|University of Houston-Victoria students Zulekha Addison, left, Destiny Mayfield and Katrina Mitchell mentor Stroman Middle School students Alexis Williams, far right, and Crystal Keith as part of a service learning component to their class at the university.|
For the first time, two University of Houston-Victoria School of Arts & Sciences classes have joined forces to get a deeper understanding of social justice in U.S. history and philosophy.
Students in assistant professor Beverly Tomek’s “U.S. History Since 1865” and assistant professor Justin Bell’s “Introduction to Philosophy” classes this spring have participated in a pilot program for learning communities – groups of students who share a common academic experience. Even though the classes were taught as stand-alone courses, Tomek and Bell participated in each other’s class discussions and brought different perspectives to the topics.
“The theme of social justice fits well in these core courses,” Bell said. “In philosophy, we study what makes a life meaningful, which includes the meaning of justice. And the history of the U.S. since the Civil War is a period of our history where we, as a nation, dealt with what justice means. Hopefully, students in the learning community will consider the meaning of justice and their own history together with their own direct experience volunteering in the community.”
Learning communities is the topic of UHV’s Quality Enhancement Plan, a required component of the university’s spring 2014 accreditation review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Bell spearheaded the learning community this semester as a pilot program for UHV.
“UHV has researched the topic of learning communities and thinks they will have a lasting benefit for students as they advance in their academic careers,” said Jeffrey Cass, UHV provost and vice president for academic affairs. “This pilot program was a great start to UHV’s learning communities project.”
Part of the learning community included service learning, where students volunteered a minimum of 12 hours throughout the semester. The students then wrote about their experiences in a journal. The volunteering gave students the chance to connect more with the materials they were learning in class, Bell said.
“Dr. Tomek and I wanted the students to have experiences outside of the classroom,” he said. “When they see social justice issues in the real world, it helps in the class discussions and allows them to grow as better citizens in our communities.”
Four UHV students in the learning community volunteered at Stroman Middle School’s Community in Schools program. They not only tutored the middle school students but also mentored them in life lessons, relationships with friends and how to prepare for college. Destiny Mayfield of Austin and Zulekha Addison of Houston both volunteered more than 50 hours throughout the semester.
“I am good with math and science, and enjoy working with the kids in a one-on-one setting,” Mayfield said. “We bonded with the students, and the experience became more than just tutoring. It was about being a part of their lives and cheering for their success.”
Mayfield said volunteering opened her eyes to life lessons she can use in the future.
“I’ve learned to advocate for children so they can gain a better educational experience, and I’ve reflected on how it affects my own life,” she said. “I also gained experience in adapting to situations and how to communicate with different types of people.”
Mayfield said she enjoyed the learning community experience.
“All UHV students deserve a chance to experience something like this because it really benefits the students,” she said. “It gave me a deeper understanding of what I was learning in class. I hope UHV continues the program in the future.”