CCPS Symposium Celebrates Academic Service-Learning

November 7, 2023

Rooted in its Vincentian values and inspired by the legacy of St. Vincent de Paul, St. John’s University has always believed in expanding the classroom experience through community-service programs and reflective learning. Students and faculty explored those possibilities recently in a daylong seminar dedicated to the Academic Service-Learning (AS-L) program.

AS-L, part of the Vincentian Institute for Social Action, is a learning method that integrates academically relevant service activities addressing human and community needs into a University course. Examples of current AS-L courses at St. John’s include Discover New York, part of the Institute for Core Studies; past courses have included Introduction to Hearing Science and the Inside/Out Prison Exchange.

To qualify as AS-L, courses must serve a real and existing need identified by a community agency; be for course credit only; feature a reciprocal relationship, i.e., service that reinforces learning and learning that strengthens service; and benefit both St. John’s students and the community.

The October 27 seminar included research sessions in which students and professors presented original findings on AS-L-related topics. Graduate students also shared their community-service experiences and developed illustrative presentations on the broader, and even more theoretical, themes of service learning.

Among other resources, the University provides service opportunities through the platform GivePulse, which lists, organizes, and measures social-impact initiatives in local communities. Service opportunities are not limited, and many are provided in the areas of food scarcity and homelessness, health care, education and youth services, civic engagement, and special projects.

Speakers from Seton Hall University’s Catholic Social Thought in Action Academy were invited to share their experiences integrating theory and service into the classroom.

“This event has been a dream of mine for a long time,” said Tiffany L. Mohr, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Division of Mass Communication, who organized the event. “It was born out of my passion for teaching and learning, and my experience quarantining during COVID.”

Basilio G. Monteiro, Ph.D., Chair and Associate Professor, Division of Mass Communication, and Director, Institute for International Communication, was among the speakers. Dr. Monteiro’s areas of research include the internationalization of human rights, education and social justice, and education in a globalized economy. He explained why service-learning is essential to improving the education system and helping the next generation of professionals.

“The industrialization of education took students outside of communal learning and put them into an individualized environment,” Dr. Monteiro explained. “This is why Academic Service- Learning is important. It can help us socialize and rebuild a community of learners.”

Meghan M. Dunn, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Division of Mass Communication, who researches how information and knowledge are conducted through emerging technologies, presented new and established AS-L partnerships for the University. Current St. John’s partners include the Chapin Home for the Aging in Jamaica, NY, and the Central Family Life Center on Staten Island.
Dr. Dunn discussed her experiences integrating AS-L courses into her undergraduate Public Relations courses. “Gen Z comes into the classroom ready to make an impact,” she said, explaining that while younger people are often described as disinterested, her involvement with younger students has been pleasant and inspiring.

Such a description applies to Dea Hoxha, a junior majoring in Journalism. Two years ago, Dea volunteered online with a local hospital, making cards and bonding with patients. The experience made a huge impression on her.

“I still think about my AS-L experience,” Dea said. “I was able to improve my leadership skills, and I met so many of my friends there. Knowing that our work helped spark change and kindness has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career.”