#CapturingCommunity Neal Lerner


Role within service-learning: Faculty Member in the Department of English within the College of Social Sciences and Humanities

Service-Learning course: First-Year Writing

Did you find service-learning or did service-learning find you? 

I first taught a writing class with a service-learning component when I was teaching at MIT. It was a first-year writing (FYW) class with a focus on technical communication, and I wanted to give my students a real-world/authentic audience for their writing, rather than the kind of artificial scenarios or only write for the teacher that I had experienced up to that point when teaching FYW. MIT, at the time, had pretty much a one-person service-learning office, but I somehow got connected to that person (I think via a colleague), and she put me in touch with a non-profit foundation in Cambridge who was looking to partner with classes. That was a great project (my students were essentially developing content for their website), and I was hooked!

Since I’ve been at Northeastern, my service-learning has largely been with writing classes connected to 826 Boston Writers’ Rooms though I’ve also had students tutoring at the Roxbury Community College Writing Center and at the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers, a Boston Public high school that’s on Northeastern’s campus in Cahner’s Hall. I still really like the value of having students in authentic and experiential learning situations and believe their writing is much stronger as a result than if they were in traditional classroom contexts.

What is one thing everyone should know about service-learning? 

At Northeastern, the S-L Office is terrific! I did S-L classes before Becca was here and before the NU Writing Program had a strong relationship with the S-L Office, and it’s much easier now that there’s so much infrastructure and support!

How are your values expressed through your community engagement and service-learning work?

One value is the power of authentic learning experiences for students, particularly when it comes to writing. Students have so much more motivation to care about their writing when they know that writing is doing important work in the world. While the S-L classes I’ve taught involved students tutoring writing (rather than writing for a community partner), I also see the important value of experiential learning as another kind of authenticity: Students learn a great deal about themselves as writers (and students and citizens) by working with other writers, particularly writers who are not as prepared or privileged as they are. I also think Northeastern has a responsibility to be a good Boston neighbor and that can be enacted through S-L partnerships with community groups.


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