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UST Faculty Attend South Africa Service Learning Conference

Six University of St. Thomas faculty members traveled to Sellenbosh, South Africa, to present at the International Service Learning Conference on Nov. 20-22. The conference, titled “Service-Learning Across the Globe: From Local to Transnational,” was aimed at enhancing global participation through both theoretical and applied service learning in higher education.

The faculty members that attended the conference included Dr. Jean-Philippe Faletta, associate professor of political science and director of service learning; Dr. Ana-Lisa Gonzalez, assistant professor of education; Dr. Robert LeBlanc, professor and dean of education; Dr. Randy Soffer, assistant professor of education; Dr. Rosie Rosell, professor and chair of biology, and Dr. Maia Larios-Sanz, associate professor of biology.

The professors, along with co-authors Dr. Rogelio Garcia-Contreras, associate professor of international studies, Theresa Heard, service learning coordinator, and Dr. Rick Krustchinsky, professor of education, presented “Not Just in my Neighborhood: Service-Learning in Higher Education on a Local and Global Scale.”

“The symposium on service-learning not only had high-quality presentations and posters, but was also an opportunity to network with service-learning colleagues across the globe and to share ideas on what works, what doesn’t and possible new avenues to pursue,” Faletta said.

Several UST service-learning initiatives were included in the presentation including the UST Social Entrepreneurship Program (SEP); service-learning in medical microbiology and cell biology; the Lemonade Day program; the School of Education’s study abroad in Jamaica and UST Freshman Symposium.

Social Entrepreneurship Program  

SEP is a student-run service-learning co-curricular program which allows students to put into practice the theories and techniques on development and poverty alleviation they learn in the classroom. The SEP program also provides UST students with the opportunity to combat global poverty through service learning hands-on activities that help the world’s working poor to achieve economic independence. With their motto in mind, “United we can overcome poverty with dignity,the student volunteers promote freedom, fairness and democracy in communities such as Malawi, Yucatan, Chile, Pakistan and Mozambique.

Lemonade Day/Jamaica Study Abroad

Lemonade Day and the study abroad trip to Jamaica are two service-learning initiatives the School of Education recently undertook. Both were designed to help future teachers gain greater self-sufficiency and confidence in their abilities to adapt and function in different settings through practical experience.

“The faculty in the School of Education promotes applied learning so that our students can go beyond theory and be able to act with authority once they have entered their own classrooms,” Gonzalez said.

Service Learning in Biology

Biology students also have the unique opportunity to participate in service-learning opportunities. According to Dr. Larios-Sanz, biology students volunteer in Houston-area underserved clinics throughout the semester. From their work as volunteers, they identify diseases that are common to the patients who visit these clinics and develop informational brochures on these diseases to print and distribute at the clinic. Students also have to give a presentation to the class at the end of the semester. 

“This service-learning project allows students to help out in their communities and integrate what they are learning in the classroom with a real-life application -- conveying information about a disease to a patient,” Larios-Sanz said. “The experience not only helps them with their scientific learning, but it helps them see how the discipline they are studying impacts everyday life.”

Freshman Symposium

Freshman Symposium introduces freshmen to the University by focusing on St. Thomas’ mission to educate leaders who can think critically, communicate effectively, lead ethically and succeed professionally. An example of this is the Freshman Orientation community service at the Houston Food Bank. This past fall, 200 freshmen participants from the class of 2017 volunteered and made approximately 28,000 meals.

Another service-learning initiative is President’s Day of Service, which is an opportunity for all Celts-- students, alumni, faculty, staff and families-- to work side-by-side and support the University without leaving campus through a wide range of service projects. Founded in conjunction with Dr. Robert Ivany’s presidential inauguration in 2005, the President’s Day of Service is a time honored tradition which gives the campus community an opportunity to truly embody the St. Thomas mission of educating leaders of faith and character.

For more information regarding service-learning opportunities, contact Dr. Jean Faletta at 713-525-3481.