undergraduate section

Seminar in Composition: Service-Learning

Several sections of Seminar in Composition: Service-Learning (ENGCMP 0208) are offered in the fall and spring terms. Students in this section of SC will engage in service-learning, pairing meaningful service in the community with the academic work for the course. Throughout the term, the students provide service with community nonprofits of their choice; students can expect to devote about 2-3 hours a week, for a total of thirty hours of service over the course of the term. Class discussions focus on their experiences during this service work as well as their reflections on this experience as guided by a sequence of critical readings and short essay assignments. By considering the subjects in this community context, the course improves students’ essay writing by helping them to become more critical readers and writers.

In Mark Kramer’s service-learning course, students begin with an examination of their own identity and social position, and then consider how their service emanates outwardly from there. Arguably, people empathize and act according to their own sense of self and their own priorities and passions. How does this effect the efficacy of community work? Students also address topics intersecting with their service placements such as race, privilege, the education-to-prison pipeline, and gentrification. The semester finishes with an exploration of means for civic engagement in Pittsburgh and beyond. Recent partnerships have focused on efforts in the Homewood and Hill District neighborhoods.

Here is what one teacher, Katie Booth, says to students in her section, “Our intellectual exploration this semester will focus on the issues that affect the people who are often intended to be helped through service, as well as critically examining the impulse to help. The American Dream—this idea that if we work hard anything is possible—is not only often leveraged against people who are seeking help; it is also fundamental in the assumptions of those who are seeking to help. Throughout the semester, we will deconstruct this ‘dream,’ and the system of privileges that uphold it, by first looking at our own set of assumptions about help and service, then at those who are at the receiving end of service, and finally the ideas of service and civic engagement themselves.”

In Jonathan Callard’s section of the course, students read essays and reflect upon the connections between the essayists’ arguments and their own experiences, especially in the context of their service. For example, at one moment of the course, his assignment says, “We’re talking about motives, about why we choose to serve others. Some of those motives seem simple—it’s good to help others who are less fortunate, you become happy by giving something away, and so on. Some of them seem more complicated—when exactly do we decide that something or someone is worth our time and energy? To whom to do we belong, and in what way?”