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Meramec Service Learning Coordinator Wins Award

October 18, 2012

Donna Halsband  
Donna Halsband

Donna Halsband, coordinator of service learning at St. Louis Community College-Meramec, was awarded the Community Engagement Professional of the Year Award at the recent Campus Compact Heartland Conference. 

The award recognizes one professional from a member campus in each state who has worked toward the institutionalization of academic service-learning and/or service, created and strived toward a vision of service for his/her campus, promoted higher education as a public good, provided exceptional support to faculty and students, and has been instrumental in forming innovative campus-community partnerships.

“It’s nice to be recognized by my peers after putting in as much work as I have," Halsband said. "I have been in the trenches and helped the field grow throughout the state and nationally, and it’s nice to be a part of that."

Halsband has been the service learning coordinator for all 15 years of the program’s existence on the Meramec campus. Originally an art teacher, Halsband incorporated service learning into her curriculum for years.

“I have been involved in service learning for 30 years. When I was teaching art, I always involved students in the community because I realized they were more creative and more excited about learning when it was real."

Service learning, Halsband said, is community service connected to course objectives. The faculty member or the students decide on a community issue related to their course content. The issue requires three steps: preparation, service and reflection.

Preparation is researching the issue, asking the question, “What needs to be done?” After finding the answer to the question, it’s time to step into action and actually perform the service project. After the project is complete, students reflect upon the project. The reflection is what is graded. Typically, the student presents a project to the class, talking about what they have learned and what can be done in the future.

Service learning at Meramec was initiated in 1995. A faculty group headed by former English professor Fredric Rissover studied service learning. After contacting community partners, it was decided that the only way the service learning would work was to have a coordinator. The position was then approved. Halsband found out about the job as a Meramec student.

“I had taken a leave from St. Louis Public Schools and was taking classes at Meramec," she said. "I happened to go to Career and Employment Services and heard about the job. I interviewed the service learning coordinator at Kirkwood schools and went to the interview very prepared…and the rest is history.”

Faculty members develop service learning modules with Halsband. After talking about objectives and deciding how service learning fits in with the course, Halsband connects the faculty with community partners willing to participate in the program. Partners, for example, may work with the students, come to class to discuss the project and help with reflections.

“We offer campuswide projects such as the St. Louis County Parks, Hands on Kirkwood and the spring break service trip to New Orleans,” said Halsband. “They can do community service through their clubs. I also work with students who want to volunteer and have that on their resume.

“Whether they are involved through a class, a club or on their own, students learn about how satisfying and fun it is to give back and they always learn unexpected things along the way,” Halsband said.

One success story involves information systems instructor June Mercer, who incorporated IS:110 Programming Design and Development, IS:246 Visual Basic Programming and IS:255 Advanced Visual Basic Programming classes several classes into one project for Webster Rock Hill Ministries (WRHM).

Their projects have included:

  • a database project to keep track of their clients in 2009
  • a student presentation at the MCCC Convention in 2008.
  • design and installation by students from the Information Systems department of a LAN and Open Office on WRHM computers donated by Computer Trade in 2010.
  • design and development by students of a website and donor database for the ministries to track donations, at the request of WRHM director Ed Johnson, in 2011.

Students in IS:110 created the website for WRHM. IS:246 and IS:255 classes designed and implemented the client and donor databases, as well as set up Window’s Server Active Directory.

In February 2012, the project received the first Student Philanthropy Grant, which is funded by a Missouri Campus Compact Grant. The grant proposal was written by the IS:110 class in collaboration with Halsband. They requested a computer server and memory for WRHM and were approved by the Academic Service Learning/Civic Engagement Advisory Board.

Since the project began, more than 30 students have volunteered time and service, and six students are still involved with WRHM.

“I am very proud of my students and the fact that their work has transformed Webster Rock Hill Ministries, which in turn made a positive impact on the community,” said Julie Mercer, information systems instructor. “My students benefited from service learning because it allowed them the opportunity to apply what they learned in the classroom to solve real world problems.”

Halsband said since service learning began at Meramec, 16,925 students have participated and the value of that work has been $1,632,655. During the 20011-2012 school year, 56 faculty members and 1,882 students participated, with 10,722 total hours served with the value of those hours totaling $209,186, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

Students wishing to be involved with service learning can ask their instructors if a module is included in the coursework. If it is not, students can sign up for an honors contract, extra extra credit or take Halsband’s one-credit-hour class, PRD122: Learning Through Service.