Students at Jackson State Community College brought fun and awareness to campus last semester through service learning projects in their Social Problems class. Emily Fortner, a professor at JSCC’s main campus for eight years in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Division, had previously used lessons in her Social Problems classes as a tool for students to get out into the community and help various organizations. This semester she decided to go back to campus with these efforts.
While teaching a chapter regarding poverty, Fortner advised how much of the student body relies on financial need-based aid to continue their education. According to recent statistics, 38% of students received Federal Pell grants for the 2014/2015 academic year, and 80% received some type of financial aid. The classes also learned there are several resources on campus to aid those in need. The Student Relief Fund helps those who require extra assistance with necessities including gas, home utilities and unexpected costs, while the Emergency Loan is used to help those who need tuition and books; the JSCC Food Pantry is located in the Student Center and provides nonperishable items to students, including food and toiletries. Each is funded through donations from JSCC employees and from the community, all of which are overseen by Linda Nickell, Dean of Students. “It’s a great way to show we care about students outside the classroom,” she says.
Each of Fortner’s two classes was assigned a semester-long objective: create a campus project to raise money for the JSCC Student Relief Fund and Emergency Loan, accrue donations for the JSCC Food Pantry, and provide information to students, employees, and the local community about the need for these funds. This exercise highlights service learning, one of the school’s High Impact Practice initiatives, which encourages service learning to be incorporated into course curriculum.
The first class decided to hold a kickball tournament on campus with all proceeds going to the Student Relief Fund. Students “created [and] distributed flyers, and set up booths [on campus] to inform students about the tournament and the student services [it] supported,” said Fortner. Six teams entered the tournament, which was held on campus in the gymnasium, with one team reigning victorious, comprised of mainly JSCC baseball players. “It was a great event and was well attended by the campus community,” says Fortner.
Choosing a different route, the second class wanted to support Innovation, JSCC’s choral group, by publicizing their annual Holiday Concert. The show generally takes donations for the Relief Fund. Students worked with choir director Esther Gray-Lemus to set the event date, then created promotional flyers to publicize the show on campus and within the Jackson community. Information regarding the Relief Fund was also included in the concert programs. Additionally, the class made ornaments to sell at the show to raise money and get the audience in the holiday spirit. Innovation’s concert was followed by a reception that boasted a themed photo booth and a craft table for children. “A real sense of community was felt at the event,” said Fortner. “Students bonded with one another and had a real sense of pride in their efforts.”
The Social Problems students were involved in every aspect of the process from the inception of each event to the cleanup after a job well done. Overall the student projects were a success, with over $750 raised between both classes’ events. Fortner says all of the money will go directly to the Relief Fund. When students have need for these funds, Nickell advises he or she fills out a form and are assisted in creating a monthly budget. She says, “We can’t solve every problem but we want to help as much as we can for our students to succeed and have a better life.”
Fortner’s students learned a lot this semester about what it takes to make change happen; they also learned that help can come about closer than one might think, right here at JSCC. This semester has been an interesting experiment keeping the student projects on campus, says Fortner, and she is interested in working here again with future classes. Anyone interested in donating to the Student Relief Fund can contact the JSCC Institutional Advancement Office at (731) 425-8825 or send a check to the JSCC Foundation, Student Relief Fund.