Raising awareness and helping each other

Students at Jackson State Community College (JSCC) in Tennessee 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 percent of students received federal Pell grants for the 2014/2015 academic year, and 80 percent received some type of financial aid.

Students also learned about resources on campus to aid those in need. The Student Relief Fund helps those who need assistance with necessities including gas, home utilities and unexpected costs, while the Emergency Loan helps those who need tuition and books. The JSCC Food Pantry at the student center provides nonperishable items to students, including food and toiletries. Each is funded through donations from JSCC employees and from the community.

“It’s a great way to show we care about students outside the classroom,” said Linda Nickell, dean of students, who oversees the activities.

Serving the community

Both of Fortner’s 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,” Fortner said.

Choosing a different route, the second class wanted to support Innovation, JSCC’s choral group, by publicizing its 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 fliers to promote the show on campus and in the community. Information about the 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,” Fortner said. “Students bonded with one another and had a real sense of pride in their efforts.”

The Social Problems students were involved in all aspects of the project, from the inception of each event to cleanup. More than $750 was raised between both classes.

“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 said.

About the Author

Meredith Hoffman
Meredith Hoffman is a writer at Jackson State Community College in Tennessee.