Debut “Spotlight on Civic Engagement” breakfast will show impact of wildlife class



Slippery Rock University's Office of Community-Engaged Learning will host it's a number of "Spotlight on Civic Engagement" breakfasts with students, faculty and community partners who worked on service-learning projects that helped managed habitat at nearby state parks.

Oct. 23, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University's Office of Community-Engaged Learning will kick off its inaugural "Spotlight on Civic Engagement" breakfast series with a presentation about the impact service-learning has on the community, students and faculty. The morning will also include a presentation about a service-learning project that studied the impact on how the Allegheny mudbug affects the endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnake's habitat.

"The big purpose is to inspire people in community-engaged work," said Jeffrey Rathlef, director of service-learning and community service. "The 'how' is to show impact. There's nothing that inspires people more than to hear passionate people talk about the engaged work that they do, especially when your partners and students talk about the impact that it has had on their learning and growth in the community."

OCEL has six "Spotlight on Civic Engagement" breakfasts planned for the 2017-18 academic year, beginning with the Oct. 27 presentation from faculty, students and community partners involved with SRU's "Wildlife and Wildland Management," capstone course. Becky Thomas, assistant professor of parks, conservation and recreational therapy, led the presentation, called "Service-Leaning Through Collaborative Practice." All series spotlight presentations take place from 8-9:30 a.m., at the Smith Student Center Theater.

The spotlight sessions, which include a pancake breakfast, are free and open to the public, but attendees must RSVP through the "Civic Engagement" link on SRU's CORE platform or by emailing

Thomas' presentation will focus on the habitat management projects that her classes provided to its community partners, which include the Jennings Environmental Education Center in Slippery Rock and Maurice K. Goddard State Park in Sandy Lake. Park managers Wil Taylor and Bill Wasser will discuss some of the projects, including the expansion of a prairie for the eastern massasauga rattlesnake and managing the habitat for the American woodcock. Thomas will also emphasize the 'how' and 'what' SRU wants its students to learn through service-learning.

"How to collaborate, how to be a professional, how to solve problems, how to find answers," Thomas said. "We want to teach our students things they can't learn in a textbook and flip the model of a professor as an expert."

Becky Thomas   

Thomas, referring to herself as a "guide on the side instead of a sage on the stage," sees service-learning projects as an opportunity for mutual benefit for the students, to learn and gain experience, and the community partners, to increase their capacity to address certain needs that they are unable to do in-house.

"In my mind, (service-learning) is when students make the transition from student to professional," Thomas said. "It's not simply going out and doing community service. It has to benefit both the students and the community."

Thomas will also provide insight for faculty looking to incorporate service-learning into their courses, by developing relationships with potential partners in the community and asking those community partners what they need.

"For faculty, (the breakfast series) can bring meaning into their teaching," Rathlef said. "It can bring relevance, connecting their expertise into real community issues."

According to Rathlef, attendees at all the breakfast series sessions will walk away with an artifact, such as a course assignment, syllabus or reflection.

"Reflection is the tool by which we put theory into practice," Rathlef added. "How does this experience I'm having in class transfer to the experience I'm having in the community and how does the experience in the community transfer to the theories in class?"

Other presentations in the "Spotlight on Civic Engagement" breakfast series include:
-"Prerequisite Experiences for Engagement in Service-Learning: Understanding the Culture of a Community," Nov. 17 with Christine Walsh, associate professor of elementary education and early childhood.
-"I Felt Like a Real Historian: Community Engagement Through Digital Platforms," Dec. 1 with Aaron Cowan, associate professor of history.
-"Learning Through Active Involvement and Reflection: Leveraging Outcomes for Different Needs," Feb. 16 with Betsy Kemeny, assistant professor, parks, conservation and recreational therapy.
-"Ethical Approaches to Global Service-Learning: Amizade, Inc. and Fair Trade Learning," March 23 with staff from Amizade Global.
-"Enhancing Academic Service-Learning through CORE: Features and Functionality," April 20 with the CORE faculty advisory group.

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