Jacqueline Lazú is an associate professor of Modern Languages and faculty director of the Community Service Studies program.
"When I joined DePaul 10 years ago, I took the Vincentian mission to heart: I knew right away I was interested in integrating service learning into my teaching.
"Given that my field is modern languages, the path to meaningful service learning was not immediately apparent. Using a FIPSE (Fund for the Improvement of Education from the U.S. Department of Education) grant, I started working with the Steans Center to come up with a service-learning course for language classes, especially intermediate-level Spanish.
"After some experimentation, we developed Intercambio, our highly successful, language-exchange program that brings together DePaul students and members of four, different Spanish-speaking community organizations. Participants from each side engage in conversation to improve their language skills – the students learning Spanish, the community residents learning English. The textbook for the class suggests topics and conversation guidelines centered on social issues.
"Real transformations are possible when students learn a language in a classroom and in the community. In the beginning of the quarter, the students can’t communicate what they want to say; by the end, they’re much more proficient and confident. And the same is true of the community participants practicing their second language. Along the way, DePaul students also end up learning a lot about the community’s culture, with a focus on social justice. There’s real reciprocity here.
"Three years ago, I became the director of the Community Services Studies (CSS) program — another way DePaul stands out in service learning. CSS is one of the largest minor programs in the university. We welcome students from any discipline.
"The Steans Center also offers 25-30 scholarships to incoming freshmen who demonstrate a history of service, a commitment to community engagement, and understanding of philosophies of service. By electing CSS as their minor, these students spend four years doing service every single quarter — that’s a huge commitment, reflecting a profound conviction.
"A lot of universities are trying to set up or improve their programs for community engagement, and I’m often invited to speak about ours because it’s particularly strong. I think there are at least three reasons for that: 1) service learning is tied to DePaul’s mission; 2) the Steans Center provides a tremendous amount of support, including established community partnerships; and 3) faculty actually get credit for participating. That last reason is one of the major pluses in our approach to service learning.
"For me, teaching at DePaul is a unique opportunity to bring together my interests in community activism, in research, and in instruction. I’m putting what I value into practice with students — what could be more satisfying?"