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As I sit in my CAT-FD office I wonder what to focus on for my first blog. An idea finally comes to me – how did I “get here.” Not physically, but what stirred my interest in the Faculty in Residence – Service Learning position. What path did I take?

I start thinking back to how I first became involved in service learning. It was via a FaCTS (Faculty Community of Teaching Scholars) group, the focus of which was sustainability. To be quite honest I don’t know whether my interest in FaCTS stemmed from the stipend offered or an authentic interest in sustainability (or service learning for that matter). In any event I applied, taking what was perceived as a different approach to sustainability. I was teaching Positive Psychology at the time (I am also teaching Positive Psychology this semester) and wondered whether students might be considered a sustainable resource. One could argue that students endure a great deal throughout the semester. There are ups and downs, failures and triumphs, and certainly many challenges. To succeed students must persist, with what could be argued as, dwindling resources. How might students sustain their personal resources and psychological well-being?

In Positive Psychology service learning required students to select an area of themselves that they desired to strengthen, with inspiration coming from the twenty-four character strengths developed by Peterson and Seligman (2004). Students completed the Values in Action (VIA) survey to determine the relative ranking of their 24 strengths and selected a strength to focus on throughout the semester.

How did service learning come into play? Example strengths include optimism, forgiveness, and bravery. Qualities that many senior citizens display. Thus the idea was that senior citizens would serve as role models and mentors for change. The service learning project grew from there, with students visiting senior centers every week – interacting, sharing, and just hanging out with seniors. Reflection was an essential component of the project, with students submitting a weekly service-learning journal consisting of general reflections/observations and requiring students to apply specific course concepts to their experiences and interactions with seniors.

The course and associated service learning project was time consuming, challenging, and required a great deal of monitoring and organization. The results were incredibly rewarding. Meaningful connections were made, in depth discussions occurred, and greater understanding of course concepts facilitated. Thus, while I may not have been initially interested in service learning for service learning sake, through this and subsequent projects I have certainly come to understand the many benefits of service learning, how it enriches student experience, and the importance of creating a service-learning project that is pedagogically sound.

I look forward to serving as the CAT-FD Faculty in Residence – Service Learning. My initial goals include learning more about service learning (at XU, on other campuses, and empirical findings associated with service-learning), ensuring that service learning projects are pedagogically sound, streamlining the process of developing service learning courses and projects, and continued incorporation of service learning in my courses. I anticipate that my goals in this role will evolve, look forward to working with the XU and greater New Orleans community, and am excited to take this journey of discovery.

Reference:

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association; New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.