Service Learning Faculty Spotlight, February 2019

Authors: Dr. Laura C. Atkins, Assistant Professor of Sociology & Director of Service-Learning

It fills me with gratitude to have celebrated 10 years as Jacksonville University’s Director of Service-Learning. In December 2008, as I drove out of snowy Chicago headed to sunny Florida, I never could have imagined the many prospects ahead. I am continually grateful for this professional opportunity at Jacksonville University- bringing a greater focus to academic service-learning, implementing unique service-learning opportunities and working with so many dedicated students and colleagues.

I am continually appreciative of our community of engaged faculty who regularly offer service-learning courses in disciplines such as biology, computer science, education, English, music, sociology, and sustainability. I am grateful that they are passionately committed to meeting community needs and addressing social justice issues. Their service-learning classes help improve the environment, mentor and educate youth and provide music to the community. We are always seeking more faculty to join us for professional development opportunities to develop new courses and design research projects in the scholarship of teaching and learning.

SLP Faculty and Staff Picture

Service-learning faculty & staff. From Left: Dr. Laura C. Atkins, Ms. Lyndsey Kennedy Simpson, Prof. Robert Dew, Prof. Lana Heylock, Prof. Shelley Grant, and Dr. Colleen Wilson.

And I am grateful each day for the opportunity to merge service-learning into my own work as an Assistant Professor of Sociology. It is professionally rewarding to see students opening their eyes to the meaningful ways they can address social issues through service. It warms my heart to watch my sociology & sustainability students serving with Arlington Community Garden at Tree Hill Nature Center. This partnership provides students a chance to learn about sustainable food systems and food deserts while providing healthy foods to local families. And it brings a smile to my face knowing that my Leadership Practicum service-learning class plays a key role in JU’s Charter Day of Service. These students lead dozens of projects to serve the local Arlington community. This class was designed to be accessible to students in all majors to fulfill the University’s experiential learning graduation requirement.

I am filled with gratitude that JU’s service-learning courses are clearly a hit with our very motivated and engaged students. Each year about 350 JU students commit themselves to service-learning courses. When the semester experience is done, many eagerly inquire about additional service-learning courses and service-learning independent studies to continue their community work. And each year I am grateful to recognize the approximately 20 graduating students who go above and beyond to earn the 9 credit hour Service-Learning Certificate. It is such an uplifting day when we honor them at the spring service-learning reception and bestow their graduation honor cords.

Dr. Atkins in garden with two students

Arlington Community Garden. From Left: JU sociology major Tosin Aribatise, Dr. Laura C. Atkins, and JU marine science major & sustainability minor Malyssa Peabody.

And I am thankful to have Florida Campus Compact (FLCC) as a resource. This organization provides support for service-learning professionals. I appreciate their continued reciprocity as they share ideas to enrich JU’s service-learning program while welcoming me to share creative service-learning insights with colleagues throughout the State. I am thankful for FLCC’s recognition of my work - selecting me for their Engaged Scholarship Fellowship in 2012 and recognizing me with the Community Engagement Educator Award in 2018.

I am grateful and excited for the opportunity to expand awareness about the reach and impact of Jacksonville University’s Service-Learning Program. Follow us on our new Instagram @JUServiceLearning for regular insights about service-learning courses, community partners, student learning, and exciting program developments. I also welcome you to stop by our new office location in Gooding 109.

Thank you for this opportunity to serve.