2016-2017 Student Reflection

By Mackenzie Rafferty

Hello readers, my name is Mackenzie Rafferty and for the past academic year, I served as the Communications Assistant for UConn’s Office of Public Engagement. I’m quickly wrapping up my junior year at UConn and reflecting on the experience I had with at Office of Public Engagement this past year. I applied for this position over the summer of 2016, eager for the opportunity to engage in my first professional employment position at UConn.

At UConn, I’m studying both Political Science and Communication. These two areas of focus, when partnered together have aided in giving me a unique and creative voice. This voice, from the beginning of my education experience at UConn, craved an environment to be further curated and refined. The Office of Public Engagement seemed like the perfect match, and I couldn’t have been more correct. At the Office of Public Engagement, I was able to use the skills I learned through my communication courses in a way that furthered some of my very own political agendas and passions.

For those who need a brief refresher, the mission of UConn’s Office of Public Engagement is as follows: “Our mission is to assist in the development of engaged citizens through coordination, advocacy and capacity building for engagement activities.” Taken directly from our website, the mission of the Office of Public Engagement is full of promise for civic engagement and community development. This is accomplished through offering “service learning, engaged scholarship, university-assisted community schools, strategic partnerships, and communities as partners and collaborators.”

This office acts as a facilitative resource for faculty, staff, and students to incorporate this form of education and engagement into their academic journey through research, programs, etc. Together, this office aims to further the University’s impact on local communities with whom it engages, by enabling relationships and fostering long-term, reciprocal partnerships within the community.

Throughout the past two semesters, I’ve had first-hand experience this mission in action. Before my employment here, I had never been exposed to Service Learning at the University of Connecticut. Once exposed, my entire perspective of education and the potential role of the university had changed.

It’s important to add in that one of my classes during the Fall Semester of 2016 was coincidentally a Service Learning course. So, for the first time, I was in a Service Learning course and also working with the very office that made these courses possible in the University. The course I was enrolled in was Constitutional Rights and Liberties with Doctor Kimberly Bergendahl. Our Service Learning Component was to help the Office of Public Engagement hold their annual Constitution Day Celebration. If you’d like to read more about this particular event and how our class pulled it off, check out the article here: http://s.uconn.edu/3p0

This experience allowed for me to garner a better understanding of Service Learning and gather my own unique perspective. I mention this further in the article, but this element of Service Learning really transformed the classroom atmosphere and our student-teacher relationship. When the responsibility was put on us, as students, to curate this event and present it on our own, we were given an entirely new role in the classroom. At that moment, we were no longer strictly students, but collaborators with responsibility with a real, tangible, product to show as our own.

This is simply one example of Service Learning and how it is applied to courses in our University. Service Learning, as I learned this past year, is a discipline of education that can be applied to any area or focus of study. For example, I wrote an article on Dr. John Redden at the University of Connecticut and his Service Learning Science course. What was so amazing about Dr. Redden’s course, was that it partnered with a global-community partner. His partner was Jolly Lux, the founder of Guiding Light Orphans, a non-for profit organization based in Uganda. (My apologies for self-promoting, but this information is too good to keep all to myself). If interested, I urge you check out the article here: http://s.uconn.edu/3p1

Dr. Redden’s example of Service Learning really encapsulated the future potential that Service Learning can have for the University. Redden and his students created a service that reached far beyond the walls of the University of Connecticut; their impact can be felt across borders. Service-Learning doesn’t have to simply impact the local communities (despite that being a very important and beneficial goal), but it can reach far beyond into international and global affairs.

These are just two of an abundance of first-hand examples of Service Learning that I experienced during my time at the Office of Public Engagement. I’m eternally grateful for this position, as it instilled in me a knowledge that I could not have learned inside of a classroom. This knowledge is that there is more than one correct form of teaching. I also learned that education can have an effect far beyond the educator and student. Education has the potential to strengthen relationships outside of the university, create tangible products, and have a lasting charitable impact.

Additionally, Service Learning really transforms the student experience. With Service Learning, students become active “stakeholders” in their education, as often cited by my manager and mentor Julia Yakovich, the director of Service Learning here at the Office of Public Engagement. Yakovich is correct, this form of learning allows for students to take real responsibility and foster a sense of confidence and awareness that is crucial once entering the workforce. Additionally, Service Learning allows for students to create and strengthen bonds with their local community. Once created and strengthened, these bonds foster a potential for students to stay in their local communities post-graduation.

All in all, my experience at the University of Connecticut’s Office of Public Engagement has been extremely formative for me as a student-employee. I hope to take this knowledge and experience with me as I further strengthen my civic and political voice. I know that the Office of Public Engagement will continue to grow and foster community partnerships and student engagement, while also implementing a new, innovative, and vital pedagogy throughout the University.