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The mission of Philander Smith College is to graduate academically accomplished students, grounded as advocates for social justice, determined to change the world for the better. Since my arrival at PSC, I have partnered with our Social Justice Initiative office to develop service-learning projects for multiple courses. These projects have ranged from a trip to a small, rural town to plant in the community gardens and to clean the greenhouse and beautify the campus of the high school as we discussed the importance of natural foods in the context of exploring genetically modified organisms in genetics, to creating videos to explain potential “all-natural” cures for parasitic diseases. In this era of science teaching and learning reform, there are studies that demonstrate integrating people, history, and context into biology education will help to better prepare our students for the progressive workforce training needed in this century. In other words, the goal should be to make biology learning relevant to the students’ lives by using real-world problems. This is also evident in studies supporting problem-based or case studies-based learning. Additionally, some studies show that service learning opportunities in health clinics will better prepare pre-professional students for skills needed for nursing, medical, or even dental schools. In most of the studies that I have read to date, service learning projects with longevity are associated with relationships with local clinics and they are medical related. However, I seek to develop a service-learning project grounded in social justice that will be sustained over multiple years that is not based on medical-related partnerships. 

As such, my research focus is determining not only how to increase recruitment and retention rates within biology and to improve biology majors attitudes towards the relevance of their coursework using service-learning experiences, but also to increase the numbers of our students who matriculate directly into graduate and professional program. I believe that using this method would result in significant understanding of the impact of active learning techniques on attracting and keeping students traditionally underrepresented in STEM. This is important to me because my passion is to encourage minorities and women to pursue STEM careers. At PSC, I interact with biology majors who have a very low moral towards the institution and our program; however, those students who are actively involved in research and/or service learning experiences have totally different attitudes. Thus, a systematic way to integrate these experiences across the curriculum may be a novel tool for institutional recruitment and retention efforts. 


Taxonomy: I think my research covers multiple kinds of questions. 

Question type #2 – what is – My aim is to understand service learning from the student point of view. Why do they feel that it is beneficial? My focus is on the student experience. I want to describe what an effective service learning experience looks like at my institution from the students’ points of view. 

Question type #3 – emotional dimension of learning – Since the mission of PSC is “to graduate…advocates for social justice, determined to change the world for the better,” I want to know how can these service learning experiences transform students to want to focus on science-societal issues. 

Question type #4 – movement – I hope to have a final product that is a new framework for how service learning experiences can be implemented at similar institutions to impact enrollment and graduate rates. 

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