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Opening Doors to Experience and Perspective

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 “It is one thing to discuss hunger and poverty in the classroom, and an entirely different experience spending several hours at the Maryland Food Bank sorting through a tremendous amount of food to be distributed to local pantries,” said Jonathan Schuster, one of 15 students enrolled in Ethics in Literature with Associate Professor of English Rick Leith last spring.

Service learning integrates academic experience, community service, personal development, and reflection in a way that teaches civic responsibility and strengthens communities. Learning objectives are linked to critical community needs, giving students who pursue service learning courses an opportunity to gain real-world perspectives and skills while making a positive difference in their own communities. Howard Community College’s Center for Service Learning is proud to offer students these integrated learning opportunities across multiple academic disciplines.

“We spend a lot of time out of the classroom, visiting sites where the students can connect the real world to the issues that they are reading about,” said Leith. “The students quickly realize the impact of volunteerism, and that they really can make a positive difference by giving up just a few hours of their time.”

“By going out of the classroom, I fully realized the magnitude and scope of the topics we were discussing,” says Schuster. “It gave me an emotional connection to many issues that I would not have otherwise had.”

 Maggie Zimmermann, a graduate, had a similar experience in her Abnormal Psychology course, which examines behavioral, biological, and cognitive factors that impact patients who have been diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia, autism, anxiety, multiple personality, and sexual disorders, among others. 

“You quickly realize that people with mental illness are really just normal people like you and me, who want to have normal experiences,” says Zimmermann. “I learned that spending time with people and being able to interact with them in my daily work is really what is most important to me, when I eventually go out and look for a job. Service learning gave me insight that I wouldn’t have gotten in a traditional classroom setting,” adds Zimmermann.

In the Care of Patients in Community and Mental Health Settings course, nursing students volunteer 12 hours of service learning time to a local organization, and develop health promotion projects in alignment with community needs.

As a student enrolled in the course, Sarah Sauder devoted her service hours to My Sister’s Place Women’s Center in Baltimore. “By working on-site at My Sister’s Place, I observed things that I never could have learned by simply reading or researching,” Sauder said. “It opened my eyes to the psychiatric side of nursing; which I had never really considered.”

The service learning experience provides students with a new lens through which to view the world. It deepens their understanding of themselves and the role they play as citizens of the local and global communities. It also develops and strengthens students’ sense of direction, confidence, and empowers them to become change agents and leaders. 

This article was adapted from the full article which appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Pathways Magazine. Read the full article, including more on HCC’s academic enrichment programs at

Topics: Campus Life
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