Each year, all first year students are required to take an INST 150 course, and one of the requirements regarding the course is the Service Learning program. The program is run by Megan Acedo. Acedo is the Coordinator of Student Ministries and Service Learning.
In a typical year, without COVID, students are given the opportunity to go into the local community and
volunteer with local organizations, making a difference. For the Service Learning program, Eastern normally partners with around twenty nonprofit and community organizations, and each week INST students will spend a few hours volunteering with their chosen organization.
This year, as many things have, things have changed in regards to the program. Clearly students cannot go into the community, especially when the only travel that is allowed from campus is for essentials.
Because of these changes, Acedo was forced to come up with a solution. The volunteer experience was
transformed into Zoom sessions where students attend for two hours once a week and learn about different injustices occurring in the community.
As the Service Learning program is unique to Eastern, Acedo ended up writing the entire service learning curriculum on her own. A few of the modules include hunger, poverty, and homelessness, among
“Instead of exposure to one injustice, students now get exposure to all,” Acedo said when describing how the changes will affect the program. The program is still working with a few of the local organizations from before, as students learn about each injustice, different from how they previously would only focus on one injustice per learning group.
Acedo describes the Service Learning experience as transformative, as many students gain a different perspective on life after their service learning is changed. Many students even tend to change their majors after the experience.
As a student going through service learning this year, the experience has definitely been interesting.
Each week we go through different modules in relation to a different injustice issue. We watch different videos related to each topic, and then we have group discussions in regard to that week’s topic. These discussions can range from personal experiences relating to the topic to what we learned and took away from the videos watched.
So far the experience has made me yearn to learn more and wish I was able to actually go out and help
with these injustices. Part of the reason I chose Eastern was to experience the Service Learning program and get the opportunity to volunteer with the community. This is not to say that I do not enjoy the way the program is being handled this year, as Acedo has done an excellent job in organizing the entire curriculum and making sure we are still given the opportunity, despite the current worldly circumstances.
The organizations that have partnered with Eastern in the past are even more in need of help this year, as the pandemic has especially hindered those who had preexisting needs. Over 8 million people have entered into poverty since the start of the pandemic. The partnered organizations are still working to help with these injustices and are being discussed within these service learning groups.
Another new addition to the service learning program are group facilitators, who lead the Zoom sessions and provide help to INST students in the program. These group facilitators also assist in tracking hours for the program, leading discussions and asking questions.
Although the circumstances are not ideal, the Service Learning program is still a key part of Eastern’s
curriculum and has continued to impact the students in the program and the community that is affected.