Students Put Theory into Practice Through Service Learning

Students Put Theory Into Practice Through Service Learning

Undergraduates in the Farquhar College of Arts And Sciences Gain Hands-On Experience
Volunteer Programs Offer Community Outreach, Service, and Education

At Science Alive night, marine biology major Shel Simmons delights young students by demonstrating the "Foaming Fountain" experiment–using yeast and hydrogen peroxide to create a dramatic exothermic reaction.

At NSU's Lifelong Learning Institute, Kyley Jorgensen measures the heart rate and blood pressure of member Barbara Brody–the first opportunity for the exercise and sport science major to practice her skills on anyone other than fellow students.

At the on-campus Boomers and Beyond Health Fair, biology major and volunteer Briana Prieto shadows a physician assistant student as he conducts blood-sugar screenings on seniors–giving Prieto a closer view of a field she wants to pursue.

These undergraduate students and their respective professors at the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences are participating in a service learning pilot program in which hands-on experience and community service are woven into the fabric of academic coursework.

During the winter 2012 semester, this program was part of three particular sections of science courses: Exercise Prescription, Medical Terminology, and Biology I/Lab. Students had the opportunity to practice new skills and expand on classroom lessons while providing service to children, families, and seniors in the community.

Learning the Language While Lending a Hand

"Overall, service learning is a win-win-win to all stakeholders," said Mark Jaffe, D.P.M., associate professor at the college, who is leading the service learning project in his Medical Terminology course. "Students see how classroom theory is put into practice and the community benefits from the energy and passion our students bring to the events. Faculty benefit from having students return to the classroom more energized," Jaffe said.

In Jaffe's class, students tested their ideas about ageism while interacting with seniors and middle-aged clients at the Boomers and Beyond Health Fair. The students also participated in a special workshop, wrote an essay, and completed a survey about service learning.

"Service learning at this event allows the students to use geriatric specialty terminology they have learned in class with senior citizens. This is a real-world experience that cannot be duplicated in the classroom," Jaffe said.

"This was especially beneficial for me," said Prieto, a freshman in the Dual Admission Program for physician assistant. "I was able to connect with a physician assistant student who is where I hope to be someday. I feel it is essential to have hands-on learning. Not only does a service learning program give the student a chance to learn while doing, but it also provides a chance to become more involved in the community and make professional and personal connections.

"This event was a great opportunity because it made everything we were learning more realistic, and we were able to apply that to real-life situations. I used many medical terms that I had learned throughout the semester," Prieto said.

Bringing Science to Life for Young Learners

At Science Alive, undergraduate student volunteers spent an evening making biology and other sciences fun for the children of Welleby Elementary School in Sunrise by demonstrating interactive experiments. The "Art and Science Liquid Kaleidoscope"–creating nail polish art using the principles of hydrophobic and hydrophilic interactions–and the "Lightsaber Training"–harnessing static electricity (or "The Force") to levitate a tinsel ball–were big hits.

"By sharing interesting science activities with young students, the undergraduate biology students become more engaged in the biology course subject material," said Emily Schmitt, Ph.D., associate professor and coordinator of biological science at the college, whose students participated in the annual event.

"The focus of this service learning project was to work with a local elementary school while providing biology students with a practical application for sharing their knowledge as part of their course," Schmitt said. "This project makes science fun and engaging for everyone while bolstering science education in local public elementary schools."

Simmons, a freshman and member of the Undergraduate Honors Program, discovered that volunteer work was rewarding.

"From my perspective, one of the benefits of service learning was getting a chance to be recognized as a volunteer," Simmons said. "The reaction from the kids made it worth all the work. They were really excited and eager to help when we asked for volunteers, and they were excited to answer and ask questions. I had a lot more fun than I was expecting."

Getting to the Heart of Hands-On Training

"This program is so great for so many reasons–community outreach, service, and education," said Tobin Silver, Ph.D., assistant professor, who teaches the Exercise Prescription course and led the service learning seminar at the Lifelong Learning Institute (LLI). "Students are learning how to administer important health assessments and provide them to the community."

"I've done [the heart rate and blood pressure assessments] a few times on other students, but this is a better way to learn and a chance to practice outside the classroom," said Jorgensen, a senior who hopes to work as a trainer after graduating.

"This enhances what I learn in class," said junior Jonathan Gil, an exercise and sport science major and a volunteer at the LLI seminar. "It was a great simulation of a real-world assessment that most health professionals utilize. I feel like the more practice I get behind the curtain, the more confident and efficient I will be when I'm in a real-world setting."