It’s one of the newest courses on campus, and it’s pushing service learning to a higher level.
The Leadership course Serve to Succeed has been on campus only a few short weeks, but students taking the class are already finding various ways to make a difference in their communities.
Taught by vice president of Student Affairs, Tisa Mason, the course matches freshmen with sophomore mentors who have gone through the their first year in the L3 community, a section of students living in the dorms that focus their year on service learning and community engagement.
AmeriCorps through Kansas Compact offered a grant to Fort Hays State University, funding the service learning course. The grant requested a way to mix service learning with freshman retention.
This is the first year Fort Hays has had this class on campus.
Throughout the year, sophomore students in the course advise two freshman in not only service-learning but academics.
There are six service projects the student service learning fellows are required to take part in during the semester, but they can also do others for extra points. Each student is also required to attend a Fort Hays event as a team and study together to continue their engagement outside the classroom.
During spring break, the students in the service course will also be taking part in five service projects and working with several organizations around the state, including the Topeka Rescue Mission, Options: domestic violence, Sexual Assault services and the Special Olympics. Their final spring project will conclude with the Student Government Association’s annual Big Event.
After the grant was accepted, Mason said the campus had a hard time recruiting students for the role as service-learning fellows. Mason also said finding an instructor in the middle of the school year was a tough find, so she decided to take on the course herself.
“The division of Student Affairs works a lot with student retention. … Everybody was really busy, and I felt really committed to working with the students. I didn’t want the grant to pass by Fort Hays, so sometimes as the boss, you’ve got to step up to the plate. You can’t always delegate everything,” Mason said.
“Big thanks to Jill Arensdorf in the Leadership Department. I had to find a home for it, so I went down to Leadership studies and asked if they would allow us to do it, and they said, ‘yes.’”
The service-learning class is also taking advantage of the newest technology on campus – smart classrooms. The rooms, which were added to campus this year, give students a more comfortable classroom setting as well as making it easier for instructors to be engaged in their classrooms. Mason said she wasn’t aware the course would be in the classroom in Rarick Hall, but said it has been a great asset.
“We’ve only had a couple of classes so far, but it’s been great. … As you know, we have different configurations and the students are sitting in their groups. It’s very easy for them to participate as a class and then go into small group work, and that’s what we do a lot of,” Mason said.
“We haven’t used the technology yet, but we will.”
The service-learning course is a pilot for this year and will need to be approved once again in order for it to be available to students on campus in the fall. Mason said one of the largest goals in creating the class is not only student retention but also molding students to continue their paths with community service in mind.
“The goal is to have all 12 students here in the fall back and ready to engage in another year,” Mason said.
“I really think that they will have a life-long commitment to service and figure out how to not only do it as a college student but then when they get into the community, think about how they can establish themselves as community leaders.”