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"[Entomology was] my favorite class at Sonoma State.... I got heavily involved and volunteered. We would go out to schools or community events and educate the public about beneficial insects and ways that they could enhance their gardens using insects instead of... sprays.”
--Danielle Martinez, Senior ENSP Major

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Civic Engagement

Service-learning encourages students to apply their academic knowledge in ways that will, in effect, "make a difference" now and in the future. Another term for making a difference now and in the future is civic engagement.

One reason faculty are motivated to use service-learning pedagogies is that they see their students becoming more engaged and more invested in their own learning. The result is immediate. Faculty also report long-term rewards, as when students return two—or even ten—years later to explain how one lecture, activity, or guest speaker intrigued them so much they ended up changing their major and eventually securing a meaningful job.

Students often comment upon how surprised they were by their service work. Sometimes they were surprised because they didn't have the skills (especially writing skills) their community partners needed, and so they had to work hard to adapt.

Frederique Lavoipierre, Service-Learning Coordinator in the STEM Disciplines, says that students are also "surprised at how much fun they have. I see that all the time in the Garden. Students come back just for the fun of it.... That's what civic engagement is all about."

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"Students are surprised at how much fun they have. I see that all
the time in the Garden. Students come back just for the fun of it....
That's what civic engagement is all about."
--Frederique Lavoipierre, Service Learning Coordinator in the STEM Disciplines

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Students' service also complemented their academic learning in ways that consistently increased civic engagement. For example, those who helped with outreach for an event titled Thinking Like an Oak heard historical ecologist Arthur Dawson's recommendations for reducing soil erosion and flooding; the methods were based upon an understanding of "natural" conditions during the past two hundred years and represented a contemporary view of sustainable watershed management.

Because service-learning brings people and ideas together—and expands classroom boundaries beyond SSU into surrounding communities—it often inspires new interests in students and may even lead to unexpected internships or jobs.

New Interests

ENSP major and insect and arthropod neophyte Danielle Martinez found herself studying entomology her senior year at SSU. Her service project gave her the opportunity to work in the Entomology Outreach Program. She explains that entomology ended up being "a great class, my favorite class at Sonoma State.... I got heavily involved and volunteered. We would go out to schools or community events and educate the public about beneficial insects and the ways that they [people] could enhance their gardens using insects instead of using sprays.”

After developing an unexpected appreciation—even affection—for insects, Ms. Martinez says she is now interested in pursuing an agricultural entomology career and has recently interviewed for two agency agricultural/biological technician positions. She adds that she loves bugs "a lot more than I ever thought I would. And I plan on staying with it. There’s just so much to learn about them."

Profiles of Civically Engaged Students

Civic engagement is also in evidence in the following three student profiles:

  1. Senior biology major Nadia Lopez, who is now working in SSU's Biology Museum and collecting beetles to assist with research projects
  2. Senior biology major Erika Mittelman, who is now working at Safari West
  3. 2010 graduate and ENSP major Kara Doolin, who is now working at the Sonoma Land Trust

Note: SSU students' experiences with service-learning are consistent with the experiences of students engaged with service-learning on other campuses, as documented in the service-learning literature.

SSU Biology Museum (Nadia Lopez)

After completing an insect collection in her entomology class, biology major Nadia Lopez secured a job in SSU's Biology Museum and then found herself collecting live willow leaf beetles to share with researchers at three universities. Ms. Lopez says that "Completing my service project helped me to be here at the museum job because the initial collection project was a service project. And then I had the chance to collect these beetles. I’m still continuing to send beetles to these people.... It’s great."

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"If someone were to ask me... what’s very important in biology I’d say the ecosystem is very important. When something is impacted it affects other animals, other plants, other things in the world. The impact may be harmful to us [humans]. Usually it is… and that’s important."
--Nadia Lopez, SSU Senior Biology Major

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Safari West (Erika Mittelman)

Senior biology major Erika Mittelman, like many SSU students, landed in entomology by accident. She and a classmate whom she'd known since high school were told by an advisor that they had to take an organanismal biology class if they wanted to graduate. Neither student liked insects, but entomlogy fit into their schedule.

Like many entomology students, Ms. Mittelman (and her friend) were surprised by how much they enjoyed their class. Ms. Mittelman even looked for insects under rocks when it rained, which was often.

After helping with entomology outreach efforts during Sonoma County Ag Day for a service project, she discovered she had a passion for outreach. Although she wasn't initially motivated by insects, Ms. Mittelman was instantly drawn to outreach. She continued volunteering with the Entomology Outreach Program, and has since been involved in outreach activities for the Oakland Zoo and for Safari West, her current employer.


Sonoma Land Trust (Kara Doolin)

ENSP major Kara Doolin visited the Estero Americano (a Sonoma Land Trust property) during an ENSP class field trip her senior year. That field trip introduced her to Sonoma Land Trust stewardship project manager Shanti Wright. Ms. Doolin soon found herself interning at the Sonoma Land Trust, where she worked to solve grazing and related problems.

After she had completed her internship, Ms. Doolin was hired on as a Sonoma Land Trust assistant project manager. She says her roots in what she calls the ENSP community have helped her professionally. “It wasn’t just classes I was going to; it was a place where I could share my opinions with people who had similar passions. It was a really close-knit group of people and the professors were great at getting to know you and making you as successful as you possibly could be.”

Ms. Doolin says she "lucked out" in being able to get into "the field that I’ve always envisioned myself to be in, right after school."

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Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Planning Dr. Caroline Christian says that students in her service-learning classes seem "especially drawn to working with nonprofit organizations." She reports that
her students find "deep satisfaction with the type of
work they do" at these nonprofits.

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