In Service, Five Faculty become Fellows

Published: May 07, 2010 | Read Time: 6 minutes

As service-learning has become increasingly important to the well-rounded education of the SUU student over the past few years, many Thunderbird professors are creating innovative programming and unique opportunities for their students to engage their knowledge and skills in real world service settings.

These professors consider the work a student does outside the classroom as equally – if not more – important to the work accomplished during class hours, and under their tutelage, students are thriving – gaining firsthand professional experience while simultaneously giving back to the communities that support them. Above all, these professors expand perspectives and encourage responsible citizenry, and, as this year’s Service-Learning Fellows, their commitment to service learning is both admirable and inspirational.

Over the past school year, professors Lisa Assante, Laura Cotts, Shobha Gurung, Jean Lopour and Cindy Wright have each displayed an ongoing commitment to service-learning, and though each of these professors teaches in very different areas of study, all have found commonality in the impact their work has had on both the T-Bird student body and the larger campus and local communities.

Lisa Assante, assistant professor of hotel, resort and hospitality management

Students in Lisa Assante’s Guest Services course remarked, “This was truly a service-learning class. We were able to get hands-on experience in the industry while learning objectives and using materials taught in the classroom.” That her students can so easily define service-learning speaks volumes to the expectations Assante places upon her classes, and she favors projects that develop over the course of a semester and with her students’ increasing knowledge on the topic at hand.

During the 2009-10 school year, students in Assante’s course have worked with Ruby’s Inn outside Bryce Canyon National Park to develop a training and development workshop as well as a complete business analysis of the resort. Another of her classes spent the semester planning and executing all the elements of a full-course benefit dinner to honor the region’s war veterans.

In her time at SUU, Assante has pushed service-learning forward and now teaches two official service-learning courses within the School of Business.

Laura Cotts, assistant professor of physical sciences

As a physics professor, Laura Cotts strives to make a subject that many may consider mundane fun and interesting. Her brilliance is that Professor Cotts does this without sacrificing the rigorous academic standards to which she holds all her students.

In her lab classes, Cotts’ students work in teams to design a science lesson they will then present in local elementary school classrooms. IN addition to requiring their firm grasp of the topic at hand, this activity forces Cotts’ students to research various learning strategies for the physical sciences – helping each student find his or her own best way to learn all under the guise of coursework. Again and again, Professor Cotts’ students emerge from this activity with a more complete grasp of the topic at hand as well as with a stronger commitment to their own physics coursework. And though many students were initially skeptical about the project, Cotts reports, that “afterwards, the students were amazed at how much they and the children gained from the experience.”

Jean Lopour, professor of physical education

Jean Lopour teaches by example, and from the first day, she models the skills she will soon require her students to employ.

With endless enthusiasm for both her academic subject matter as well as for the communities she and her students serve each semester as part of a “Special Rodeo,” Lopour’s adaptive physical education class provides local children with special needs a priceless afternoon of stick-horse barrel racing, dummy roping, bucking bale riding, goat petting and horseback riding. The special needs rodeo is a culmination of hard work by Lopour’s students who spend a semester preparing to host the young and eager stars of the most heart-warming rodeo Cedar City has ever seen.

Lopour expects her students to connect their service back to academic resources and readings that include analysis of impairments and the physical ability of individuals to overcome them. Ultimately, SUU students “begin to realize the impaired and disabled individuals are simply individuals with different strengths and weaknesses than the ‘normal’ population,” said Lopour. To Lopour, this lesson is priceless and is one that cannot be taught through homework assignments and in-class readings. She explains, “I can only teach content but the interaction with community members develops the human emotion of caring.”

Cindy Wright, professor of human nutrition

As a seasoned veteran to SUU’s campus, Dr. Wright knows first-hand how valuable service-learning can be for a student. Serving as a dean, department chair, and faculty member, Wright has shown imagination and persistence in integrating service-learning into the nutrition classes she teaches.

In her community nutrition course, students are expected to give food or nutrition-related service for at least 15 hours during the semester. You will find many of Wright’s students at local food shelters, preparing or cooking meals, delivering food to home-bound elderly in the community and collecting food donations. Each student must then also devise a project to promote nutrition education within the community. In addition to benefitting those people Wright’s students serve, these projects also force students to apply their new knowledge beyond their own perspective – a vital skill in a service-oriented field.

Wright also builds in group projects that allow students to learn from one another. According to Wright, “The students are passionate about their projects from the start, but you can see the growth and learning take place as they work together to execute their ideas.”

Shobha Gurung, assistant professor of sociology

Above all else, Shobha Gurung expects her students to consider the alternate realities in which those of different socioeconomic classes live. But instead of asking them to read about it or showing them video footage, Gurung strives to place her students amid those varied communities – providing a much more personal, emotional and honest look at these social constructs.

To do this, Gurung’s students volunteer time outside of the classroom to visit the Emerald Pointe Assisted Living Center and the Iron County Care and Share Shelter. While performing service, students also learn more about the impact of socioeconomic class on the retired community and the importance of social forces in shaping people’s choices and opportunities.

In summarizing service-learning Gurung states, “Service projects enable students to examine the lived realities of people’s lives and reflect on how they can personally help improve the community in which they reside.”

All five of these professors truly exemplify the goals of service-learning at SUU and are fitting appointments as this year’s Service-Learning Fellows. Their work continues to raise the bar across campus for unique academic opportunities that take students beyond the classroom and into the real worlds for which they are preparing themselves.

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