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Service-Learning Initiatives Shine Bright Light on Fisher in 2010


Service-Learning Initiatives Shine Bright Light on Fisher in 2010

Community service is an integral part of life at St. John Fisher College. Service-learning and community service initiatives at Fisher have gained a lot of momentum during the last couple of years, and 2010 was no exception. Not only did students embrace service-learning classes offered, but they were passionate about the work they were doing and the organizations in the community they worked with. Here is a look back at this year’s successes, and a preview of efforts to come.  

Supporting After-School Programs

Fisher has partnered with the American Red Cross Next Generation Leadership Program for the past nine years through the Service Scholar, First Generation Scholar, and Community-Based Service-Learning (CBSL) programs. The goal of this after-school program is to “assist urban youth in becoming actively engaged in the improvement of their futures, neighborhoods and communities.” Through providing support to teens in grades 9-12 on diversity, conflict resolution, and college options, Fisher students are assisting teens to withstand societal challenges and complete high school. Rochester’s high poverty rate has the greatest impact on youth: two out of every five city youth below the age of 18 are in poverty. The graduation rate in the Rochester City School District is 46%.

Since 2002, the First Generation Scholars have served as mentors for the teens as part of the mentor component of their program. This year, 13 volunteered for a total of 156 hours.  Since 2006, the Service Scholars have assisted with program planning and assessment. And a total of 11 Scholars volunteered for a total of 662 hours over the past year. Prior positive experiences with Fisher students opened the door for service-learning in Social Change through Service, taught by Dr. Lynn Donahue. This fall, two service-learning students from Social Change through Service completed 60 hours debriefing each session and leading a College Choice workshop for parents and teens. Jill Brown and Liz Castellano led this fall’s College Choice Workshop, focusing on educating teens about the application process, financial options, and succeeding in college. Laurie Valentino from Career Services and Anne Pytlak from Admissions were guest speakers and engaged the students on options they may not have considered.


Assessment results revealed that during the past four years, all high school seniors participating in the leadership program have either gone on to college or employment. The First Generation and Service Scholars have made a positive impact by sharing information on the college preparation process, post-graduation opportunities, and school success. Benefits to Fisher students include enhanced valuing of service-learning and a desire to engage with the community post-programs. Service-learning taught students how to support the needs of teens, build capacity with non-profits, and gain a better understanding of Rochester social justice issues. According to a participating student, this experience “helped me learn how to accept and value differences and others’ communication patterns.”

Additional partnerships have formed around CBSL courses in this area. Students in Diversity in American Society and American Cultural Institutions provided tutoring at the Early College High School program, Center for Youth GED Program, and Rochester After-School Academy at East High. And students from Child and Adolescent Psychology provided tutoring and after-school enrichment to children at School #3.


Neighborhood Revitalization

To encourage neighborhood revitalization of the City’s Southeast quadrant, Fisher has partnered with NeighborWorks Rochester. The mission of this agency is to “assist families into homeownership and help ensure their long-term success as homeowners.” This past year, six students from Multivariate Advanced Statistics and seven from Survey Design and Analysis, both taught by Dr. Tim Franz, created and administered neighborhood satisfaction surveys for residents, conducted data analysis, and presented their findings to staff.  This spring, Industrial & Organizational Psychology will create and administer an in-house survey to complement the strategic planning process of NeighborWorks and assess the training needs of staff. This will be the 4th semester and 3rd course to partner with this agency through CBSL, in keeping with our aim to support Rochester’s housing needs through sustainable partnerships. 

Through the efforts of our students, NeighborWorks received useful data on homeowner needs for three "healthy block" neighborhoods. This data was used to make improvements to resident properties and increase opportunities for engagement. The data has been used to support community development in the Beechwood neighborhood, part of the Focused Investment Strategy funded by the City of Rochester. The College’s community partner indicated that "the community data showed a strong connection between perceptions of the neighborhood, home ownership rates, and resident commitment. These were connections we had suspected but did not have the time to analyze at the level provided by the Fisher students." Because of his positive impact, Dr. Franz has been invited to serve on NeighborWorks’ Board of Directors.


This partnership allowed students to apply academic course goals to real world issues, gain the skills needed to work with a client, and learn the value of neighborhood improvement. As stated by one student, "There was a distinct difference between designing a survey for an exam and designing a survey for a real-world situation. There is no simulation that can approximate the challenges of working with external clients and figuring out what they're looking for."


The Democrat & Chronicle even took notice of the College’s CBSL initiatives with a feature article that ran in October titled “St. John Fisher Students Assist Retailers.” The article highlighted the work of students from Introduction to Marketing and Promotions Management, and their work assisting seven different small businesses on South Avenue with their marketing and promotions needs.

Assisting Women in Transition

CBSL has enabled Fisher students to support the needs of women in transition in the Rochester community. This fall, 12 students from Social Change through Service, taught by Dr. Lynn Donahue, and ten from Diversity in American Society, taught by Dr. Jim Wood, partnered with three non-profits: Bethany House, Catholic Family Center, and Sojourner House. To ensure students had an opportunity to hear the perspectives of the women served by these organizations, and begin the process of forming trusting relationships, they assisted the dining staff during dinner. They even shared a meal, and provided enrichment for the women’s children.

To support both the capacity-building and client support needs of these three organizations, students from Diversity in American Society created products of value using knowledge gained through course material and their interactions with the women. For example, students created a resource manual for young mothers, a brochure on goal setting, and financial literacy materials. These materials were showcased at an end-of-the-semester Social Justice Fair, which took place on December 7.

Students from Social Change through Service held a Health and Finance Fair for Sojourner’s transitional and supportive housing residents. Twelve students created seven booths educating women on budgeting, financial management, healthy eating, and wellness. To increase participation, students created a Jeopardy game encouraging the women to choose a “truth” or “dare” regarding healthy eating. Self-assessment surveys were taken on money management, and the women learned the essentials of budgeting. Students cooked a nutritious meal and served samples to the women while displaying the caloric differences between a home-cooked meal and a meal purchased at a fast food establishment. Tickets were distributed for participation at the stations and were redeemed for gifts, including scarves and lotion. Thirty-five women and ten children attended. 


Students gained a better understanding of diverse populations and cultural communication patterns, the social justice issues impacting women in Rochester, and strategies for supporting the needs of women seeking services at our partner organizations. One student said, “I learned that I could relate with women who seemed much different than me, but in reality weren’t.” Another stated, “this experience increased my awareness of what is happening in our community.” 


Fisher’s CBSL program is funded by Learn and Serve America. Additional photographs and examples of students’ work can be found at the Service-Learning Showcase website at

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