Service learning and writing go hand-in-hand

Salt Lake Community College, in connection with the Thayne Center, offers classes that give real-world learning opportunities through community service.

“There’s this movement towards more socially engaged scholarship,” says Benjamin Solomon, an adjunct instructor at SLCC.

Last year, the Thayne Center offered $1000 grants to instructors who created new classes at SLCC that incorporated service as part of their curriculum.

“I wanted to be able to combine my love and interest in food and gardening with my love and passion for writing,” says Solomon. “I would love to have a class that somehow combined writing and growing vegetables.”

Solomon’s English 2010 classes revolve around food and offer students the opportunity to research the growing crisis of hunger in the United States along with learning the finer academic points of writing different genres.

“When I looked into it, I began to understand that it was all about writing in different genres. I realized that if I picked a food theme, or specifically a food security theme, that it would be easy to find a bunch of different writing assignments for students to do that were centered on that theme,” says Solomon.

Using writing as a tool of exploration, Solomon’s classes discover what it means to make sure that each person in his or her community is fed well and has access to healthy and fresh food. In addition, students are expected to perform 15 hours of service with a local organization such as New Roots Farm or The Salt Lake Community Action Program. Students then write about their experiences.

Although his method may seem a bit unconventional for an English 2010 class, Solomon hopes that by integrating physical requirements with academic rigor, students understand the connection between the mental and physical worlds of work.

“That’s the kind of lifestyle that I’d like to live. One that has a healthy balance between manual labor and intellectual pursuit, so I bring that into the classroom and hope that students can appreciate some aspect of that as well,” says Solomon.

Solomon became particularly interested in the ‘disconnect’ that he perceives between abundance and happiness here in the United States after living in India for two years.

“We have so much food. We have so much entertainment [in the United States]. We have so much infrastructure. We have so many cars. We have all of these wonderful physical possessions, but I don’t think people are happy. I think Indians are happier as a whole, as a society,” says Solomon. “That was my experience, and so there’s a disconnect [here]. Why are we so unhappy, and yet, we have so much?”

Solomon will be participating right alongside his students, volunteering 15 hours of his time to each of the organizations he has brought into his classrooms.

“I’m not so idealistic that I think students will feel as if they’ve changed the world, or necessarily even made a difference. But maybe there’s some kind of a foundation created to understand that there is a connection between people’s personal lives and the potential for service outside of their personal lives,” says Solomon.