Service-Learning: An Overview

Like other writing courses, students in a special section of EWP 410 (Writing for Environmental Professionals) examine relationships between reading and writing in order to compose meaningful texts that are sensitive and responsive to audience and context. In addition, students in this course gain valuable experience while contributing to the local community by performing volunteer work and writing about it. This approach is called service-learning.

Image of students studyingService-learning is a form of active "hands-on" learning where college students engage in community service as part of their course work. In addition to doing community service, students write, think, and talk about their service experiences, connecting them to larger course topics and assignments. This approach provides students with a rich opportunity to use writing to organize, analyze, and reflect in a real-life setting, while analyzing and contextualizing their experiences.

Volunteer Sites and Class Projects

Example of volunteer sites where EWP 410 students have performed their service are:

  • American Red Cross
  • Baltimore Woods
  • Beaver Lake Nature Center
  • Center for Nature Education
  • Dorothy Day House
  • New Environment Institute
  • Peace, Inc.
  • Syracuse City Schools
  • Syracuse Stage
  • Westcott Community Center

Students have benefitted these agencies through creating such final projects as newsletters, brochures, grant proposals, and volunteer training manuals. Each student maintains a service-learning log throughout the semester. Students also write project proposals, job application materials, and progress reports.

One student wrote a children’s book to be used for environmental education programs.

Another student produced a cookbook and nutritional guide for a food pantry at a local church.

Class Inquiry

We foreground the service-learning experience by discussing the following questions:

  • On reciprocity and developing ethical student-community partnerships: How do I enter a community site and start feeling comfortable? How are expectations established? What are participants’ expectations, and how do they affect the mentoring experience? How do the mentor and student build mutual trust and respect?

  • On representing yourself and others:
    How do I think and write about those I’m representing? What connections exist between representations of my experience and issues around race, class, and gender? How do we locate these representations in space and time? What is the relationship between representation and power?

  • Image of students studyingOn reaching a deeper understanding: How can I analyze an experience in a way that gives me deeper understanding about myself? About my community? About the world?

For More Information

If you’d like to learn more about service-learning, contact Benette Whitmore, EWP 410 Instructor, by email at, or by phone at 470-6722.

Students' Perspectives

Image of two students

“Overall, I would definitely say the mentoring experience was a success. We deeply touched the students we mentored. Service-learning should be part of all majors because it keeps students in touch with the true definition of a community: it is a system of interrelated parts, all working together.

~ Jeff, former ESF Service-Learning student on his experience

“This project has been the most satisfactory experience I have had at ESF. My friends, my boyfriend, my sister, and my parents I’m sure are sick of my talking about it. It seems this project and the time invested is above and beyond the call of one three-credit writing class. But it ceased to become a class when I was introduced to Andrea. She’s no one’s writing project; she’s a person with insight, intelligence, and some problems, and lots of focus. She and I had so much fun this semester, and this garden has become the symbol of the bond between Andrea and me, between ESF and Shea, and perhaps between two very different worlds that exist very close to each other.

~ Megan, ESF Service-Learning student on her experience

“Not only did I see the students benefit, but I also did. I learned some things about myself. I really enjoyed this class... it has been one of my favorite classes at ESF. It all went by so fast. I was a little sad to see it end and I am really going to try my hardest to go back next semester.

~ Danielle, former ESF Service-Learning student on her experience


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