A conversation with Lisa Schulte-Gipson on service learning.
Dr. Schulte received her BS from Muhlenberg College (Allentown, PA). She attended SUNY Albany where she earned both her MA and PhD in Social/Personality Psychology.
Dr. Schulte has worked at Xavier University since 1993. Throughout her tenure at Xavier she has served both the University and Department in many capacities. Her current research focuses on both the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) and positive psychology (specifically as related to enhancing well-being among students).
Jeremy Tuman: Hello, I’m Jeremy Tuman of the English department at Xavier University of Louisiana and I’m speaking today with Dr. Lisa Schulte-Gipson of the Psychology department at Xavier about service learning. Welcome, Lisa.
Lisa Schulte-Gipson: Thank You.
J.T: Let’s begin talking about how you first became involved with community-engaged teaching and learning.
L.G: Actually it was something that melded very well with my Positive Psychology course. So what students do in that course is select an area of themselves to change and then they engage into action plans or methods to support the change. The change is typically referred to a deeper part of themselves so it’s nothing superficial. It would be things like forgiveness and things like optimism and it would be things like spirituality. So where service learning came in was really a function of fostering that change and looking for interaction that could promote the change. That came from or the idea arose as related to interactions with seniors and how seniors are a wealth of knowledge, a wealth of expertise, wonderful mentors, wonderful role models. So the program came about and I’ve been doing it I believe since 2016 when I’ve taught the course, it came about via that pairing. So the service learning piece is really students going to the community to senior centers and interacting in an in-depth manner with seniors. The seniors are also aware that they are acting as mentors, so as far as enhancing well-being, that’s an overall goal but the enhancing of well-being occurs amongst both parties. This also came about through a sustainability project and this was a part of a facts project in which I was a member. Sustainability is typically viewed as environmental sustainability, but what I was looking at was the sustainability of the person, the perseverance of the person. So the idea of selecting an area of change that would enhance well-being would also enhance the sustainability of the student, the persistence, the ability to make it through the challenging semester.
J.T: Very good. So, thank you. You say that you have taught the course since 2016?
L.S: Yes but not every semester.
J.T: So what are some of your experiences then in the senior centers if you could describe maybe some of your interactions with some of what you have seen with the student engagement with seniors.
L.S: Oh yeah. So it’s really not a perfect experience nothing every is. It’s been a broad, wonderful experience though. I’ve seen close connections made. I have for an instance at one senior center had a closing ceremony where the students who participated at that center and seniors basically had a lunch and I helped facilitate that ceremony. It was very simplistic and it was basically going around the room and for anyone who participated to talk about two things they learned from the program, two things they are going to go forward with. And the seniors and the students did this. So you saw that kind of engagement, that kind of mentorship expressed in that ceremony. One of my students his area of change was patients and you see unique ways to faster that change so he learned how to crochet with his senior. I don’t know what he ended up crocheting but that was his exercise with patients. So there are many examples that are connections also with as far as one of the seniors had noted that her mentee, the student, had never been on a trolley car. And she was like we have to go on a trolley car, so they went on a trolley car. So it’s just those kinds of stories that are of that kind of in-depth, consistent. And service learning is also students going to the sight for 90 minutes each week. So I think that’s something with consistent involvement that is essential to service learning. The students also keep a service learning journal where there would be general questions: How’s the site doing? What do you see as a need in the community? What have you learned this week? But also incorporating concepts from the class, for instance, resilience, I’ll provide an example of a senior who exhibited resilience this week. So that’s also a kick.
J.T: Talk for a minute about some of the senior citizens and the need the community needs that your students are meeting or helping to meet through this engagement.
L.S: Yeah, it’s a more personal need. It is as I said before that fostering well-being amongst the seniors and involved with the seniors but also something that the students are asked about and get out of this is an understanding of specific needs of our seniors. So for instance, experiences with ageism, the concern was if funding for senior centers and the importance of funding, the importance of accessibility, so as far as on that end it really is communicating to the broader. And so the seniors get that sense of giving back that sense of pride in mentoring, that sense of relationship, but in addition overall, the senior centers with respect to educating a younger audience and then that younger audience than getting that message out.
J.T: Would you say there’s anything particular that New Orleans senior community, specifically about being in New Orleans, creates a unique means for the community?
L.S: Probably as far as the economics of the city. And I am quite honestly not sure, I’m sure this is an issue elsewhere as well but funding seems a very big concern. There are certainly many opportunities as far as things to see and activities to engage in within the centers but it is that stability and funding keeping the doors open. And again I’m not sure how explicit it is to New Orleans but it is a very big concern.
J.T: Maybe just to stay with a local angle, will you tell us where you are working with is located?
L.S: Yeah! One is and we also will be doing this project in the spring so one is one that we have worked with for years and their now known as the Kinship Senior Center that’s right down on Carrollton, it is very close to Xavier. And housed in a church and this is one that has been in existence for I think 40 years now so it’s been around for a while. We work with before is Lakeview Shepherd and that’s in Lakeview. There’s a new one we’re working with this semester, one of the challenges of working with the senior centers and this maybe a function of funding as well as changing in directorship. And one of the key components of how that affects us is the directors really need to understand the idea that the in-depth conversation and the connection between the students and the seniors need to happen. So the students aren’t just serving meals. There’s one down the street that we are no longer working with them because of the change in directorship and lack of understanding.
J.T: But there have been directors and administrators that have been over sensitive.
L.S: And most when they hear about the program and they hear about the in-depth interaction and the fact that it’s housed and grounded in the course and the fact that students will be asking questions grounded in the course keeping them a weekly service journal. In other words, they hear about the organization of the program from the beginning they're excited and they're on board. So this semester, Ms. Warren and I went to interview some centers to confirm that connection. Two were pre-existing and one under continuous directorship so that one was a refresher. One under a new director and two new places that we hadn’t been to before. All of the directors were excited about the program so they were all on board with it. I think they really liked the fact that it is laid out and developed. Here’s what we want to do. Here’s our goals. Here’s the connection to the class. Here’s our outcomes.
J.T: Do you ever have any contact with family?
L.S: Of the seniors? Not directly. No. So really what happens is we set up the program, Ms. Warren and I, and then she and I will make sporadic visits but in that context, we see the seniors themselves and not necessarily the family.
J.T: Very Good. Talk for a minute about if you would how you see the future of service learning at Xavier. Maybe your experience with the new core curriculum coming in and what do you see as the direction that service learning is ascending as someone who has taught service learning for several years now.
L.S: I think with our excellent core courses, especially the engaging the mission and the social ladder 3000 level courses, I think they are ripe for service learning experience. The essential element will be ensuring that continuity of the experience is making sure it is integrated into the course in an in-depth fashion. The consistency of the experience — so I am biased, because this is how I do it — but I like that it gives me that ability to check in on the service learning and ensure that service learning is tying into my course objective. It is also not necessarily something so those courses are ripe. It has to be a successful something that melds well with the course so really an in-depth process of not just do I have it but how well is it matched with the course objectives.
J.T: Do you see any outstanding areas that a community need in New Orleans that may be particularly suited to be addressed by the courses in the X Core or in Psychology?
L.S: The X Core I would say homelessness would be a need within the community. Access to viable education. Things like tutoring but then again it’s the form that tutoring takes, it’s that in-depth involvement in matching it to the course’s objectives. So many potential opportunities, homelessness is a concern among our students…
J.T: And it’s a growing problem.
L.S: Yes. So that’s the one that just rises to the top for me right now but there’s many.
J.T: Well thank you for Lisa Schulte-Gipson it’s been a pleasure speaking with you and this is Jeremy Tuman. If you like the podcast please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Google Play or wherever you get your podcast and give us a review or rating as well.
Transcribed by Shaniqua Gilmore.