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Service Learning Expands at UST

Over the past 10 years, an estimated 1,000 University of St. Thomas students from at least 18 different departments and programs have benefitted from experiential learning opportunities through the University’s Service Learning Program.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, UST president emeritus, made a commitment to develop service-learning programs as part of the curriculum at UST in the fall of 2000. The Program gives students and faculty the opportunity to integrate real-life learning experiences related directly to their academic coursework. At the same time, participants give back to the greater Houston community, fulfilling the University’s mission to pursue excellence in teaching, scholarship and service while fostering engagement in a diverse, collaborative community.

The Service Learning Program has recently launched Facebook and Twitter pages to increase awareness of the available opportunities and allow for networking between professors, community service partners and similar service learning programs at other universities.

Dr. Jean-Philippe Faletta, director of the program and associate professor of political science, has led the Program since it inception. 

“This is different from volunteerism or an internship,” Faletta said. “Service learning is a component included in an academic class.  Students work outside of the St. Thomas community, usually at a non-profit organization, and the job they are given is directly tied into the course material.”

The structure of the class and the integration of the service component are dependent on the instructor and the course material, but traditionally students spend 15 to 20 hours per semester completing service work.

Dr. Rick Krustchinsky, professor and chair of the undergraduate education program in the School of Education, has been part of the service learning program at UST for seven years. He said adding a service learning component to his classes has improved his teaching.

“Service learning helps my students recognize the importance of integrating what they are learning in class to real-world learning situations they may experience as educators,” Krustchinsky said. “This experiential type of learning adds authenticity to my teaching and has also enhanced my research efforts.”

Sr. Damien Marie Savino, FSE, chair of the Environmental Science and Studies department, also teaches several service learning classes.  Her students have been studying ecological restoration and have planted marsh grasses in areas destroyed by Hurricane Ike.

“Hands-on service learning classes extend the benefits of the holistic education UST offers,” Sr. Savino said. “It helps students put theory into practice.”

The Service Learning Program staff is eager to help professors interested in incorporating service learning into one of their classes. The Program has a list of around 150 volunteer organizations categorized by name and discipline that faculty can reference to find an agency. They also have a reference library available with books about how to incorporate service learning.

For more information about the program, contact Theresa Heard at 713-525-6982 or .