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Twenty-three students in an Applied Statistics class are taking their math skills out of the classroom and into community service this semester.

For the past three years, students in the Applied Statistics class taught by Robert G. Root, associate professor of mathematics, have had the opportunity to complete their semester project by working with community organizations and Lafayette service initiatives. Students can design their own study or have one assigned by groups that need volunteers to gather and analyze specific data.

Char Gray, community outreach coordinator at Lafayette’s Landis Community Outreach Center, identifies suitable issues at local organizations that can be addressed by students and puts them in contact with key people in those groups.

“I encourage students to do their statistical studies for community organizations,” says Root. “The students are able to give back to the community while at the same time developing their statistical skills. The quality of the work is better because the questions and the data are real and the conclusions drawn make a difference. The students learn the concepts better when their application of them has consequences beyond a course grade.”

Twenty-three of 29 students in this semester’s class are offering their services to the community and Lafayette service initiatives. In the fall, 29 of 42 students did so.

“Students from previous semesters who have worked with community organizations told me that they found the work surprisingly rewarding,” says Root. “They have told me at the end of the semester that they originally dreaded all the work, but when they got involved, it was actually worth the effort.”

Chrissy Morgan, a first-year student from Flemington, N.J., is compiling statistical data for the YMCA in Easton along with Rachel Harris ’04 (Wappingers Falls, N.Y.). She says she is excited about the challenge.

“If I’m going to do a statistics project, I’d much rather do it to help people in the community, not just to get a grade,” says Morgan.

“The idea of using service-learning in statistics classes is beginning to catch on across the nation and the world,” says Root, co-author of a recent paper in The American Statistician and an invited presenter at the Sixth Annual International Conference on the Teaching of Statistics this fall in Capetown, South Africa. “This is evidence that Lafayette is at the forefront of an innovative wave in pedagogy. This is the kind of teaching that students aren’t going to get at schools without Lafayette’s resources.”

“Service-learning is such a prime opportunity for students to have hands-on learning,” adds Gray. “It’s something that not only provides education here at Lafayette, but a lifelong learning opportunity – getting involved as citizens in the creation of community and learning what it means to be part of a community.

Other students in the class and the organizations supported by their projects include:
Matt Harakal ’05, Pete Jeffe ’05, Samantha Lucas ’05, Rick El-Darwish ’03 — Adopt-a-Class program at ProJeCt of Easton;
Jess Goman ’05, Ashley Maida ’05, Rob LaTerra ’02 — Cindy Adams, health promotions coordinator at Lafayette;
Scott Shields ’02, Angie Kulbick ’02, Lakishia Stembridge ’02 – Kids in the Community program of the Landis Community Outreach Center and Adopt-a-Class program at ProJeCt of Easton;
Gina Lamendella ’04, Colleen Fitzpatrick ’04, Erin Tamarin ’05, Amie Aguiar ’04, Lara Hershock ’02, Russ Schwaber ’05 — Safe Harbor homeless shelter;
Alexis Gale ’04 and Lori DeVito ’05 — eating disorder awareness/prevalence survey for Lafayette’s Counseling Center;
Greg Gibbs ’05, Adam Allen ’04, and Anthony Jones ’05 – Lafayette varsity football team.

Organizations that benefited from Applied Statistics student work in the fall semester include Communities That Care, Safe Harbor, a community center, a children’s summer camp, a local church, the Lafayette Chaplain’s Office, Lafayette’s alcohol awareness campaign, the Landis Community Outreach Center, and the Maroon Club (Lafayette athletic boosters).

The class is just one of several Lafayette courses that incorporate service-learning. Chip Nataro, assistant professor of chemistry, teaches Environmental Chemistry, a fall semester course that covers the chemical processes underlying the environment and the way human activity affects those processes, including a wide range of pollution and energy sources. Instead of a conventional laboratory component, students participate in the Bushkill Creek monitoring project.

“I want the students to get practical experience in some of the material we covering in class,” says Nataro. “In terms of the big picture, I want them to see how the material they’ve learned in all of their chemistry courses affects the outside world, even if it’s just cleaning up at the canal and seeing how some garbage doesn’t decompose and what threat it poses, or monitoring streams for any possible contamination from people or corporations.”

Gray taught a First Year Seminar course last fall, The Power of Culture: Understanding Diversity in the U.S., in which students served in one of the following community programs: Kids in the Community, Boys and Girls Club, America Reads, Safe Harbor, Meals for the Homeless, Third Street Alliance, and local child care. Students in Challenging Differences, Discovering the Possibilities of Community, a First Year Seminar taught by Gary Miller, college chaplain, have served the same groups.

In a Spanish class taught by Michelle Geoffrion-Vinci, assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures, and a writing class taught by Bianca Falbo, assistant professor of English, students work with the English as a Second Language program at ProJeCt of Easton.

As their senior design project, three teams of five civil engineering students are helping the borough of Alpha, N.J., decide what to do with its aging John Dolak Memorial Pool.

In Technology Clinic, students from different majors partner for a year to apply what they’ve learned to solve real-life problems.

Through a grant from the Provost’s Office, Lafayette faculty will have an opportunity to attend a workshop on campus this summer that will give insight into designing curriculum that incorporates service-learning into existing classes or new ones where community partners help shape the learning experience, notes Gray. Within service-learning, serve and learning share equal priority so that each enhances the other.

“There’s very intentional reflection on the service experience involved,” she says. “The reflection connects the theoretical with practical, hands-on learning. I am proud of Lafayette for being willing to take the step to do it. The service-learning movement really fits where Lafayette is going in terms of active learning. You see it in Technology Clinic, VAST, and many First Year Seminar classes, which are giving students a chance to help shape their learning experiences and be active participants in it, and ultimately become life-long citizens.”

Categorized in: Academic News