Indiana University

Indiana University Journalism

Courses, groups provide service learning opportunities

M. Jessica Contrera | Feb. 29, 2012
girls club meeting
Photo by Nicholas Demille
The IU chapter of PRSSA is working with Girls Inc. to help the group improve branding and communications. From left are Leah Koch, Melissa Wintz and Angela Gamba.
For junior Melissa Wintz, spring semester has brought an opportunity to get some real-world experience as well as to get to know people in the Bloomington community.

Wintz and her fellow members of the IU chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America have spent weeks working with Girls Inc. of Monroe County, an after school program and camp for girls. PRSSA members are volunteering their services to improve the organization’s branding, marketing and communication with parents.

It’s all a part of service learning, a teaching method where students provide service in their communities that is related to their class or group work.

“Simply being a part of the growth of this wonderful organization has been great for me,” Wintz said.

IU supports service learning through Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, which oversees a faculty training program and tracks courses that fit the service learning objectives. These courses include those where students use knowledge and skills they are learning in the classroom to serve a genuine community need, either through a class project or by directly working with an organization.

In journalism, CITL identifies four public relations courses as those engaging in service learning, though other professors also use this technique in their courses to a lesser extent. And, groups such as PRSSA take it upon themselves to work with community groups.

The late public relations lecturer Beth Wood, for whom the IU PRSSA chapter is named, used service learning in her classes and in PRSSA projects, popularizing the idea among colleagues.

“For the students, Beth believed it is important for them to get real world experience working with clients,” said IUPUI School of Journalism interim associate dean Dan Drew, Wood’s husband. “For the community, it helps worthwhile organizations who maybe don’t have the money to hire someone to do PR work.”

Students have helped local nonprofits through journalistic work and simple volunteer work.

at WFHB
Photo by Thomas Miller
Associate professor Mike Conway, left, talks with students on the air at WFHB about their projects in this photo from fall 2010. His course is one of several that incorporates service learning.
Associate professor Mike Conway has had success with two service learning courses, J460 Community Journalism, where his class volunteered at WFHB, Bloomington’s community radio station, and J520 Visual Storytelling, where students made videos about the City of Bloomington Volunteer Network’s participants.

“Service-learning goes hand-in-hand with what we do here at the journalism school,” Conway said. “Our students gain professional experience, and they provide help where it’s needed.”

Conway is a former Service-Learning Fellow, one of several journalism professors to apply for the CITL program. Upon selection, the fellows encourage the development of service learning projects and curriculum through their own work and outreach to other instructors.

PRSSA faculty sponsor and lecturer Dennis Elliott is a fellow this year. Other School of Journalism faculty who have participated include assistant professors Hans Ibold and Emily Metzgar.

After their official year as fellows, participants often carry their ideas forward to their classes. Metzgar said she still incorporates service learning into her graduate school classes, such as J510 Media and Society. Students choose from a list of area nonprofits, including Middle Way House, Head Start and Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard. At each organization, they complete 20 hours of volunteer work, from tutoring to cleaning to serving food.

Although this type of volunteering is not direct journalistic experience, Metzgar said it holds much value for her students.

“It’s a chance for them to do good work for an organization while they learn about issues of injustice,” she said.

Graduate student Roshni Susana Verghese is in Metzgar’s class. She completed her 20 hours of service learning at the Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project but continues to volunteer by organizing books and writing letters to prisoners.

Verghese said serving has opened her eyes to new topics she would like to cover as a journalist.

“I realized in terms of media, there is a pretty extensive coverage of the negative, aggressive side of crime and prison life,” Verghese said. “But in terms of covering programs that rehab and help criminals in general covers crime, there isn’t much said.”

melissa wintz
Photo by Nicholas Demille
Senior Melissa Wintz said she's enjoyed getting off campus and working with a community group.
Verghese said she recommends getting involved in any kind of service learning, even if students network with organizations on their own, outside classes or student groups.

“The best advice I can give is to find something you’re really interested in,” she said. “Then just go with it.”

Nicole Schönemann, service learning program director at IU, said service learning has long lasting benefits for any student.

“You become more physically engaged in your community and aware of your local context,” she said.

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