Dr. Eva Simms
MCANULTY SCHOOL OF LIBERAL ARTS
The Service-Learning curriculum allows “students…to see that they can make a difference beyond their education at Duquesne”
Psychology professor, Dr. Eva Simms teaches Psychology and Social Engagement, a service-learning course where her students focus on eco-psychology and community psychology.
They work with the Mt. Washington Community Development Center (CDC) to improve the environment in the Mount Washington community. Her students have worked with the CDC for more than three years with each class contributing different service-learning projects to the overall effort. “One of the cool things about this long-term work with our community partner is that we can build on what we did before.”
At first, students visited 220 homes to solicit 45 interviews about community members’ park use. Duquesne students learned that the neighborhood was very interested in the park and making it a safe place for children to go without worry about criminal activity.
During the following semester, another group of students evaluated the surveys, researched the history of the park, and created a photo essay, which was presented to members of the Mount Washington community. Using the information gathered by the students, the CDC was able to build a boxing club for the community. The students also participated in a number of community clean ups.
“Service-learning creates a greater awareness that communities are not falling out of the sky – it takes the work and care of people to build them.”
Cherishing the Past
Recently, students interviewed senior citizens to find out what their childhood was like on Mount Washington and also what the community was like and how it has changed. The senior citizens, some of them in their nineties, were so excited about the interviews; they started interviewing the students in turn by asking questions about their lives.
According to Dr. Simms, “It was really very touching, how much the older people there appreciated having students work with them.”
The purpose of these interviews is to archive the history of Mount Washington as the CDC knows little about the community’s past. The seniors’ stories and memories can now be used by the CDC as historical records. The students will also be making booklets to give back to each senior so they can share their story with their families.
Caring for Neighbors
Dr. Simms believes the service-learning project shows students how to get involved in their communities, but also allows them to practice their interview skills, which are very important for aspiring psychologists. She believes service-learning serves the faculty as well by opening up possible research avenues and showing the social relevance of academic work. She also believes that more universities should include service-learning in their curriculums: “If service-learning is institutionalized at universities [like it is at Duquesne], it can have a profound and long-term impact on local communities. It makes the university a very good neighbor.”