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Idaho State University service learning helps students to give back

May 20, 2010
ISU Marketing and Communications

Students at Idaho State University are learning an important tenet that part of being an educated person is to do service and give back to the greater community.

The lessons they are receiving in the Service Learning Component in First Year Seminar classes aren’t just theoretical. During the 2009-10 academic year:

• 590 students and 68 instructors completed 1,730 hours of service; and

• the volunteers raised $2,736 donated to worthy causes.

Students from a fall semester 2009 First Year Seminar volunteered for the Idaho Food Bank.“Basically, we’re teaching about the importance of service to ISU and the greater communities students live in, and incorporating elements of service into the classroom and tying it into course content,” said Julie Kline, an AmeriCorps/Vista Service volunteer and the Service Learning Coordinator for the ISU Center for Teaching and Learning.

Students and instructors in their respective classes chose and designed their own service learning projects, that varied from holding a walkathon that raised $700 for the Pocatello Animal Shelter, to serving meals to the homeless during Halloween weekend through My Brother’s Table program.

“When we held the animal shelter walkathon at Davis Field the students asked community members to pledge a certain amount of money per lap they completed,” said Tad Phelps, an ISU First Year Seminar instructor. “One of our students raised $400 on her own.”

The donation to the Pocatello Animal Shelter was very well received.

“Seven-hundred dollars can go a long ways towards helping animals at the shelter,” said Mary Remer, director of the Pocatello Animal Shelter. “We very much appreciated the student donations.”           

The shelter used the donation to contribute to four different funds that Friends of the Pocatello Animal Shelter use to help assist people in adopting pets.

“When the students toured our facilities I think it made them more aware of the needs of the shelter,” Remer said. “Taxpayers keep the place running, but in a lot of areas we need help from the public. Participating in this project opened the volunteers’ eyes a lot on ways they can be involved and help the shelter.”

One class made fleece scarves for the homeless at Aid For Friends in Pocatello.

“Things like hats, gloves, scarves and socks are vital to our clients and highly valued by them,” said BJ Stensland, executive director for Aids for Friends. “They go very quickly. These kinds of donations are very important because we sustain ourselves through community support. The donations of the scarves literally touched lives.”

Still another class created coloring books for first graders at the Edahow and Tendoy schools, while another class in Idaho Falls held a donation drive to help the kids at The Haven, an emergency shelter for families. A group spoke about the importance of getting a college education to about 90 fourth graders at Indian Hills Elementary School in Pocatello.

Students and instructors appear to be embracing the program.

“This year the whole service learning aspect of the course just got better and it is getting better each semester we do it,” Phelps said. “It looks like the sky is the limit and there is all kinds of potential for nontraditional learning, getting students out and doing projects they design on their own. It’s a win-win situation for the students and the community.”

Catina Tharp, Academic Programs Coordinator, has implemented various changes within the First Year Seminar program over the past two years. Tharp has seen growth within the program during this time. All sections of First Year Seminar are taught by an instruction team consisting of one faculty or staff person, and at least one peer instructor. Tharp recruits, trains, and administers these teams, promoting teamwork and leadership development. 

Tharp relayed two stories service-learning stories from last year.  One class participating in the Angel Tree program to raise funds for community families during the holidays chose a family whose mother was incarcerated at the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center. That group received a $200 donation from a woman who had previously been incarcerated at that center. An ISU football player participating raised $500 on his own, allowing the class to adopt two more families for the Angel Tree program.

The ISU Center for Teaching and Learning applied for an AmeriCorps VISTA position in early May 2009 and received funding in the middle of last summer and officially began offering the service-learning component during the start of the fall 2009 semester and was also incorporated in all First Year Seminar classrooms in the Fall 2009 semester. 

“The implementation of service-learning into every section of First Year Seminar has been part of the vision of the program for some time,” Tharp said. “The opportunity to turn this vision into reality with the assistance of Julie Kline, our service-learning coordinator, has exceeded my expectations. We learn more every time an instruction team and their class experiences service learning – regardless of the service that is performed. The potential to impact the ISU and extended community is far-reaching.”

For more information on service learning, contact Kline at (208) 282-4393 or



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