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Community Service Studies Minor: Unique option links classroom, experience in field


Cristina Salgado, a senior majoring in psychology at DePaul, vividly remembers the Perspectives on Community Service class she took last fall. She says that students were discussing this country’s system of government and many were complaining about it. That is when Howard Rosing, who teaches the class, challenged the students. “He asked us, ‘Who is going to live to make the change that we think is needed?’” Salgado says. “I realized that I want to be one of those people. I have a passion for working for social justice and peace, and I’ve had the chance to do something about it through classes and internships at school.” Salgado is among a growing number of students who have chosen to make Community Service Studies their academic minor. In doing so, she has learned about community service through a range of required and elective classes and by working as an intern. She currently interns for the Albany Park Neighborhood Council on Chicago’s northwest side, where her responsibilities include working with staff to help immigrants who are already U.S. residents to become citizens. 

Genesis of the program 

The Community Service Studies minor was develop​ed in the late 1990s as part of a University-wide effort to extend opportunities for learning through practice into multiple curricula at DePaul. For years, students have been fulfilling a requirement for experiential learning through a variety of options like taking a service learning course, doing an internship, or studying abroad. Some students even crafted their own path to community service through individual courses.

Until the Community Service Studies minor was established, though, students typically had to do all the footwork themselves, says Alexandra Murphy, Director of Community Service Studies and Associate Professor of Communication. Now there is an infrastructure for students who want to pursue the Community Service Studies minor. “Our goal is to connect students to the mission of service by offering a range of classes focused on community service including internships with non-profit organizations,” Murphy says. “For students that have an interest in looking at issues of social justice and social change, here is a structured program that offers these opportunities. We believe this program can enhance students’ understanding of community issues while also helping guide their career choices.” 

“I have a passion for working for social justice and peace, and I’ve had the chance to do something about it through classes and internships at school.”​

Laurie Worrall, Executive Director of the Steans Center, says that the minor can introduce students to a world they might not otherwise encounter – the world of a non-profit organization working on a pressing social issue. “When I talk to parents and incoming students about the Community Service Studies minor, I try to give them an idea of the very rich and rewarding work being done in the non-profit sector,” Worrall says. “It is vital to American democracy and a vital aspect of our economy.” “Interdisciplinary” is one word DePaul faculty and staff often use to describe the Community Service Studies program. One look at the range of courses that the minor includes suggests why. Many different departments have offered courses that help fulfill requirements in the minor, including English, Religious Studies, Women’s Studies, Latin American and Latino Studies, and Anthropology. Though students are required to take three foundation courses in the minor (Perspectives on Community Service, Introduction to Non-Profit Management and Community Internship), there is significant latitude in terms of electives.​

Professors who have taught classes in the minor say that it creates a unique opportunity for students to build academic and work-related skills while getting to know non-profit organizations. Roger Graves, an English professor who has taught grant writing to students in his Writing and Social Engagement class, says that in effect, the minor tells undergraduates that “there are all kinds of jobs in non-profits – and the people who work for them are often devoted to changing the way things are. I’m a big supporter of the Community Service Studies minor.” Rose Spalding, a political science professor who specializes in Latin American Studies, taught a class in which students worked with community organizations on fair trade issues. “One of the wonderful things about the Community Service Studies minor is that often times when people are thinking about a career, they are thinking of large organizations – how they will fit, how it will reflect their goals and values. When you work in community service, many of the organizations are small. It’s empowering to see that a handful of people can launch an effort that’s significant – and in which people don’t have to compromise their values.” Student experiences The flexibility of the curriculum and its strong commitment to experiential learning, in classrooms and communities, are among the reasons why students choose the minor. Colleen Napleton, one of the first students who minored in Community Service Studies, also took the Perspectives class, as well as a Community Internship class. Napleton recalls volunteering through the program at Trilogy, an organization in Chicago’s Rogers Park community that provides services for adults who have chronic mental illnesses. 
“I did a lot of community service work in high school, and this experience gave me a broader sense of
what was happening in a Chicago community,” she says. “At one point, one of the women learned how to handle her finances. To see her progress was a really meaningful experience. The classroom experience was also interesting, especially since students were learning different things in their own community work.” Napleton, who graduated from DePaul with a Psychology degree, is now in her second year of graduate school at the Illinois School for Professional Psychology. When asked what she would tell students who are considering the Community Service Studies minor, she says she “would emphasize the intensity of the feelings of helping people – giving part of yourself. On top of that, Steans definitely gives you the help you need. They can help you figure out what goes well with your major or subjects you are interested in.” Laura Garza, a major in Accounting who completed the Community Service Studies minor in the winter quarter, was working at the Steans Center when she learned about the minor. “I took a project-based class in which we built a database for a non-profit organization,” she says. “Later, I had the chance to teach financial management classes at Prologue Alternative High School in Chicago’s Uptown community. It was a really challenging experience and exposed me to communities I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.” “I think the minor helped me focus on what I want to do with my life,” Garza says. “Before, I was told I have to go to college, have to find a career. This minor gave me ownership over what I’m interested in. Right now I am thinking of doing accounting work in the corporate world for 3 to 5 years and then working for a non-profit.” For Cristina Salgado, minoring in Community Service Studies is having a big impact on her life. “The best way to learn is hands-on and that’s what the minor gives you, hands-on experience working with people and neighborhoods and being able to bring that back to the classroom,” she says. “You are not only learning about Chicago, but about neighborhoods, social justice issues – and yourself. And I think that’s what college is all about.”