description:
This course introduces students to the mechanical engineering curriculum, the profession, and career opportunities. Students in this class are partnering with Lori Neuenfeldt and the MSU Visual Arts Center as well as with the Bagley College of Engineering Outreach for MS BEST Robotics and Family Engineering Nights, Mississippi 4-H Robotics, and Sudduth Elementary School.

Comments from Ms. Neuenfeldt:

1. What was the impact of service-learning on your agency?


The Department of Art Visual Arts Center Gallery is grateful to the student volunteers. The work they are putting into planning an interactive educational resource room for the art gallery will make a positive impact the community. The room they are designing will be part of the educational experience visitors to the gallery will encounter along with the art exhibits and free programming. The activities and tools will engage the audience in a way to help promote art. This project is all about creating free access to educational resources. The impact will be far-reaching for years to come.

2. What advice do you have for other community partners interested in service-learning?

They should definitely find out more about the opportunities service-learning can provide, not just for their agency, but for these young students and the impact it has on the community. The students are very professional and have, what I think is one of the best qualities in MSU students, a sense of caring for others and the desire to make the world a better place.

3. What do you believe the students got out of this experience in working with you?

I am working with Mechanical Engineering students. They have to use their creativity and work within parameters that are physical and financial. Not only do they get a sense of pride helping the community, but this is first-hand professional experience. I am asking five different groups of students to research, design, plan and pitch an idea for a resource room similar to those found at top museums and educational institutions in the country. I work with each group as if they are a company and in return they get real-world experience. This enhances what they learn in the classroom.

4. Name something important you learned (as a community partner) through your work with CASLE and service-learning.

When I first started at MSU, almost two years ago, I had the idea to have the VAC Gallery be a community place. It wasn't until talking with April Heiselt at CASLE that the idea has actually moved forward. It's really about matching up and idea with the right people to make it a possibility. And the brainstorming has been exciting! I've learned that when people share a vision and passion to make a difference, it can happen and the possibilities are endless. You can't do it alone. CASLE thinks outside the box. I never would have thought to approach Mechanical Engineering, and now I see the great ideas the students have. It's amazing.

5. CASLE encourages collaboration and "withness" between the faculty, students, and community partners. How did you see this come to fruition in this project?

So far I have enjoyed the process and really felt a sense of the "withness." The communication, planning, brainstorming have been very exciting and encouraging. CASLE did an excellent job listening to what the Department of Art really wanted to achieve and matched us up with faculty who, in turn, found students who shared our goals and excitement. Everyone is eager and interested in the project. It is extremely encouraging. The Department of Art wants everyone to utilize its gallery facilities. They are for everyone, and everyone I've worked with shares the same passion for making this a possibility.

Spotlight: Ms. Alexis Gregory - Faculty

College of Art, Architecture, and Design (CAAD)

Service-Learning Class:
ARC 4990: Habitat Prototype House Course

Semester Taught:
Spring 2013

Course Description:
This course is designed for the development of well-designed, low-cost housing for low-income clients of the Starkville Area Habitat for Humanity. Students in the course developed one final design concept that was given to the Starkville Area Habitat for Humanity for consideration for implementation.

Comments from Professor Gregory:

Why do you use service-learning as a teaching pedagogy?

"Service-learning is an important part of my teaching pedagogy because architecture is both for and experienced by the public and has more influence on the lives of everyone than most people realize. Architecture students are very interested in public service and community outreach and therefore it is an important way to engage them in their learning process."

What advice do you have for faculty and students when considering service-learning?

"The advice I would give faculty and students considering a service-learning class is to give yourself plenty of time to figure things out and be patient. It seems like it would be easy to incorporate service-learning into a class that already serves someone, but to truly learn about service-learning and to make sure the course is successful in both the service-learning aspect and in achieving the needs of the project partner you need good planning and course development. It is very rewarding to achieve this, but it takes work, as does anything worth doing well."

Name something important you learned (as a faculty member) through your work with CASLE and service-learning.

"The most important thing that I learned is that adding service-learning to a course takes time, but it is well worth it. It is harder than you may think to achieve the connection between what you are teaching and service-learning, even though it seems like an obvious connection at first. The in-depth exploration of that connection is what makes the course richer and more beneficial for the students, faculty, and project partner."