Spotlight: Service-Learning Case Study in Communication and Media Studies

June 6, 2016
Communication students performing an ending activity with the high school students about their personal highs and lows of the day.

Communication students performing an ending activity with the high school students about their personal highs and lows of the day.

Understanding Media and SSU student, Hanna Green, leading a discussion with a group of local high school freshmen.

Understanding Media and SSU student, Hanna Green, leading a discussion with a group of local high school freshmen.

Emily Acosta Lewis discussing service-learning project with her students.

Emily Acosta Lewis discussing service-learning project with her students.

Communication students performing an ending activity with the high school students about their personal highs and lows of the day.
Understanding Media and SSU student, Hanna Green, leading a discussion with a group of local high school freshmen.
Emily Acosta Lewis discussing service-learning project with her students.
Maddie Wright
Author
Maddie Wright

I think service-learning is very beneficial because it gets students out into the community and teaching them more about what's going on in their own backyard. We can talk about theories and big ideas in the classroom but without something tangible to put it together with, the learning experience just doesn't work as well. Service-learning makes it all so much more real for the students.
- Dr. Emily Acosta Lewis, Assistant Professor in Communications Studies

Dr. Emily Acosta Lewis has been a Communication and Media Studies Assistant Professor at Sonoma State University since 2012 and is one of the many professors to integrate service-learning into their curriculum. Her interest in community engagement began at San Diego State University, where she received her Bachelor's degree in Public Relations. During her public relations courses, she worked with real-world groups and organizations. She then went on to teach for Semester at Sea, where she discovered service-learning. Acosta Lewis has taught over 14 service-learning classes during her time at SSU.

The Center for Community Engagement has helped Emily Acosta Lewis create and implement her service-learning classes. Some projects she has completed with her students include a campaign for an orphanage in Ghana, re-branding Semester at Sea, and Discovery Day. She has even written a post for the Center for Community Engagement's blog entitled, "Why Aren't All Educators Incorporating Service-Learning?"

One of the first service-learning projects Acosta Lewis did with her "New Media" class was to design a campaign for an orphanage in Ghana. She personally visited this orphanage called "City of Refuge Ministries (CORM)" with her husband while sailing on Semester at Sea. Her students designed social media campaigns, video campaigns, and more. The class then sent their finished campaigns to CORM and they actually used the students' work on their website.

One of Emily Acosta Lewis' favorite parts of service-learning is seeing her student's reactions to their work being put into action. Some students that are quieter in the classroom really show their outgoing side and demonstrate leadership skills during the actual projects; their true passion shows through. Emily Acosta Lewis claims, "It's the little things like that which make service-learning worth the extra work. I would love see a lot more service-learning on campus."

Stacy Omorefe, co-founder of City of Refuge Ministries was very thankful, "We so appreciated the time that Emily gave to help our organization grow. We received so many wonderful insights from the students in her class concerning our social media. We are very grateful for Emily and her desire to help us."

Emily enjoyed this project immensely because it gave her students a real-world experience, supported the important work of a community organization, and opened her students' eyes to a serious problem. This project demonstrated the purpose of service-learning; the students understood and were able to use the course content in a practical manner while getting important work done for the community partner. Students were required to write a blog post about their experience in which a large majority said they felt the project had a positive impact on themselves and their learning.

Her Intro to Public Relations course worked with Semester at Sea to try and remove some stigmas it has by re-imaging the program. The students found this rather challenging because of the many changes the program was undergoing. However, according to surveys at the end of the semester, students universally enjoyed having a real client to work for rather than a fake or made-up organization. They felt their service was more needed and appreciated with a real world client. Therefore they worked harder and learned more as a result.

Her Communications Freshman Learning Community class entitled Understanding Media, participates in Discovery Day annually. In collaboration with the CCE, the class works with a local high school's freshmen to learn about team-building, social media safety, SSU, and college in general. SSU student, Katilin Stephenson, says,"I enjoyed Discovery Day because it was a chance to share and give insight about my college experience to high school students. College is a big decision and I believe it is important for younger students to begin thinking about it as an option for their future." Hanna Green, a participant of the most recent Discovery Day agrees, "I think today is important because families who don't have the college background don't always get this opportunity to expose their high school students to college. It really shows them how important going to college is."

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