By Matthew Danielson
College of Arts and Sciences Intern
In higher education, lines between campus, classroom, and community are blurring in interesting ways. Programs created by IPFW professors take students into the community, providing real world experiences that complement book and classroom-based learning, while also improving Fort Wayne community and the surrounding areas.
Associate Professor Robert Gillespie (biology) teaches biology classes, and he also volunteers locally. In 1996, Gillespie attended the “Conference on the Three Rivers” in Fort Wayne that was organized in response a local report, “Weed Killers by the Glass.” The convention spurred the formation of the non-profit St. Joseph River Watershed Initiative (SJRWI).
Gillespie has served as an SJRWI board member for nearly 20 years and has supervised their water monitoring program since 2007. This program serves a dual purpose: 1) Helping the SJRWI achieve goals involving public education and creating water quality management plans to improve water quality. And 2) the water monitoring, sample gathering, and other projects provide hands-on experience for Gillespie’s students.
Currently, SJRWI volunteers are helping stakeholders implement water quality improvement across the 700,000-acre watershed. Other volunteers search for education funding and outreach programs to aid in the promotion of conservation practices in agriculture landscapes.
Associate Professor Michael Columbia (chemistry) is also passionate about volunteer and service work. In his third year at IPFW, Columbia volunteered as a judge for the Northeast Indiana Regional Science Fair (NEIRSF), an annual event at which students from northeast Indiana compete to win seats at the state fair in Indianapolis. Like science fairs everywhere, NEIRSF relies on local scientists to judge the hundreds of projects sent from regional schools.
Five years after his first experience, Columbia joined the NEIRSF organizational committee because he noticed that “interest in school-based science fairs has declined steadily…there have been many suggestions on how to reverse this trend, but none have been successfully implemented.” Columbia and others with NEIRSF are working to build relationships between students and science across our region, creating a lasting interest in science.
Initiatives like NEIRSF work because of partnerships between schools, community, and scientists, but Columbia believes that interest is vital as well. “For any project to be successful, it is…imperative to find an individual with interest in the project and motivation to see it succeed.” A partnership requires genuine commitment from all parties – from hypotheses to conclusion.
Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) alumna and Continuing Lecturer Sharon Mankey also understands the importance of active learning and community service through her work as the director of the Communication Disorders Clinic. Mankey manages the clinic where upper-level CSD students learn speech therapy by providing it.
At the clinic, students conduct one-on-one and group therapy with clients who have suffered strokes, head, or other injuries, while also providing speech, language, and hearing screening for students. CSD student outreach is not limited to the clinic. Students also participate in the AAC Poss-Abilities Camp, where young people who use augmentative alternative communication (ACC) devices put on a play, among other activities; the Deaf, Deaf World event where participants must communicate and interact without words; and the Sensitive Santa and Sensitive Easter Bunny events at which children with autism and other sensory processing disorders can get pictures with Santa or the Easter Bunny in a quiet atmosphere.
Mankey avidly works to improve conditions for local community members who use AAC devices. In 2016, she began training Allen County first responders (including law enforcement, firefighters, and EMT) on how to best serve those who use alternative or augmentative communication methods to communicate. For these many services to CSD, students, and the community, Mankey was recently recognized for her achievements when she was awarded the Honors of the Association from the Indiana Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ISHA) at their 2017 annual convention.
Finally, Assistant Professor Sherrie Steiner (sociology) has involved her students with the Blackford County Concerned Citizens (BCCC), an advocacy group that investigates the cause of diseases in Blackford County, since 2015. Recently, students gathered tree moss from areas surrounding Hartford Iron and Metal to see if airborne heavy metals (called, fugitive dust) reached local neighborhoods. Residents were also surveyed regarding the formation of a neighborhood association.
Test results revealed heavy metal concentrations significantly higher in moss collected in from trees the neighborhood adjacent to the steel recycling facility than levels from control-group trees in a nearby wilderness park. Fifteen people expressed interest in forming a neighborhood association. BCCC will follow-up with residents to continue the conversation of how to address the public health impact of the ongoing steel recycling activities.
The first part of the project involved Steiner’s students creating maps and videos of clustered industrial production locations for the BCCC. Then, students created social media sites and public presentations about the BCCC’s concerns for the community. The project has expanded to include Hartford City high school students as well.
Of course, none of these service-learning projects would be possible without the experts on the BCCC’s board, including a former mayor, a former district attorney, and physician who works for the Hoosier Environmental Council. Partnerships between the BCCC and Steiner’s students work so well because all are invested in the process of making a positive difference in the community.
Service learning connects classroom life to real life, allowing the flow of knowledge to be experienced by all parties in multiple ways. The work of Gillespie, Columbia, Mankey, Steiner, and all the faculty members engaged in social learning provides a window into how the university can be an intellectual hub for students and community members while improving the lives of many in our region.