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Service Learning Projects Impact Students and Community

Monday, September 2, 2013

Embracing St. John’s University’s commitment to making the world a better place,  Marilyn Dono-Koulouris, Ed.D,  Assistant Professor, Discover New York (DNY), has earned a reputation for consistently incorporating Academic Service-Learning (AS-L) projects into her DNY classes that meet the changing needs of the Staten Island community. At the same time, the projects also enhance her students’ learning experience.  

By providing course-related service opportunities at Staten Island organizations such as the Stapleton U.A.M.E. Church, the Seamen’s Society for Children and Families and Project Hospitality, Dono-Koulouris has forged meaningful community partnerships. “Her use of service to introduce students to people from different backgrounds and economic status helps them to understand the many dimensions of New York City,” said Jessica Cook, Associate Director of Academic Service-Learning, Vincentian Institute for Social Action (VISA).

A member of the University faculty since 1999, Dono-Koulouris chose St. John’s because of its emphasis on service. “I spent many years working in the mergers and acquisition arena, teaching in proprietary business schools, and even running a pre-k program,” she said. “I was ready to help the less fortunate, and I was eager to put my energies into training well-rounded and compassionate leaders who wanted to make a difference.”

Dono-Koulouris integrated a service-learning element into her Discover New York curriculum even before it became mandatory in 2009; she believed that experiential learning helps students to remember what they learn—and  “the importance of the University’s Vincentian orientation,” she added.

Her work was on display last year during Superstorm Sandy, when Dono-Koulouris designed a project requiring students to visit devastated areas like Staten Island’s South Beach and Midland Beach. Students interviewed residents and business-owners to determine how they had been impacted by the storm. 

“This experience was a turning point for me,” said Ozanam Scholar Joseph Anzalone ’16C. “I was overwhelmed by the impact Sandy had on the community.  It made me realize how geography and economic status can be dramatically altered by external factors like climate. “
After seeing the extent of the wreckage and listening to first-hand accounts, Anzalone found his true calling. “After the experience of having a front row seat to history,“ he said, “I realized I wanted to become a journalist reporting on pressing economic and social issues, ensuring that the public knows the real facts.” Prior to this, Anzalone was considering a career in law or politics.

Moved by the plight of the people he met, Anzalone volunteered for additional service in South Beach, even though he had already satisfied his AS-L requirements. He distributed clothing and helped move furniture and other belongings out of damaged homes. “It was incredibly inspiring,” he said, “to see how many other volunteers turned out to help and how much our assistance was appreciated.”

A member of the Staten Island Committee for Campus-Community Partnerships (SI3CP), established by VISA and the Staten Island Office of Academic Affairs in 2010, Dono-Koulouris stays involved with the surrounding community, locating additional organizations with AS-L needs.

“Professor Dono-Koulouris’ ability and willingness to incorporate the needs of the community into her DNY classes has helped raise the profile of our campus as well as reinforce the University’s mission,” said Christopher Cuccia, Ed.D, Academic Assistant Vice President, Staten Island campus.
Dono-Koulouris is exploring future collaborations with local Catholic and public elementary schools, including a Catholic school with a large immigrant student body.  “I have found that the more I am involved with potential nonprofit partners, the more students profit from their AS-L experience,” she said.