By Barbara Jacoby
On Tuesday, April 4th 2017, The Office of Public Engagement held its spring Service Learning event. The focus of this event was to highlight Service Learning pedagogy as a driving economic force for the future of Connecticut. For the event, we were fortunate enough to have Barbara Jacoby as our keynote speaker for the event. Jacoby is the current director of commuter affairs and community service at the University of Maryland, College Park.
In addition to her role at the University of Maryland, Jacoby is also the adviser to the president for America Reads and the editor of the book Service-Learning in Higher Education. Due to her shining credentials, Jacoby is a highly sought after scholar and speaker in connection to Service Learning. As the keynote speaker, Jacoby related her personal experiences with Service Learning to introduce the various positive implications it can have on a community. These positive impacts were far-reaching and impacted the local communities through business growth and economic development. During her speech, she defined Service Learning for the audience. According to Jacoby, Service Learning is “a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities for reflection designed to achieve desired learning outcomes.” She argued that Service Learning “adds depth and breadth to meaning by challenging simplistic conclusions.” This reflection in Service Learning is all about challenging these conclusions and comparing and examining different perspectives.
She noted, “civic engagement is the mechanism that connects economic development, and education for democratic citizenship… economic development in the higher education context is the philosophy and practice of generating measurable economic returns in communities through university engagement.” She gave examples of various ways in which Service Learning had impacted the economy of their local communities.
She gave an example from a town in rural Tennessee, near East Tennessee State University. The small town’s economy was suffering due to the new interstate, which bypassed the town. Due to the interstate, the town’s main street was no longer the main road. Thus, many of the local businesses suffered and had to close down. One of these local businesses was a theater, which had to shut down due to lack of business. Jacoby segued, “here’s where the reciprocity of Service Learning comes in.” At the same time, the university was also facing budget cuts, both the history and theater department weren’t attracting enough students, and there were rumors of the departments being cut.
In response, a history and theater professor joined together and collaborated to create an interdisciplinary Service Learning course. The course required students to research local history and write plays based on their research. Thus, the students created plays and presented the plays in the main street theater. Jacoby noted, “Eventually, their productions grew large local audiences, and also began to attract tourists.” Jacoby also discussed how the revitalization of the theater was catalyst to the revitalization of Main Street in general; “Main Street has changed and developed because of this service learning class.”