By Lisa Walton
In her first year teaching Gender and Communications at Metro State, Communications Arts and Sciences Assistant Professor Virginia McCarver has already made an impact on the community – and her students – through the assignment of service-learning activities.
This semester, her two sections of the course worked closely with eight different nonprofit organizations that have missions and purposes relating to gender issues, including: The White House Project, 9to5, the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Lab to Combat Human Trafficking, COLOR, Smart-Girl, The Center for LGBT and The Gathering Place.
“I really wanted to conduct the class in a way that really brought issues relating to gender and communication in the community to life for the students,” said McCarver, one of 20 faculty from four Colorado colleges selected to participate in the first ever Engaged Faculty Institute (EFI), a program of the Colorado Campus Compact facilitated, in part, through Metro State’s Center for Urban Connections (CUC). A six-week seminar series offered this spring, EFI provides service-learning training and the opportunity to develop or enhance course-based service-learning projects.
In McCarver’s class, students learned about the kinds of communication issues relevant to gender, families and politics. They also discussed women’s roles as primary caretakers, paternal and maternal leave and paid child care. “We explored the background to the issues,” McCarver said. “And they (the students) kind of saw those issues in real life” while consulting with the organizations.
At The Gathering Place, a daytime drop-in center for women and children who are experiencing homelessness and poverty, McCarver’s students were able to obtain RTD bus passes for families and over 100 passes to the zoo. They also conducted a backpack drive. As a result, The Gathering Place patrons where offered a backpack with a bus pass, a map, zoo passes, sunscreen and lunch.
“Their deliverable is kind of a running log of what they’ve done, the contacts at RTD, for example, [and] who they spoke with at the zoo,” said McCarver, who worked with the organizations to make sure that what the students created would be sustainable after the class was over.
The students also secured sponsorships for tickets from the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys, the Denver Art Museum, and the Museum of Nature and Science.
Randi Smith, faculty co-director of the CUC and assistant professor of psychology, said, “What’s really impressive is that this is her (McCarver’s) first year at Metro State and in the metro area, and she jumped in with both feet.”
Smith says she is receiving rave reviews about the class’s involvement from Justine Zollo, volunteer coordinator at The Gathering Place.
The connections created between the students and the nonprofit community partners they worked with will be acknowledged this week with a celebration co-sponsored by the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences and the Institute for Women’s Studies and Services.
“What we’re doing at the event is really saying thank you to the organizations for opening their doors to us and investing time for us, and giving us this opportunity,” said McCarver, who hopes to replicate the service-learning portion of the class for future semesters. “I’m just so proud of what the students have done. I think it’s a really exciting way to learn, by doing and by really becoming a part of the bigger community.”
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