March 31, 2009
Faculty in the First Year Writing Program at St. John’s Institute for
Writing Studies (IWS) are collaborating with the University’s
Academic Service-Learning to facilitate experiential learning
and reflective writing efforts for students in the required
first-year writing course, English 1000C (English
In the First Year Writing Program, which introduces students to
research, the conventions of academic writing, and critical
thinking, faculty design their curricula around theories of
composition, literary studies, and creative writing, among others
genres and types of texts. More and more they’re including an
academic service-learning (AS-L) component.
St. John’s writing professor,
Sean Murray, Ph.D challenges incoming freshman to critically
examine a particular belief or experience and to become stewards in
the community through civic engagement and creative writing
reflection. His curriculum offers students the opportunity to serve
at site locations specific to their field of interest such as
Ozanam Hall Nursing Home.
“Community work can be the spring board for AS-L analysis, Dr.
Murray adds. “I incorporate open-ended assignments that ideally
target a student’s interest in a particular community agency rather
than selecting a place for them to volunteer and write
AS-L allows students to experience a “think-outside-of-the-box”
style of traditional education. Students enrich their college
experience through academic service-learning and acquire writing
skills ranging from developing mission statements and brochures to
personal essay composition.
Reflecting on her involvement at the Ozanam Nursing Home, freshman
Priscilla Aguilar says she was amazed at the wealth of experience
she gained through her academic service-learning. “
It allows you to learn something that you cannot in the classroom.
I believe that academic service-learning is a great way to connect
what you learn in school to helping out your community. By
participating in this experience, I learned more about the elderly
and it was great to know that I brought a smile to their
According to Dr. Murray, in order to stay abreast of AS-L best
practices, writing faculty members must ask themselves two key
questions: What possibilities does AS-L present for composition?
What possibilities does composition present for AS-L? By closely
examining these connections, he says, faculty can create the kinds
of assignments that promote social justice and analytical thinking
among our students.
St. John’s Vincentian mission of serving those who are socially,
economically or physically disadvantaged underlies AS-L
initiatives. Dr. Murray’s belief in service and academic
excellence led him to include AS-L into his writing
“My vision of AS-L is a method of getting students outside the
classroom and thinking about the choices they make as part of the
larger social fabric,” Dr. Murray adds. “They become part of the
community; break down walls and connect with people beyond the
campus in meaningful ways.”
Academic Service-Learning helps foster civic responsibility; is
integrated into and enhances the academic curriculum of students;
and includes structured time for students to reflect on the service
experience. It is an integral component of the University’s new Vincentian
Institute for Social Action (VISA), which was created to
support the perpetuation of the University’s Vincentian mission and
to provide an academic platform for students and faculty to address
issues of global poverty and social injustice through teaching,
research and service. A key aspect of VISA is the development and
strengthening of strategic partnerships with organizations and
programs that provide services and assistance to those most in need
locally, nationally and internationally.