A Look at Three New Honors Service-Learning Courses

By Kris Fernandez, Lisa Randall, Shelby Sih, and Savannah Stewart

The Northeastern University Honors Program and Service-Learning at Northeastern built upon their unique partnership this semester with the addition of three new courses.

Honors Program

Northeastern Students and Boston-Area Youth See Theatre with an Enlightened Eye

For a group of 15 Honors students, the art of theatre became an important means to connect with a community, both in and out of the classroom.

The students in Professor Nancy Kindelan’s Seeing Theatre with an Enlightened Eye course, none of whom were theater majors, were exposed to various theatre techniques and concepts through their coursework and service.

The course was partnered with both the Yawkey Boys & Girls Club and the Joseph M. Tierney Learning Center, where Kindelan’s students traveled to workshop two plays throughout the semester with youth at each organization.

“The experience was very positive,” Kindelan said. “Students found that after teaching, they were able to engage with the texts in different ways, and the children they worked with gleaned aspects of the literature with different perspectives that helped Northeastern students learn.”

The course reached an important culmination when Kindelan’s students were actually able to see the plays with the youth they had been working with throughout the semester, and then have post-play discussions.

“We workshopped Einstein’s Dreams with the Yawkey Boys & Girls Club and The Trumpet of the Swan with the Tierney Learning Center,” Service-Learning Teaching Assistant Hanne Larsen said, explaining that her students first dramaturgically analyzed each play, and then thought about how to introduce the works to the youth they would be working with.

Kindelan and Larsen’s students learned about various theatre techniques, and in turn were able to teach those to students at both organizations.

“For example,” Larsen explained, “[our students] designed staging or set exercises that would help the students start thinking about how the world of the play would come to be on stage from analyzing portions of the script.”

The course, which promised to expose non-theatre majors to the discipline, enlightened students as to the process of writing and creating a play, as well as how the community interacts and connects with the theater.

Kindelan believes that the type of service her students were engaged in throughout the semester worked to “increase the future audience and give younger students an outlet for expression, emotion, and teamwork.”


The Magic of Math Brings Northeastern and the Community Together

Think analytically, think mathematically, and think magically. That’s what Honors students were asked to do this semester in Professor Stanley Eigen’s course, Mathematics of Tricks & Puzzles.

For eight students, this meant learning about the math behind specific magic tricks and puzzles, and then, in an experience that is often unique to service-learning courses, actually going out into the community to demonstrate what they had learned.

“I had an idea to teach students to do a trick and teach them the math behind it,” Eigen said, “and they could also bond with other students outside the course.”

This meant traveling in teams of two to two different community-partner organizations throughout the semester: MathPOWER and El Centro del Cardenal.

MathPOWER, housed on Northeastern’s campus, works to “transform the lives of urban youth by developing proficiency in advanced mathematics and personal resiliency,” according to their website.

They do so with their Math*STARS Afterschool Program, which provides mentorship and academic support to elementary, middle school, and high school-aged students.

While MathPOWER has long been a partner of Service-Learning at Northeastern, typically service-learning students are partnered with the organization in a tutoring capacity. This semester, Eigen’s students were able to enlighten MathPOWER students to a new facet of mathematics, and show off the skills they were working on in class.

Eigen’s students offered the same dynamic experience to a population of older students at El Centro del Cardenal’s Youth Education Program. The program, an asset of the Catholic Charitable Bureau of the Archdiocese of Boston, offers “bilingual, alternative education for high-risk, low-income youth who have dropped out or are about to drop out of high school,” according to Program Coordinator Verena Niederhoefer.

The organization provided translation resources so that Eigen’s students could deliver a workshop to both an English and Spanish-speaking audience at El Centro.

Eigen’s students came away from the course with an understanding of varying mathematical concepts, while also having enriched the math curriculum at both community-partner organizations.


Contemporary Issues in Healthcare Meet Community Needs in Boston

Combining classroom and community became especially meaningful for students in Professor Lorna Hayward’s Contemporary Issues in Healthcare course this semester, as her students worked with community partners to identify their organizations’ very specific needs, and then develop a plan to address them.

“My students are great,” Hayward said. “They’re Honors students from all different disciplines, which makes the course really interesting because you can look at the problem of healthcare from all different perspectives.”

The course had five business majors, for example. “For one of the business majors, he told me this is the first semester he’s had a class where he has to care about something besides money.”

Hayward’s students were asked to think about issues currently being faced by the health care sector, “which could include things like the Ebola outbreak, infectious diseases, [and] Obamacare.”

Students were equipped with a foundational understanding of health care on a local, national, and global scale, and then asked to “examine hot topics in healthcare,” Hayward said.

Perhaps the largest component of the course was the final paper assignment, which combined topics covered in the course and an opportunity for students to gain a better understanding of real community-needs right here in Boston.

One group of Hayward’s students for example, took on a project with Mujeres Unidas Avanzando (MUA), an organization that “has been meeting the educational needs of low-income Latina girls and women for nearly three decades,” according to their website.

Hayward’s students spent the semester trying to aid the organization in obtaining a day care license. “They have a childcare center but it’s not licensed … so the parents can’t leave the building,” Hayward said.

Her students spent time locating a healthcare consultant who could provide more resources on how to become licensed, as well as how to face potential issues such as a lice outbreak.

“It’s a real need and we’re helping to figure out a problem they haven’t been able to solve before,” Hayward said.

Other students in the course worked on projects with Union Capital Boston and Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly.

The students at Little Brothers “help combat issues of elder isolation,” Hayward said. Volunteers, including Hayward’s students, spend time visiting with individuals and helping them with various tasks.

“So my students have been going in and understanding what issues low-income elders … contend with,” Hayward said.

And there has been no shortage of commitment to addressing these issues.

“Two students helped a man fix his computer when it was broken,” Hayward explained. “His wife and dog died and he is wheelchair-bound, and so he has trouble getting out on his own. They fixed his computer so he could communicate with relatives, play games, and search the internet.”

Another student returned from Thanksgiving break early because Friday was his typical visiting day with one particular woman, and she has asked if he was going to be there that week.

“So he came back early to visit her knowing she was lonely,” Hayward said.

Students in Hayward’s course were able to conduct needs assessments at each of the organizations, identify barriers to addressing the identified need, and complete a written report for each organization.

Most importantly, they were asked to propose a method fur sustaining the service once they had completed the course, in the hopes of having a lasting impact and providing a real solution to a community-based need.

Read more about the ways Service-Learning at Northeastern partners with the Honors Program here.

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