AACC wins 3-year grant for service program

College will mentor two schools looking to start, expand projects

Anne Arundel

March 11, 2004|By Liz Boch | Liz Boch,SUN STAFF

Amy Garcia knew she wanted to use her biology degree to help the sick, but she wondered if she could handle the emotional side of health care and working with patients one-on-one.

So Garcia spent more than 12 hours in the spring as a volunteer at Morningside House of Friendship Assisted Living in Hanover, helping the arts activities director. The service learning was folded into her course objectives at Anne Arundel Community College, and, as a result, she decided to become a physician's assistant.

"This cemented it for me," said Garcia, 29. "I had a good idea of what I wanted to do, but this directed me. It opens yourself up to things you never thought you'd want to do."

Garcia and hundreds of other students are participating in a service learning program at the community college, one of four institutions around the country that have received three-year, $15,000 grants from the American Association of Community Colleges.

The grants are part of a $1.2 million national service learning project for community colleges, said Cathleen Doyle, program coordinator for the college's Center for Learning Through Service.

The program pairs "mentor" schools, or those that have a formal and developed service learning program, with "mentee" schools looking to expand or create their own service programs.

As a mentor school, Anne Arundel Community College will work with Sinclair Community College in Ohio and Hudson Valley Community College in New York, Doyle said.

In addition to mentoring two schools, Doyle said, the grant would help start initiatives at AACC for faculty, students and community agencies. Of about 220 full-time faculty and additional adjunct professors, 75 offer service learning.

"We have only a two-person office," Doyle said. "We just need a good core of faculty to help the community to grow. Once we have a professor doing service in his department, they become our inroad into that discipline."

The college will also conduct training sessions for students on how to plan and organize their service projects. Community agencies will work more closely with faculty to create student projects, Doyle said.

"It's very rare that we have the opportunity to bring our faculty and community partners together to build new projects, so we're looking to encourage more thought in that," Doyle said.

Program history

Service learning at the college began in 1996 as part of the federal AmeriCorps program and was funded by grants. In 2000, the college took over funding the program, which became the Center for Learning Through Service, said Richard Faircloth, a professor and chairman of the advisory board for service learning at the college.

Arundel's program received a three-year grant to be mentored in 2001 and was paired with another community college. As a mentored school, AACC formally recognized service learning as a teaching technique, and the program received an office and staff, Faircloth said.

The college works with 102 community organizations to develop service projects that fit the agencies' needs and the students' course objectives, Doyle said. Students complete 10 to 20 hours of service over a semester, along with a reflective journal and sometimes an essay on their experience.

Since the fall of 2000, the college says, 2,075 students have performed 27,429 hours of service through the program. College officials estimate that the students provided the equivalent of more than $400,000 in work to organizations through the program.

The college was selected out of 16 schools nationwide that applied to be mentor schools. The three other schools that won are Orange Coast College in California, Southern Maine Community College and Richland College in Texas - AACC's former mentor school, Doyle said.

Project `stars'

Gail Robinson, project director for the American Association of Community Colleges in Washington, D.C., said AACC was selected as a mentor because its strengths matched Sinclair's desire to develop its faculty involvement and Hudson Valley's focus on elementary and middle school programs.

"Anne Arundel had done such a good job as a mentee college," Robinson said. "They were just one of our stars nationally in terms of developing a service learning program that involved a lot of faculty development."

Faircloth pointed to his anatomy and physiology class, in which students pick an agency from four categories: wellness, aging, disability and incarceration. He said that he encourages students to increase their exposure to something new and that often the experience leads to job opportunities.

"The difference [with service learning] is exposure to real life experiences. They're going to be with people they otherwise maybe would never be around," Faircloth said.

Garcia, who graduates in May, said she became a service leader in the program's office, helping other students get comfortable with their service learning assignments.

"There were so many different times, every day when you went home knowing you made someone's life better, you felt good," Garcia said.

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