Service-Learning Course Continues Through Pandemic

April 29, 2020

By Samantha Jette '20

Psychology Professor Elizabeth Rickenbach and Academic Resource Center (ARC) Director Kenneth Walker '85 have forged ahead with their service-learning program in the wake of remote classes at the college. The Meelia Center for Community Engagement fosters service-learning opportunities in certain courses, which allow students to engage with the community beyond the classroom. 

Professor Rickenbach’s course, PY325 The Brain, Aging, and Dementia, was initially supposed to involve a collaboration between three populations: Saint Anselm College students from her course, clients from the Moore Center, and Birch Hill retirement community residents. 

The Moore Center is a Manchester based community organization that works with adults with intellectual and developmental challenges. The organization aids individuals in professional and developmental training, as well as building life skills. The center is built on the principles of compassion, commitment, and community. 

“I grew up in Manchester, and we were always aware of the services of the Moore Center,” remarks Walker. 

In her vision for this service-learning opportunity, Professor Rickenbach hoped her six Saint Anselm students would collaborate with the Moore Center individuals to share what they learned in class with residents of the Birch Hill retirement community in Manchester. However, the course navigated several challenges throughout the semester. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a Norovirus outbreak occurred at Birch Hill during the semester, halting the class collaboration with that population. During this time, six of Rickenbach’s The Brain, Aging, and Dementia students met with Moore Center clients in the ARC each Friday afternoon to discuss and reflect on the course material. 

After the transition to online instruction, in-person collaboration with Saint Anselm students, Birch Hill residents, and Moore Center clients was no longer possible. However, Rickenbach and her students did not want to give up on the relationships built within the program. 

“It wasn’t a question,” says Rickenbach, “If we can do it, we’re going to keep doing it.” 

The group decided to continue their Friday afternoon discussions with the Moore Center clients, now joining the organization’s weekly Google Hangout sessions. 

“I feel so lucky [to continue service-learning] because other service-learners in our class who didn't work with the Moore Center weren't able to go back to their sites,” said communication major Janelle Fassi ’21. 

Student and Moore Center client collaborate on an assignment  Student and Moore Center client collaborate on an assignment

 

Saint Anselm students continue reflecting upon their class material and sharing with the Moore Center individuals in an interactive way. During the Hangouts, they discuss topics such as careers in gerontology, and ways to keep one’s brain healthy to prevent Dementia. 

Walker, a Disability Service Provider on campus, proposed the idea for the Moore Center collaboration last spring. He hoped the college could provide a post-secondary experience for people with intellectual disabilities. After sharing the idea with Nicole Lora, assistant director of the Meelia Center, and Dan Forbes, director of the Meelia Center, he obtained a grant for the pilot project from the Saint Anselm College Diversity and Inclusion Innovation Grant Fund. The grant provided service-learning training as well as instruction materials. 

This is Walker’s second service-learning collaboration with the Moore Center sponsored by a diversity and inclusion innovation fund grant, the first took place in fall 2019, in collaboration with Professor Joanna Parolin’s NU125 Mental Health Nursing course. 

This semester’s full project is titled, “Neurodiversity and Lifelong Learning: Inclusive Educational Experience for Visiting Students with Intellectual Disabilities.”

Walker is pleased with the success of the Moore Center collaboration so far, as well as the support it has received from the college community. 

The Meelia Center has supported service-learning since 1989. Each semester, approximately 250 students across multiple majors apply their course concepts through their community engagement.