New Service Learning Courses Across the Disciplines

Magda Romanska
Associate Professor, Performing Arts
Digital and Social Media Dramaturgy

This is Romanska’s first time incorporating a service learning component in her class. Her students were presented with a community need for content development for the Boston Lyric Opera and NiteNews.org, both prominent arts news and media outlets. Through this work, students gained real-life experience, worked with local art institutions, and collaborated with others in the community. Her students’ work was published on the Boston Lyric Opera blog, which showcased their contributions. Through this collaboration, the students gained valuable insight into the audience outreach process, while the nonprofits benefitted from high-level work they would not otherwise have had the time to develop.

Cathy Edelstein
Senior Scholar-in-Residence, Communication Studies
Nonprofit Management

Cathy Edelstein has been involved in the nonprofit sector for 30 years doing everything from starting her own nonprofit to serving on boards. Edelstein began melding her nonprofit expertise with her communications classes at Emerson by pairing her Argument and Advocacy students with local nonprofits to help build the organizations’ public personas. Because of the positive feedback from those projects, she incorporated service learning into her new course, Nonprofit Management. Edelstein’s class gives her students the opportunity to work with diverse local nonprofits from Catie’s Closet, a Massachusetts-based organization dedicated to helping at-risk youths feel good about themselves and succeed by offering them access to stylish clothes, to Young Audiences of Massachusetts, an organization that connects young people with performers to foster their passion for the arts. Edelstein’s students worked with nonprofits by assessing and assisting in their external social media communications.

From left Communication Studies students Gina Brindisi ’16, Maureen Corbett ’16, and Nina Pellechio ’16 helped organize a clothing drive at Emerson for Catie’s Closet

From left Communication Studies students Gina Brindisi ’16, Maureen Corbett ’16, and Nina Pellechio ’16 helped organize a clothing drive at Emerson for Catie’s Closet

Edelstein observed that the service learning model of combining targeted in-class instruction and out-of-class experience provided her students with valuable experience.“The idea that a student can learn from and provide assistance to an organization is a win-win situation. There is so much need in the nonprofit world for students’ skills and students can really make a difference for these organizations.” Edelstein noted that students have the opportunity to develop long-term relationships and learn from their mentors beyond the classroom, and that some of her students are continuing to develop those relationships although the class has ended.

Catherine D’Ignazio
Associate Professor, Journalism
Civic Art and Design Studio

For ten years, D’Ignazio’s teaching and research has involved community organizations, including the City of Boston, the Go Boston 2030 transportation planning campaign that encourages citizen participation in expansion of transportation planning, and the National Coalition Against Censorship, an organization dedicated to resolving issues of censorship at local and national levels. This fall, D’Ignazio and her students partnered with Go Boston 2030 to produce a series of video animations and a public video installation called “The Future of Boston in 100 Animated GIFs.”

D’Ignazio said that the class provided the students with skills in design research, data analysis, and introductory media productions. The class also provided students the opportunity to engage with their community. “Service learning grounds students’ learning in a situated context and larger community,” D’Ignazio remarked, noting that what they learn in class becomes “useful, sometimes even urgent, to apply in the real world.”

One of the GIFs created by D'Ignazio's Students

One of the GIFs created by D’Ignazio’s Students

Nancy Allen
Executive-in Residence, Communication Studies
Topics in Health Communication: The War on Drugs

For Allen’s first incorporation of service learning into a course about substance abuse, she saw the importance of her students interacting directly with professionals in the field to hear about the population they serve.

In Allen’s class, students are paired with each other based on their skills, majors, and interests to work on branding, brochures, client manuals, posters, and video for The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC). “My hope is that they will not only have a great experience working in a group setting on a project for a real-world client, but will also come away with a portfolio piece that they can use on job and internship interviews in the future,” Allen said. She reported that the BPHC was thrilled with the contributions of the students, noting that due to their capacity, the organization would not have had time to organize the projects the students were able to complete on their behalf.

“We can read about an opioid epidemic in Massachusetts in the newspapers but to talk to the people who are on the ground doing overdose prevention and training and to hear the stories of [death] is an eye-opening experience for students. I hope they gain a better understanding of the population of people who use drugs (and what their lives are like) as well as what it takes to get into and stay in recovery,” Allen said.

Christina Marín
Assistant Professor, Performing Arts
Contemporary Issues in Education

Marín has a long history of community involvement with her teaching and research, dating back to her doctoral studies. At Emerson, she first began using service learning in her undergraduate course Drama in Education. She and her students partnered with 826 Boston, a writing and literacy program for students in Roxbury’s Egleston Square.

For her course Contemporary Issues in Education, Marín fostered a partnership with Hyde Square Task Force, a community development group. Her students visited the nonprofit in Jamaica Plain to work with members of ¡ACCIÓN! Community Theatre (ACT!) to develop Forum Theatre scenes in which they examine contemporary issues faced by today’s high school students. This collaboration involved a final performance that was funded by a Service Learning Innovation Grant Marín was awarded from the Office of Academic Engagement and Community Action.

“Teacher education is the perfect site for service learning because it has the potential to provide pre-service teaching candidates with hands-on experiential learning with young people who are currently in the school system. The insight they can gain from these exchanges is priceless,” Marín said.

Angela Cooke-Jackson,
Assistant Professor, Communication Studies
Paul Mihailidis,
Associate Professor, Marketing Communications
Health and Media Literacy for Urban Communities

The approach Cooke-Jackson and Mihailidis brought to service learning through this course emphasized Emerson’s commitment to storytelling. Instead of spending time in the communities they are helping, students relied on the narratives of community members to help local organizations solve communications and media issues they face. By partnering with Accord Food Pantry and Women Working for Oceans (W2O), students in this course had the opportunity to help create a template to address a specific problem that each organization identified.

“The students are getting a sense of understanding community narratives and what challenges are transpiring within these communities,” Cooke-Jackson said. She noted that students are developing the skills to listen to narratives before espousing a solution or a suggestion, an important element of community-based participatory research and human-centered design.

Cooke-Jackson explained that above all, students learned to focus on the community being served, emphasizing that her and Mihailidis’ goal is for students to be “innovative, but always think about human-centered design.”

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