McDaniel professor Jim Kunz, who teaches social welfare policy, micro practice and research in the social work department, was recently awarded the Alan Penczek Service-Learning Faculty Award for his use of service-learning in the classroom. The Times caught up with Kunz to discuss the importance of public service, social work and helping others.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about how you received the Alan Penczek Service-Learning Faculty Award?
A: The award is given by the Maryland-D.C. Campus Compact, an association of colleges and universities in Maryland and the District of Columbia that advocates, supports and encourages public service and civic engagement in higher education. The Alan Penczek Service-Learning Faculty Award is given to a faculty member who uses service-learning as a way to improve student outcomes in their courses. I was nominated for this award by current and former students, my colleagues at McDaniel, and members of community organizations that I have worked with me to implement service-learning.
Q: What is the importance of using service-learning in courses?
A: For me, service-learning means combining community service with college coursework, so that the community work helps students learn what they are supposed to learn but can also apply what they've learned in a way that helps others. They are equally important. So, for example, I teach a social work course about how nonprofit organizations help people in need. In that course, students volunteer at a local nonprofit, such as Human Services Programs of Carroll County, or Head Start. The volunteer experience helps make the academic content come alive and they use what they learn in class to help others. That is the importance of service-learning in the classes where I use it.
Q: What are some of the service learning projects you've undergone?
A: In addition to that class, I have used service-learning in courses that I have taught on homelessness during our "Jan Term." Last January, students in that class helped in the one-day Point-In-Time survey of the homeless in Carroll County. This year, they will learn about homelessness by working on the five Habitat for Humanity houses being build adjacent to campus. When I taught at our McDaniel-Budapest campus, students were involved with a equine therapy institute and on another Habitat project, helping to build ten houses in Beius, Romania.
Q: How do you develop them?
A: I look for experiences that will deepen students' understanding of course content and improve their learning outcomes. I work with McDaniel's Center on Experience and Opportunity to develop collaborations with community partners.
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Q: How have students responded?
A: I've noticed a pattern. Students often begin a service-learning course thinking that it will be "easier" than a typical college course because they think their volunteer experience will take the place of rigorous academic work. Midway through, they realize how much more work it involves and that it was not as easy as they thought. At the end, they realize that the service experiences helped them quite a bit and added to the course.
Q: Tell me about the other projects around campus you're involved with?
A: In addition to service-learning, I am involved in other activities to raise awareness around social problems. So, each year, I organize a faculty team to engage in "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" to raise money for Rape Crisis Intervention Services of Carroll County. I am organizing an event later this month — a screening and panel presentation of a documentary, "In Plain Sight," which is about human trafficking in the United States.
Q: Have you always been interested in this kind of work?
A: It fits well with my interest in social work — as a helping profession, engaging in community service is a priority. However, I wouldn't require students to do this work if I didn't think it helped them learn.
Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.