Written by Mollie McEvoy

S-L Misconceptions

When first learning about the service-learning program on campus, I mistakenly believed that my major, Human Services, was the only one to include service-learning in their curriculum. I have since found this to be a very common mistake for S-L newbies!

S-L courses spread across a multitude of disciplines, including engineering, first-year and advanced writing, child-development, food justice, languages (Spanish and Chinese), and so on. S-LTAs get a chance to experience something entirely unique. With so many different classes in different fields, S-LTAs sometimes find themselves in a course outside of their own major. This is a great way in which TAs can be both challenged and engaged even further in their classes. They must shift their own perspectives and find out how to make S-L relevant in a field they are not familiar with.

In my own personal experience, I had to adjust my approach to S-L substantially when I was a Team Manager to effectively support three engineering S-LTAs. Together we worked to introduce cultural competencies in relation to course materials. This was especially difficult for me coming from a major that is inherently human-centric. A great method we landed on was ensuring students were always thinking about the reasoning behind their actions and any potential consequences. If they are building a structure in a future career as an engineer, how will it impact the community around them?

Student Leader Experiences

This semester, Anna Brown, a third-year student here at Northeastern is one of the S-LTAs experiencing this unique opportunity. Anna is a Political Science and International Affairs major with a minor in Arabic. The course she is TA-ing for is Organizational Communication, comprised of students in the Communications program, a completely different major from herself. 

Anna began working in the Service-Learning program this semester and has found herself in a very interesting position. At the start of the semester, Anna noted a small amount of hesitation. By not majoring in Communications, Anna stated “I feel like I am the person in the room with the LEAST amount of knowledge on this subject”, referring to the Communication’s class curriculum. However, this simply emphasizes the unique nature of a S-LTA’s position. A S-LTA is typically first and foremost there to tie the class to the community and regulate the service-learning component. 

Anna has since found a perfect stride within the classroom. Being a political science major, she is often the one to relate their course learning to current events and keeps the students up-to-date on what is happening in the world around them. She also provides significant writing support in the classroom. A huge part of Anna’s major is research and writing, which helps her assist the students who are preparing for their semester-long research project that will end in a final paper. Despite not being a Communications major, Anna has learned the subject matter and found out how to use her experiences from within her own major and bring it in to enhance learning within the classroom. 

Sara Flynn, a Human Services major with a minor in Law and Public Policy has begun TA-ing for a course called Engineering Project Management. Sara has been involved with S-L since her first semester at Northeastern and states “I have actually never had a semester where I wasn’t involved with S-L!”. In fact, Sara has been a S-LTA for five different semesters! Sara shared that despite feeling nervous in the beginning, she has greatly enjoyed her experience as a TA outside of her major! Sara states “it has helped me learn so much about the program and I’ve gotten to hear new perspectives on the service-learning experience”. 

When it comes to bringing up S-L values, Sara has always taught them differently according to the class she was in. Sara explains “I think that it is more related to the level of understanding the group already has of Service-Learning and where the gaps are.” She assesses the level of exposure to this type of curriculum and then plans her teaching methods accordingly.

 A consistent member of the team from semester to semester, Sara endorses the Service-Learning community and suggests that everyone enroll in an S-L course! In the three service-learning classes she has taken, and the S-L classes she has been the S-LTA for, she has noticed that they each have significant differences in their structure and that there is something for everyone! 

In the end, being a S-LTA in or out of your major is a great option and provides room to learn about a new subject matter, community, and topic! Engaging your experiences and knowledge with others allows for insightful class discussions and provides opportunities to showcase your unique skillset!

Post adapted from S-LOG post published on March 11, 2020.