By Lisa Randall
Third year math major Jordan Perras loved the Human Services professions service-learning class she took last fall, knew she wanted to stay involved with the program, but wasn’t sure what sort of time commitment she could make.
“I’m involved in a bunch of organizations around campus, so my schedule is always changing,” Perras said.
Traditionally, the student leader roles in the Service-Learning Program that have been available to students like Perras were centered around the Service-Learning Teaching Assistant (S-LTA) program, which presents a large time commitment and one that doesn’t fit in every schedule. S-LTAs and their team managers support a service-learning class and its students, coordinate with community partners, and attend their S-L class sessions every week.
Perras’ qualm illustrates one of the very inspirations behind the newest facet of the Service-Learning program: the Street Team.
Born out of a desire to provide more leadership opportunities to a growing network of interested students, the Street Team offers a more flexible commitment to students wanting to be involved with the program. As the applicant pool for S-LTA positions increased, so too did the drive to involve more service-minded students in the program.
“I just remember having this thought cross my mind during the [S-LTA] interview process,” Becca Berkey, director of Service-Learning at Northeastern, recalled. “‘These people are all really awesome, and the reality is we’re not going to be able to hire them all as Service-Learning Teaching Assistants because of classes and logistical things.”
Berkey said that the original idea for the Street Team has continued to evolve based on the mindset of keeping these prospective leaders involved in the program in some way or another.
After Berkey’s initial epiphany, she relayed it to her team.
“After that I was like ‘I had this idea during the meeting! We need to start a Service-Learning Street Team,” she said. “They were just like, ‘Crazy Becca, doing her thing. But we kept it on our radar screen.”
At that time, Berkey said, she wasn’t entirely sure what the Street Team would manifest as or what sort of role its members would play in the program.
This past summer is when the concept really began to take shape.
“We kind of came at that conversation from two different directions,” Berkey said. “One was, ‘what are problems or challenges we’ve faced as a program that having more people could help remedy?’ And then the other side … was, ‘what are things that we would love to do or love to do
better if we … had more people?’”
With both a reactive approach to the Street Team, as well as a more proactive and visionary approach, the possibilities became endless.
One of the first challenges that the Service-Learning team knew the Street Team could help solve was the issue of making service-learning students, especially those of whom are in their first year at Northeastern, feel more comfortable on their first trip to their service site.
“One of the biggest challenges we face as a program or have faced in the past is … every single semester there are at least two or three students with issues either getting to their service sites or feeling nervous about the neighborhoods they’re traveling in, or traveling on public transportation,” Berkey said. “There are two or three students in any given semester that the anxiety is so severe that it rises to the level of me.”
Berkey noted that for every one of those two or three students who bring their apprehension to her attention, there are probably ten more who aren’t voicing their concerns.
“That’s where we kind of came up with the initial idea of how about we have the Street Team really be a street team, helping students get to their service sites, building those relationships, introducing [students] to neighborhoods, that kind of thing,” Berkey said.
Knowing that there would be plenty more for Street Team members to add to the program, the Service-Learning program began to recruit trailblazers and student leaders to help make the concept a reality. Now under the leadership of the newest member of the Service-Learning staff David Draper, the team is in motion.
Within the first few weeks of the semester, the sixteen-person Street Team hit the ground running, signing up to escort service-learning students to their orientations and providing neighborhood tours along the way.
“Leading students to orientations was really fun because I got to hear about different service-learning courses and what their service options are,” Perras said.
Now that orientations have settled and the semester is in full swing, the Street Team is using their time at weekly Service-Learning student leader meetings to further define and delegate their roles within the program.
“I’m…signed up to lead a tour of Roxbury for an RA program, volunteer at IARSLCE and table about my experience at the Service-Learning EXPO,” Perras said of her varied roles on the Street Team.
The program emphasized the notion of trailblazing during recruitment primarily to attract students who were intrigued by the idea of making this experience their own, but also the idea of helping to mold the team into a real asset to the program.
“I was excited about helping to pilot the program and share my ideas on ways to help it improve and make even more of an impact,” Perras said.
While there is always room for improvement, the team has certainly had success stories just coming out of those first few weeks of community partner orientations.
“Part of it is just like people get nervous about the unknown,” Berkey said, referring specifically to first-year service-learning students. “ I remember meeting with a student … from a small town … and it was just paralyzing her the thought of getting on the bus to go somewhere, having to navigate that.”
Berkey said that the Street Team has been able to, in a way, remove that fear of the unknown for students attending orientations.
“If you have someone that knows that they’re doing who’s with you and that’s provided as a resource, that will help remedy some of those feelings,” Berkey said.
The Street Team will undoubtedly continue to evolve into the coming semesters as new perspectives and members join the team.
Berkey said the program will continue to seek student leaders “who are willing to do it, have had their own experiences and so can bring that critical kind of perspective into ‘How do we make this good idea flourish even more in coming semesters.’”
“But I think conceptually,” Berkey said, “it’s a hit so far.”