St. John’s Academic Service-Learning Faculty Craft Unique Pandemic Responses

Exterior of Lourdes Hall on the Queens Campus
June 2, 2020

The innovative concept of Academic Service-Learning (AS-L) has long been a hallmark of St. John’s University’s curriculum. AS-L requires students to perform various community service activities benefiting the public good as part of their course, heightening their awareness of social justice and responsibility to each other. Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, several St. John’s faculty members have seized this crisis as a teachable moment and an opportunity for action.

“The Office of Academic Service-Learning is part of the Vincentian Institute for Social Action (VISA), and what better time for social action than now,” observed Lynn Stravino ’05CPS, ’08G, Director, Academic Service-Learning. All in-person AS-L activities were suspended in March, but the need at community service sites continued—in many cases, it became more urgent.

“Would we be able to still meet some of the community needs while staying safe and staying distant?” Ms. Stravino asked. “The answer is yes. We found it possible for some of our project-based AS-L opportunities. With the determination and creativity of faculty, the projects were restructured, and students continued working remotely until they were completed and delivered.”

“Our two AS-L projects involved the creation of specific branding and marketing communication programs for two clients: the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal, Philadelphia, PA, and Prevent Child Abuse New York,” noted George A. Maggiore, M.B.A., Adjunct Assistant Professor of Marketing in The Peter J. Tobin College of Business. “Students were tasked to take what they learned in class and create meaningful programs for clients with real marketing problems,” he added, noting that the response he received from both organizations was overwhelmingly positive.

“AS-L within the online environment is not only possible, but necessary,” observed Christine Angel, Associate Professor of Library and Information Science in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “AS-L projects are still being conducted by students currently enrolled in my Organization of Information and Archival Representation courses—including by students who live as far away as Hawaii.” 

“The main goal for any AS-L project has been access,” Prof. Angel stressed. “This is especially important within our current environment, because even though we cannot be in-person, the education and research have not stopped.” Prof. Angel and her students are digitizing archival documents and creating metadata for the Center for Migration Studies of New York. This allows researchers to view historical documents pertaining to never-before-seen case law concerning migration into the United States. She added, “All things are possible within this current situation. You just need to get a little creative.” 

Charles Wankel, Ph.D., Professor of Management, incorporates into his courses a project related to the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations and how businesses can help move the world toward realizing these goals by 2030. Students have developed case studies by interviewing corporate executives and managers. 

One of Dr. Wankel’s student teams developed a case study on Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens, NY. In their report, students emphasized how the hospital’s union benefits fund was established as a way to provide robust health-care benefits to the wider range of hospital employees beyond the medical staff. “This is bolstering morale and fostering camaraderie among all the people who work at the hospital,” Dr. Wankel said.

This semester, undergraduate and graduate students in the Introduction to Hearing Science and Pediatric Audiology courses taught by Shruti Deshpande, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Communication Sciences and Disorders, virtually collaborated on a presentation to help educate approximately 100 adolescents in local communities about music-induced hearing loss and the audiology profession. 

“With adolescents restricted to their homes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, most are turning to screens and their personal listening devices for education, entertainment, and socialization,” Dr. Deshpande explained. “This project engaged our students via meaningful, active learning approaches like service-learning.” 

Additionally, adolescents were educated about infection control for their hearing protection devices, quieter recreational options, as well as the use of transparent masks to help while communicating with loved ones who might have hearing loss.

Smita Guha, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Curriculum and Instruction, in The School of Education, tasked her students with developing audiobooks for blind children at a school in India. In another class, her students prepared workshops and information on health and nutrition for MOMMAS House, a Long Island-based nonprofit organization that provides housing and support services to young mothers and their babies.

Timothy Keiningham, Ph.D., Professor of Marketing, asked his students to collaborate on a project with buildOn, a nonprofit devoted to breaking the cycle of poverty and illiteracy through service and education. His students studied what aspects of buildOn’s offerings had the greatest impact on their sense of well-being for their urban students. They analyzed survey data collected from around the country, identifying particular programs that had the greatest positive impact on students. “They determined the amount of time that students needed to commit to serving others to get the most out of their experience with buildOn,” he explained.

“The insights provided by our St. John’s students were eye-opening for buildOn,” he said. “They were very specific and highly actionable. Our students similarly benefited. They saw very clearly how the specialized skills they developed in class could glean insights that could improve the operations of buildOn, and most importantly, how they could be used to serve others.”

Ms. Stravino applauded the AS-L faculty and students for their diligence and creativity during this difficult time. “I stand in awe at what was accomplished this semester in spite of the pandemic. It is a testament to the perseverance of our faculty and our students who rose to the challenge. While staying safe, they were still able to take action.”