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‘Overcoming obstacles and solving problems’

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

As part of a service-learning course on advocacy writing, Northeastern University student Julia Hickey wrote a speech on behalf of a former prison inmate. He mentored peers who found jobs through Haley House, the Boston-based nonprofit organization, which, at the time, was seeking funding to rebuild its facility.

“We conducted research about how a story and a person could connect people with an organization and then wrote about all the good things that Haley House had given this man,” Hickey explained to students, faculty and community partners who attended a year-end service-learning celebration last week in the Curry Student Center.

The experience, she said, extended beyond learning how to craft speeches and press releases. As Hickey put it, “I stepped out of my academic bubble and into the professional world.”

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.

Hickey was among more than 440 Northeastern students enrolled in more than 30 service-learning courses over the fall semester. During that span, students teamed up with 80 community-based partners in Roxbury, Mission Hill, South End and Fenway neighborhoods to complete more than 13,000 hours of community service as tutors, translators, researchers, health educators and exercise instructors.

First-year students in Susan Freeman’s engineering design service-learning course created a sun-shading device for the sensory garden at the William Carter School, a Boston public school for students with intensive special education and medical needs.

“Students in their first semesters were so excited that they got to do engineering that helped somebody,” said Freeman, a mechanical and industrial engineering senior academic specialist in the College of Engineering. “They were overcoming obstacles and solving problems.”

Community partners praised the service-learning program for transforming lives — in the classroom, in the community and around the globe.

Jerrell Cox, director of the Out of School Time programs for United South End Settlements, praised Northeastern students for their reliability, dedication and professionalism in helping children with their homework and taking them to baseball games, where they received autographs from their favorite players.

“I can’t express how service-learning at Northeastern has helped our program grow,” Cox said.