Service learning connects students to ideas of religious movement leaders
During the fall semester, students in the Religious Studies course, “Martin and Malcolm,” used service learning to appreciate leaders of the past by making an impact in the present.
Working with local nonprofits, the undergraduates realized both the challenges and rewards of working to improve the community, giving them clearer insight into the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, civil rights and religious leaders in the 1960s.
“To learn in a classroom is one thing, but to go out and do it is another,” said Jill Krebs, Religious Studies lecturer and a 2002 McDaniel graduate.
Every year, McDaniel offers 25-30 service-learning courses. Last year, 400 students enrolled in these courses completed over 24,500 hours of community service, according to the Center for Experience and Opportunity.
Krebs challenges her students to reflect upon their own views on inequality and activism as they learn about the forces at work within their own community, hopefully gaining an appreciation for the work of Martin and Malcolm X in the process.
Rachel Israel, a junior from Springfield, Va., is no stranger to community service as president of her service sorority, but even she did not realize just how much need exists in the surrounding area.
“It’s easy to live in a McDaniel bubble,” said the History major, who spent her semester volunteering with Westminster-based Shepherd’s Staff and A Meal and More.
Just as she was taken aback to see just how many people showed up to A Meal and More for lunch one day, she was equally surprised by the number of volunteers ready to serve them.
For Israel, going out into the community and “trying to fix what was broken” helped her better understand her work in the classroom. Seeing how two nonprofits differ in organization structure paralleled the divergent leadership styles of Martin and Malcolm X. The idea that there is more than one effective way to make an impact is something Israel will carry forward.
Putting community service into a new perspective was exactly Krebs’ intention when she assigned this project. Rebekah Cartwright would call that mission a success. Almost every weekend for the last five and a half years, the sophomore Communication major has volunteered at the retirement community near her hometown of Hanover, Pa. She helps run activities for the patients who need around the clock care, and had never fully reflected upon the experience until now.
“This has actually made me think about it and write about it and connect it,” she said. “Usually I just do it and then leave and then come back the next week.”
Now, Cartwright sees her attempts to improve the quality of life for older adults as a parallel to the religious leaders’ aim to give a voice to the voiceless. She can better relate to their challenge of getting people to care about “somebody else’s problem.”
When the class came together to reflect upon their service-learning experience, several other students described the challenges they faced in their own nonprofits – such as insufficient resources and communication barriers – but many also offered solutions.
Sophomore Katarina Winhauer of Hanover, Pa., was not content pulling weeds at the Human Services Program community garden. Her frustration grew as she weeded plants only to frequently find them dead the next week.
“I can only imagine what Martin and Malcolm X must have felt,” said the Religious Studies major who hopes to one day teach at a college like McDaniel.
Passionate about the garden’s mission to provide nutritious food to low-income families, Winhauer decided to write a proposal with students in her Honors course, “Leading Change,” to fund new planting in the spring.
Although she compared the task of drafting a proposal with multiple authors to the “clashing ideas and ideals” of leading of any social movement, the experience was worthwhile, especially since her team won a Griswold-Zepp award of $525.
Direct experience making connections in the community is “what McDaniel is about,” said Krebs.