Service Learning classes offer unique academic opportunity at UW-Madison

Service Learning has been a tradition on the UW-Madison campus for decades. Every semester, the University offers as many as 50 classes that incorporate volunteer work and community-engagement into the class. These Service Learning classes are offered in a wide variety of departments across campus.

Sophomore Mariel White is one of the many students who have participated in a Service-learning course. Mariel enrolled in Chican@ & Latin@ Studies (CLS) 530: Espiritualidad y lenguaje: Dimensions of Latin@ mental health services spring semester of her freshman year.

“At the time I was working with a professor in the fall and he told me about a class he was going to teach in the spring,” Mariel said. “I looked at it and it was a Service-learning class. I really wanted to get involved with the Latino community here in Madison and this class seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

CLS 530 reviews the cultural, spiritual, linguistic and historical components of working with Latin@s, with a focus on their mental health and well-being. For the Service Learning component of the class, Mariel volunteered at Journey Mental Health Clinic.

“I worked as the receptionist because many Spanish speaking people would come in and they didn’t feel comfortable speaking to other people in English,” Mariel said. “Having someone who spoke Spanish initiate a conversation with them made it much more legitimate and comfortable.”

Working at the clinic taught Mariel more than she could have learned from a class alone and her experiences taught her how problematic it can be to generalize when talking about different areas of the community.

“I had one funny experience that made me really appreciate the diversity of the Latino community,” Mariel said. “One of the receptionists I worked with was Venezuelan and my mom is Mexican so I have grown up with Mexican food. I mentioned something about food and she asked what it was and I said ‘What do you mean, what is that? Everybody eats it’ and she said ‘I’m not Mexican.’ I didn’t realize beforehand that it was just a Mexican thing.”

Mariel’s experience volunteering not only taught her more about the Latin@ community, but helped her form a connection with other students in her class.

“It was really cool because I would volunteer and then come back to my class each week and everyone would talk about their volunteer experience. It was just really great having a place where we could unpack what we were observing every week and relate it to course readings and to our discussions,” Mariel said. “I really loved this class. It was one of my favorite classes because we all got very close and we all were relating it to the community.”

After taking a class, Mariel is a strong believer in the benefits of Service Learning courses to both the students and the community.

“It is important to detach yourself from this bubble we live in at the university and find out what’s actually happening in the community,” Mariel said. “Doing this, we can better address community needs and make practical solutions and resources through our course work.”

Over 40 Service-learning courses will be offered in 30+ departments fall 2015. Students can explore opportunities here as well as the online course guide.