Wednesday Nights with Service-Learning Student Leaders

Service-Learning Teaching Assistants, Team Managers, and Street Team Members gain professional development in workshops at weekly meetings.

By Lisa Randall

Assistant Director of Service-Learning at Northeastern Lisa Roe opens a student leader meeting.

“What’s good in life?” At the start of each large group Service-Learning student leader meeting, Assistant Director of Service-Learning at Northeastern Lisa Roe begins by posing this question to the group. Street Team members, Service-Learning Teaching Assistants (S-LTAs), and Service-Learning Team Managers (S-LTMs) alike shout from various corners of the room that they aced their economics exam, landed a graduate school interview, or had a really good burger for lunch.

“It’s not all about business,” Roe said of the meetings. “We’re all 40 to 50 different humans with a lot of things going on either academically, personally, and so forth. We want to be able to share in each other’s experiences.”

Roe said that she begins meetings in this way in an effort to demonstrate that she cares about each student leader as an individual, “not just as S-LTAs or Street Team Members.”

“I value them and their contributions more than just in the service-learning world,” Roe said.

Nonetheless, what’s good in life, Roe’s student leaders will tell you, is that they are part of a program that affords them the ability to serve with the community, network and team-build with their peers, be a leader in the classroom, and develop skills that are applicable to their professional and personal lives.

“It’s really helpful to bounce ideas off of each other and collaborate,” S-LTA Brian Miller said. “The meetings are definitely positive, high-energy. It keeps you motivated.”

Throughout the semester, Service-Learning Street Team members and S-LTAs meet weekly as either one large group, or in smaller groups that are overseen by a team manager, who offers more individualized support to a group of four or five S-LTAs. Team managers report up to Roe and Director of Service-Learning at Northeastern Becca Berkey, helping to flag potential conflicts and share triumphs at the classroom and small group level with the program administration.

“The team managers came out of a visioning session,” Roe said, explaining that she and her team were brainstorming ways to support the growth that their program was experiencing.  

“How do we scale the work that we do because we cannot spend as much time as we want with every individual S-LTA,” Roe said. “We started seeing an increase of students returning semester after semester and we wanted something to offer students to continue to be a part of our network in a more advanced leadership and management role.”

Thinking dynamically about ensuring quality of their program while affording professional development to their student leaders is something that Roe and Berkey are constantly doing. They see their student leader program as much more than just training individuals within the context of their roles in the Service-Learning Program.

“Part of it I think is that both Becca and I see ourselves as educators,” Roe said. “We don’t want this to be a one-stop-shop experience. I want [student leaders] to be able to say, ‘Because of this experience I learned X, Y, and Z, and I can now apply that in a new context going forward.’”

Director of Service-Learning at Northeastern Becca Berkey addresses student leaders at a Wednesday night meeting.

Whether at a large group or small group meeting, student leaders are empowered to achieve various learning outcomes, specific to that week, through a series of workshops and activities. Meeting topics for this semester include networking, asset-based community development, conflict management, reflection and classroom engagement, facilitation, leadership, self-care, privilege and social justice, and leveraging your S-LTA experience.

“We feel a responsibility to help people position themselves to accomplish whatever their goal is, whether that’s short term or long term, academic, professional, social, or civic,” Roe said.

The student leader program began in fall 2007 with the introduction of S-LTAs into service-learning courses. Team managers were incorporated in spring 2014, and the Street Team was developed just this past fall. The structure of the meetings have changed since the program’s inception as well.

“We wanted to change the dynamic of the S-LTA position not just from a leadership experience but to a learning experience,” Roe said.

With that in mind, the program worked on developing a curriculum for each semester, wherein each workshop and meeting mapped backed to a specific learning outcome. The curriculum continues to be a work-in-progress, with the introduction of a new type of student leader in the Street Team.

Roe contextualized their program’s enhancements, saying that there has been a push recently in higher education to have co-curricular “experiences also contributing to the learning of students.” The implications are that programs, such as Service-Learning at Northeastern, develop their own learning outcomes and report out, just as academic departments would.  

“The conflict management one definitely relates to two of the learning outcomes,” Roe said, referencing a workshop that was facilitated by two S-LTMs at a recent meeting.  “The idea of problem solving and how to manage others and manage stakeholders.”

First-time Street Team member Harumi Harakawa was able to implement strategies she learned in the conflict management workshop in her role as a Civic Engagement Program (CEP) Peer Mentor. The CEP program is housed alongside the Service-Learning Program in the Center of Community Service.

“We were getting feedback from the community partners that my mentees work with and one [student] had received really bad feedback,” Harakawa said. “[The student] got very upset and essentially I had to navigate that situation and connect [the student] with the person who wrote the feedback.”

S-LTAs meet with their S-LTM at a Wednesday night meeting.

Harakawa said that the workshop she completed in the Service-Learning meeting helped her to identify her conflict management style and apply it to the situation.

While the conflict management workshop was a new addition to the service-learning student leader curriculum, the most recent workshop on privilege and social justice is one that the program has carried out in a variety of iterations over the past few semesters.

This workshop in particular, Roe said, speaks to an over-arching goal of the program and the purpose of the weekly meetings.

“It’s about not forgetting the context behind the work that we do,” Roe said,  “and not losing sight of why the work we do is important.”