Penn State Berks has had a history of collaboration with the University of Split, from Berks helping the Split to develop a service-learning program in 2018 to present day. In their most recent joint initiative, two Penn State Berks faculty members, Dr. Belén Rodríguez Mourelo and Dr. Donna Chambers, presented a symposium on the universities’ collaboration on service-learning projects, based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the United Nations, at the virtual 10th National and 4th International Conference on Service-Learning in Higher Education.
In September 2018, Rodríguez Mourelo and Chambers first traveled to the University of Split in Croatia to share their expertise on service learning with faculty and representatives from nongovernment organizations (NGOs). They designed and implemented a series of training and educational workshops, enabling the economics faculty at the University of Split to establish a service-learning program and a center from which it could operate.
The two Berks professors returned again in the fall of 2019 to evaluate University of Split’s progress and to train the next cohort of faculty, students, and community partners. Both universities were so encouraged by the success of the service-learning training and the rapport established between the faculty members that they decided to continue their relationship.
Rodríguez Mourelo is head of the Penn State Berks Division of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and a professor of Spanish and Chambers is the coordinator of the Penn State Berks Center for Academic Community Engagement (CACE) and an associate teaching professor of Spanish. Together they have co-authored articles and presented at national and international conferences on institutionalizing service-learning.
At the symposium, Chambers and Rodríguez Mourelo linked the various service-learning projects undertaken at Penn State Berks through CACE and the Student Engagement Network, with the projects of the University of Split.
Lana Ugrcic, service-learning project manager at the University of Split, highlighted the way service-learning is formalized and implemented into the curriculum of the faculty of economics, business and tourism.
Students from both institutions reflected on the integrations of their projects and their direct relation with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Britney Forsyth and Arizona Schreck from Penn State Berks discussed their projects in microbiology and kinesiology, respectively. Tomislav Munitic and Ana-Marija Ivcevic from the University of Split presented a case study analysis of the NGOs Our Children, which serves children with disabilities, and Heart, which serves individuals with cerebral palsy.
Presenters shared their vision of linking international service-learning projects and creating platforms for students and professors to share their research, experiences, and best practices. Faculty enumerated the logistical and funding efforts undertaken by both universities to ensure that this collaboration continues, proving the importance of universities in social responsibility.
According to Chambers, the symposium afforded the participants, along with an international audience, time to reflect on the social responsibility of the university in institutionalizing service-learning and specifically, how this institutionalization serves to support the community through SDGs. She added that new ideas garnered from the symposium will be incorporated into ongoing research and partnership.
Rodríguez Mourelo states, “This collaboration is another example of the impact that Penn State Berks creates in serving the community locally and internationally.”
The overall impact of these projects to the community is a testament to yet another United Nations SDG, which is to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”