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Service-learning: challenging students to view themselves and others from a new perspective

An extensive number of service-learning offerings connect coursework with community assistance.

Inside-Out - Service Learning - Students learn side-by-side with Bristol County House of Corrections inmates.
Inside-Out: UMassD students learn side-by-side with Bristol County House of Correction inmates. Both "inside" and "outside" students gain a new perspective on the criminal justice system.

Inside-Out is a service-learning collaboration between UMass Dartmouth's Crime and Justice Studies program and the Bristol County House of Corrections. It is part of an extensive number of service-learning offerings that connect coursework with community assistance, both regionally and abroad. For many students, it also is an experience of profound personal growth.

Service-learning classes challenge students to view themselves and others from a new perspective. Whether it is learning with inmates or finding beauty in the ordinary, UMass students change, from the inside out.

Inside-Out: service-learning opportunity that brings students behind bars

When Alex Perron went to jail, it wasn't because he was charged with a crime. As a crime and justice studies major, Perron took advantage of a service-learning opportunity that brought him behind the gates of the local lockup.

"I signed up for the Inside-Out program in order to better understand what it was like to be inside the jail," he said. "I wanted to know how that would affect the learning process."

This three-credit course is just one of an extensive number of service learning offerings that connect coursework with specific projects that assist the community, both regionally and abroad. For many students, it also is an experience of profound personal growth.
 With Inside-Out, 15 UMass Dartmouth students (outside students from a variety of majors) and 15 inmates (inside students) enroll in a semester-long course called Justice & Society.

"Some students go in wanting to be prosecutors, but they come out wanting to be public defenders," said Professor Susan Krumholz, director of the program. "In this class, they learn how to think and care."

As for the inmates, they gain new confidence in their ability to perform college-level work. They are mentored and challenged by faculty and the UMassD students, and discover new abilities.

Perron learned more than he anticipated. "This experience broke down the walls between the inside students and the outside students, and allowed us to see each other as fellow students instead of criminals and citizens," he said.

"After taking this class, I appreciate the opportunities I have to learn," Perron said. "Seeing the inside students work twice as hard as the outside students made me realize how valuable knowledge is and what it can do for the human spirit."

Jessica Chalkley photo - skateboarding in Fall River
Fall River Portraits: Skateboarders - photo by Jessica Chalkley '17.

National recognition for educational engagement

UMass Dartmouth has offered service-learning options for about the last 10 years, and has been nationally recognized as being on the forefront
 of engaged educational processes. Faculty involvement has grown to 159 Service Learning Fellows, and during the last academic year 6,333 students took part in service-learning opportunities.

Beyond the numbers, service-learning experiences help improve students' civic participation and academic skills. In a recent study completed by the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement, 75.4 percent of students agreed that service learning helped them see other people's perspectives. Also, they said it challenged them to apply the academic skills they gained to real-world problems.

Bridging the gap between academia & the community through photography

Like Krumholz, Professor Andrea Klimt uses her anthropology/sociology class to help bridge the gap between academia and the community. Working in collaboration with Fall River high school students at B.M.C Durfee High School and Resiliency Preparatory School, as well as a group of Fall River seniors, Klimt's students helped document the city in 2014 and 2015.

"I always look for ways to collaborate with and contribute to local communities," said Klimt. "My goal was for my students to go past Fall River's negative reputation and find points of connection and mutual understanding."

The high school and college students took to the streets of Fall River, a proud but struggling former mill city, photographing life on the streets, as well as barbershops, bakeries, and other small businesses. Each year, the photographs grew into an exhibit at the Narrows Center for the Arts and then the Staircase Gallery in the city's Government Center.

"The exhibit was not just a portrait of the conventionally 'pretty' aspects," said Klimt. "It documented the complexity of this urban space, the challenges facing the city, as well as evidence of a deep-seated pride and meaningful connection to place."

She is now working with another Fall River school, Diman Regional Technological Vocational High School, to create a Fall River Portraits - 2017 exhibit. She is collaborating with two UMassD alumni at Diman, Paul Beaudoin '95, head of the Electronics Department, and Michelle Gaudencio '03, a graphic communications teacher, with the enthusiastic support of another alum, Diman's Superintendent-director, Thomas Aubin '91.

Krumholz's and Klimt's classes are only two of the many service-learning opportunities available for students. UMass Dartmouth continues to implement more opportunities that challenge students to become engaged, compassionate citizens.

"Other students should seize any opportunity they have for service learning," Perron said. "These experiences enhance the way you learn and the way you interact with others in your life."

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