Service-learning: Why Wentworth?

Blog post by Erik Miller & Courtney Wright

An integral component to the education process at Wentworth has been the hands-on, project-based learning experience. Whether you are an engineering, design, or management student, you are more than likely to encounter project-based learning in the curriculum.  Having attended Wentworth up through the Masters in Architecture program, I can say that project-based opportunities were the most beneficial part of my Wentworth architectural education.

Service-learning is a project-based teaching and learning strategy that integrates community engagement with instruction, social innovation, and reflection, to enrich the learning experience, teach social responsibility and strengthen communities.  The Center for Community & Learning Partnerships is the office on campus that introduces, develops, executes, and assesses service-learning projects for faculty, staff, and students.  Students have multiple avenues through which to pursue service-learning opportunities (coursework with faculty, student clubs and organizations, community co-op or work-study positions).

The Center has collaborated with students from Business Management on multiple project-based, service-learning projects over the years.  One of the most successful has been the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in collaboration with ABCD Parker Hill Fenway, an organization geared towards anti-poverty programming, using a self-help and self-sufficiency philosophy.  VITA is a service for families making under $49,000 per year who typically, because of language barriers, multiple jobs, or other social issues, would not have filed their taxes.  For a family making so little, they sometimes do not realize that they usually qualify to receive money back from the government, funds that make a huge difference.  Students who participate in and coordinate VITA, not only become certified tax preparers through the IRS, but also gain an inside view to the surrounding community. These students are leaders on campus who come back year after year to lead other students through the tax certification process and take pride in introducing new students to the community. Given that they are dealing with a sensitive population, students gain maturity and consciousness about their role in supporting the communities in which they live.

In Fall 2012, four students from Business Management worked with an organization to design a strategic plan for implementing technology into the nonprofit.  Helping Communities in Crisis, Inc. has a mission to help stop the stigmatization and discrimination surrounding HIV/AIDS through awareness, education, prevention, and intervention in the Boston area.  HCC is a start-up nonprofit with an executive director who is visually impaired.  Not just any technology was going to work, as everything had to be combatable with speech-recognition software for the visually impaired.  The students worked throughout the semester to interview, compile research, and report on their findings to HCC for them to implement.

Project-based learning comes in many forms, whether it is through real client-based relationships or as a theoretical research project.  Of the many benefits associated with this type of learning, one of the most attractive is the ability to engage with local community organizations and residents in client based relationships. The opportunity to work with these groups not only increases student awareness to various social issues, but also their ability to handle future clientele with more maturity. When we are held accountable for our actions, we take more ownership in our work; likewise, students who are held accountable by a real client for a project are rewarded with a more impactful learning experience.