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Penn State Berks students mix studying, research and service to the community

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Posted: Thursday, January 12, 2012 12:48 pm

Penn State Berks students are combining studies and outreach by helping children learn English, producing information for tourists about Reading's skyline, and studying local food banks and environmental issues.

The Laboratory for Public Scholarship and Democracy at Penn State Berks, referred to as "The Lab," has been renamed the Center for Service Learning and Community-Based Research to better convey its mission.

As its name indicates, the Center for Service Learning and Community-Based Research focuses on service learning and community-based research.

Service learning is defined as a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.

Community-based research is one main form of service learning; the service activity is research.

At Penn State Berks, several projects for the Center for Service Learning and Community-Based Research are underway.

Students in the Introduction to Teaching English to English Language Learners course, instructed by Andrea Paff, are collaborating with the Salvation Army's "Mañana" program. Mañana means tomorrow in Spanish.

Each Berks student will partner with a child in the program, helping that child to develop language and literacy proficiency in English. Penn State Berks students will identify their protégé's proficiencies in language and literacy and develop instructional activities that address those specific needs.

The college students will evaluate the effectiveness of their instruction by assessing the protégés' academic progress throughout the semester.

Meanwhile, students in Jill Burk's rhetorical theory course will investigate the history of buildings that comprise the skyline of Reading as seen through the windows of the Pagoda, a local landmark and tourist attraction.

Students will learn how to recognize and apply rhetorical theories and concepts outside of the classroom and will consider the notion that local history is itself "rhetorical." This project will take several semesters and courses to complete. The students' work will provide tourists with information about the cityscapes outside the Pagoda windows.

Students in the Environmental Science course, led by Mahsa Kazempour, will learn about and take action regarding environmental issues by working closely with several local community organizations, including the Berks County Parks Department and the Berks County Conservancy, to address their research, service, and educational needs. The students will present their research findings and subsequent actions to their peers, the community organization members, and the campus community.

Finally, students in Jui-Chi Huang's introductory macroeconomic analysis and policy course are planning to complete a service learning project with Friend Inc. Community Services or the Greater Berks Food Bank to enhance their studies of U.S. poverty from an economic perspective.

Friend Inc. provides a food pantry, case management, budget counseling, parenting support groups, and financial crisis interventions. The Greater Berks Food Bank collects, stores, and distributes food to more than 270 charitable agencies, including Friend Inc.

Students will provide 15 hours of service to one of these organizations to further their understanding of poverty from an economic perspective.

Laurie Grobman, professor of English and women's studies, brought the concept of the Center for Service Learning and Community-Based Research (formerly known as The Laboratory for Public Scholarship and Democracy at Penn State Berks) to the college in the fall of 2010.

Penn State Berks is the first campus outside of University Park to launch the initiative.

The Laboratory for Public Scholarship and Democracy at Penn State University was the brainchild of Jeremy Cohen, associate vice president and senior associate dean for undergraduate education, and a group of colleagues representing several Penn State colleges and campuses.

In 2000, Cohen worked with faculty members to develop Penn State's Public Scholarship Associates, a group of Penn State faculty, staff, students, and alumni dedicated to integrating faculty and student achievement with "the habits and practices of civic engagement."

The Laboratory for Public Scholarship and Democracy was born, and financial support in the form of grants was made available to faculty who implemented community engagement and scholarship.

For additional information on The Center for Service Learning and Community-Based Research, please contact Grobman at 610-396-6141 or

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