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Lessons learned through service learning


By: Cait Guerra, Contributing Reporter

For many students a service learning experience could turn into a possible career.

“After I did my service learning I really wanted to go into social work. I even looked to see if I could do a social work internship for my internship credit for fashion,” Dominican student Lauren Nelms said. “I just think it’s really interesting to see how our clothes that have a stain on them get redone and sold to others for just a few dollars, when we paid like $40 for it.”

When first coming to Dominican, all students hear about the four pillars of Dominican life: service, community, study, and prayer. Lately, the service pillar has been on the rise. More and more professors are requiring service learning as part of their classes and Director of Service Learning MaDonna Thelen has been there to help.

From the 2003 school year to present there has been a large increase in the number of classes that require service learning. It started with a few experimental classes that incorporated service learning in 2003. Then in the 2004-2005 academic year, 26 classes had included service learning into their classes. Now there are 56 classes and a study abroad program. Thelen described why this phenomenon occurred.

“The Office of Service Learning stems from the pursuit of social justice. It helps show that social justice isn’t just about the broad issues, but there are also ways to pursue it in your own neighborhood,” Thelen said.

She said many other colleges and universities already had a service learning office and it seemed natural that Dominican would eventually have one as well.

There are now an array of courses that use service learning. Certain seminar, math, computer science, nutrition, and apparel classes include service learning.

Student Nicci Cisarik has done a few classes with service learning and said she considers the experiences valuable.

“I did a social justice and civic engagement class and we used service learning as a way to be educated about social justice outside of the classroom.” Cisarik said.  “I volunteered at the Su Casa Catholic Worker where I served as a server in their weekly soup kitchen…during the week, I would go to Su Casa, share a meal with the families that stayed at the house and I would baby-sit the children.”

Cisarik still volunteers outside of class and said she would do service learning again.

Luis Garay did his service learning for a Spanish class. Garay worked in Humboldt Park’s Casa Central, which has programs that help Latino elderly, youth, and children. He spent most of his time assisting the elderly, but he also helped tutor some of the children.

“It was interesting to be around another culture. Most of them were Puerto Rican, since it is in the Puerto Rican part of Chicago,” Garay said. “Even the way they spoke Spanish was different from how Mexicans speak it.”

Garay also learned a few lessons that weren’t in the curriculum. “Working with the elderly really made me appreciate them and their experiences,” he said, “It also made me appreciate being youthful.”

Below are the types of courses that have been offered from the beginning, the courses offered this school year, and the total number of courses for each.



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