Schulz Information Center

“It’s essential to engage the community with the land to inspire a sense of place, provide environmental education opportunities, and help to develop the next generation of conservationists.”
—Shanti Wright, Stewardship Project Manager, Sonoma Land Trust

SSU faculty member

Service-Learning in Geography & Global Studies

Thank you for your interest in service-learning in Geography & Global Studies. The CCE can help you create or deepen your service-learning class. We provide models of other courses, sample syllabi, resources for course construction, reflective analysis tools, and risk management support.

Service-learning activity usually falls into two categories:

TYPE 1) Teaching/tutoring/sharing knowledge from the class
Geography students at the State University of New York–Buffalo (SUNY–Buffalo) participated in a multi-faceted neighborhood exposition with elementary school students called the Children’s Urban Geographies (ChUG) project. The SUNY students “were engaged in weekly class meetings centered on reading literature on qualitative, participatory child-centered research and the emerging field of children’s geographies, while simultaneously spending one afternoon a week in community service at an after-school program in Buffalo where they helped with homework, played, observed, and aimed to achieve the role of ‘big friend.’ “ The students engaged with each other in many types of activities including creating a patchwork quilt of their neighborhood using drawings the students drew, taking photo walks where the children documented their neighborhood, using a GPS to indicate things that interested them on their walks and then plotting the points on a map, and writing “ghost stories” which the young students recorded and played back in a “radio show.” It was in the latter activity that one of the SUNY students noted that in the course of reading over thirty “ghost stories” two themes emerged: 1) “Fear is manifested in the people who occupy a place.” and 2) “the absence of people, eg a nowhere-land, makes a place scary.” She reflected that “Children seemed to derive some empowerment from returning to a place that was scary for them the first time they visited it ... the Ghost Stories project demonstrated how children create safe places through narratives about scary places.” At the conclusion of the project all of the data was gathered, analyzed, and catalogued, and as the class professor stated “the project employs a grounded theory approach to identify themes inductively, to explore empirical and theoretical connections, and to build knowledge.” 1

TYPE 2) Using information in the class to do something with/for a community organization.
Example: Students “enrolled in the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Service Learning Laboratory at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, spent their semester helping local organizations learn more about land parcels in the City of Middletown.” Their partners were the Middlesex Land Trust, Middletown Conservation Commission, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The students organized, analyzed, and displayed data they gathered. “The data is generated for the Middlesex Land Trust to help in their acquisition of conservation property.” The students were proud of their hard work and the outcome. As one stated, “The story map is more user-friendly than the Physical Plant map and prioritizes information interesting to a non-Wesleyan audience. Pop-ups provide blurbs, images and external links for buildings ranging from residential to administrative to dining.” The community partner representing the Middletown Land Trust was also pleased, stating, “This is such valuable material, and we’ve already purchased 100 acres of land as a direct result of classwork from a previous Wesleyan GIS class.” 2

Please contact us for more information.

Michelle Goman has instructed several service-learning classes and may be willing and able to share advice.

1 Cope, M. “Patchwork Neighborhood: Children’s Real and Imagined Geographies in Buffalo, NY.” Environment and Planning A Volume 40 (2008): 2845-2863. Print.

2 Drake, Olivia. "GIS Service Learning Class Shares Field Research, Projects with Community." Wesleyan University, 3 December 2014. Web. 13 July 2015.