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Changing the world, one course at a time

As part of a service-learning course, Northeastern University student Kristen Cook taught a 7-year-old with special needs how to do subtraction—in Spanish.

“I can’t tell you how proud I was of myself and the child,” Cook told students, faculty members and community partners who attended a year-end service-learning celebration last week in the Curry Student Center Ballroom.

Service-learning at Northeastern is a form of experiential learning that links academic courses to community-based organizations. Students engage in hands-on service roles and projects, applying concepts they learn in the classroom to address community needs. It’s facilitated through Northeastern’s Center of Community Service, which acts as a clearinghouse for service opportunities through partnerships with more than 225 community-based agencies and programs.

Cook, a junior who worked with children at the Curley K-8 School, in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, was among some 439 Northeastern students enrolled in 27 service-learning courses over the fall semester. During that span, students teamed up with 70 community-based partners in the Roxbury, Mission Hill, South End and Fenway neighborhoods, as well as suburban schools, to complete 13,170 hours of service as translators, tutors, researchers, health educators and exercise instructors.

Members of the Northeastern community praised the service-learning program for transforming lives—in the classroom, in the community and around the globe.

Students in Elise Dallimore’s organizational communication training and development service-learning course are particularly active in the community.

One group of students worked with Health Resources in Action, a public health and medical research organization, in Boston, to create an anti-bullying training program for high-school girls. Another group trained adult mentors who run the Science Club for Girls, an after-school program, in Cambridge, which encourages young women to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering and math.

“Students doing service-learning believe they can change the world,” said Dallimore, an associate professor of communication studies who’s taught four service-learning courses since 2001. “They learn that there are more important things than their job title or how much money they make. It’s about becoming a better person.”

Northeastern’s location makes it the ideal community partner, said John Tobin, vice president for city and community affairs. “Northeastern is a global university with deep connections within the city,” he said. “Our students are going into these neighborhoods and touching people’s lives in meaningful ways.”

Senior health sciences major Kate Ostrander has served as a service-learning teaching assistant in four classes over the past two years. She said the experiential learning opportunity improved her academic performance, increased her awareness of the community and led to co-ops and volunteer positions.

“Service-learning helped me experience the richness that the Northeastern and greater Boston community has to offer,” she said. “I learned that there’s more to a person’s health than his vital signs.”

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