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Jamie Peterson, Associate Professor, Psychology
Courses with Service-learning: Seminar I: Psychology Engages the World
When I think of January, I typically think about the harsh Minnesota winter – below zero temperatures, frozen eye lashes and cars that refuse to start. When I thought about teaching one of my beloved courses, Seminar I: Psychology Engages the World in January, I wondered how I would get students into Mendel Hall on those cold and frigid days. Even further, I wondered how I would ever get students to engage in the 20-25 hours of service-learning I have made central to the course. Service-learning in a J-term course would require students to not only leave the comfort of home to come to class, but also to engage in meaningful service with people and organizations that would likely make students uncomfortable.
Seminar I: Psychology Engages the World is a two-credit seminar course in which psychology students learn about the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) they are gaining through the psychology curriculum and explore the varied careers in which psychology can be applied. In class we reflect upon the KSAs students are seeing in action at their service-learning sites and the KSAs they are using and developing. We also discuss the people with whom they are working and apply theories and models of psychology in our discussions. In the service-learning internship students are challenged to work with populations with whom they have had little interaction and work within organizations whose missions may be entirely new and scary to students.
Teaching the course in J-term required more preparation than usual, but I believe that even with the truncated time frame students still met my learning objectives for the service and the course. Early preparation and communication with Community Work and Learning staff enabled the service-learning internships to proceed with few hiccups. I met with students during the beginning of fall semester final exam week to introduce the course and the service-learning internship. Community partners came to the meeting to introduce themselves and their organization. Within two days I had matched students with a community organization and the students were calling and emailing the organizations to schedule interviews and orientations for January.
Now as the class winds down I feel as though J-term was created for courses like this; courses that focus on critical thinking, reflection, application and immersion in the community. Students were intensely focused and engaged in the course and their service-learning internships. Some of the discussions we had were the most in-depth and reflective conversations I have had with students in the 5 semesters I have taught the course. I learned that despite frigid temperatures, students were ready to claim their educations – even in J-term – by leaving the comfort of home to feel uncomfortable learning and engaging in the classroom and in the community.