November 9, 2012
12-305

Malynda Dorsey
Communications Specialist

VSU Promotes Civic Engagement in STEM Disciplines

VALDOSTA – Valdosta State University’s Department of Biology is taking steps to increase civic engagement and service learning among students from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) STEM disciplines.

Dr. Robert Gannon, biology department head, has been working with community members and agency representatives to identify needs and opportunities for students to get involved in service learning activities.

“Part of the university’s mission statement is to ‘promote the economic, cultural and educational progress of our community and of our region, through excellence in service outreach,’” said Gannon. “The STEM departments on campus collectively have more than 1,800 undergraduate students in their programs however, they are not conducting service outreach at a reasonable level. Therefore a seminar was recently held to identify opportunities in our local area and discuss how we can get our students involved.”

The seminar included members of the United Way, Department of Natural Resources, Habitat for Humanity and South Georgia Medical Center along with VSU faculty and students. Service learning ideas centered around off-campus tutoring, science related events for local children and science related opportunities that centered around the support of the DNR’s conservation programs. Civic engagement opportunities were identified with the Habitat for Humanity and the South Georgia Medical Center.

Feedback from the seminar is the first step toward the development of a plan for a new service learning program among STEM departments. Faculty members are also exploring ways to incorporate service learning into courses.

“Not every course lends itself to a service learning component; however, we believe that the service projects will be more successful if they are a part of the students’ curriculum,” Gannon said.

The development of a civic engagement program is hoped to contribute to the overall social well being of the students in STEM disciplines.

“Research shows that the more involved students are outside of the classroom, the better they are psychologically,” said Gannon. “They are able to interact more with others and make bigger differences in their community which gives them a greater sense of self-satisfaction, purpose and achievement.”

The biology department has set up a web page with service learning and civic engagement opportunities for students in STEM disciplines. The page will later provide testimonials from students who participate.

The initiative to promote service learning and civic engagement among students in STEM disciplines is funded by an $1000 competitive Category I Seminar Grant award from the American Association of Colleges and Universities.

For more information, contact Gannon at rlgannon@valdosta.edu or visit http://ww2.valdosta.edu/biology/STEMServiceLearningCivicEngagement.shtml .