By Leah Marron
When sitting in class, often students ask themselves, “will this help me in the future?” But when it comes to service learning, the answer is undoubtedly, yes.
Service learning is “a huge component of student development” because it “shapes students for their future careers” and teaches them how to be “members of their community,” said Devon Bradford, the service learning coordinator.
For Daemen University, participating in service learning is a graduation requirement; however, this is unique to others because it is all about experiential learning, showing students there is validity to what they are learning in the classroom.
Students are able to choose where they want to do their community service. Many locations are on the West Side of Buffalo, where a large population of immigrants and refugees call home.
This area is such a “diverse” and “rich community” that we can learn a lot from, Bradford said.
Robert Chaffee, a second-year physician assistant student, is currently fulfilling his service learning at the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, more commonly known as WEDI. Once a week, Chaffee works with refugee kids in first through eighth grade on literacy, social skills and enrichment activities.
“The ability to work with minorities/refugee groups was appealing to me as it exposes me to other cultures coming from a primarily suburban neighborhood,” Chaffee said.
This experience will prepare Chaffee for his future as a professional in the medical field as he is going to come across individuals of all different backgrounds.
“My time at WEDI will help me be more empathetic, compassionate and have a deeper understanding of the patients I will be working with,” Chaffee said.
When asked about what service learning was like at the beginning of the pandemic, Bradford explained this was a difficult time for the community, especially since a lot of nonprofit organizations lost many of their volunteers.
“We had to get creative; we had to think about how to serve our community from a distance,” she said.
Those challenging moments were “a testament to the resilience of our community,” Bradford added, as programs were created and many existing ones went remote.
Carly Frary, a fourth-year physical therapy major, participated in service learning during this challenging time. Frary used Zoom to play games with students who have developmental disabilities. A favorite game of theirs was Jeopardy.
Frary believes that experience has made her well equipped to take on the professional world after college. She said, “I learned how to take on a leadership role.”
Frary was responsible for planning what the students would play each time they met virtually. She explained how this correlates to her future in physical therapy because she will be creating routines for her patients weekly.
A few years after taking service learning, Frary shadowed a physical therapist who was working with a patient that has a disability. Frary said she felt prepared at that moment because of the skills service learning had taught her.
Compared to other schools, service learning makes Daemen stand out because it is “showing the Buffalo community that Daemen is an advocatory school, they are here for the community and are a part of the community outside of just the professionals they produce,” said Chaffee.
To sum up the benefits that coincide with the experience of service learning, Frary said it best, “it exposes you to something you might not have done on your own,” and that is truly the program’s predominant mission.