Many college classes are lecture-based and require students to be subjected to an endless amount of PowerPoint slides. However, students here at the University of Illinois have an opportunity to take a class in which they can put away their lecture notes and bust out their thinking caps with ENG 315: Learning in Community (LINC).

“I think students are eager to find authentic, challenging experiences that help them develop skills that are transferable to the job market,” said LINC Co-Director Valeri Werpetinski, of the Center for Teaching Excellence. “Many also want to be more actively involved in the community, and service-learning courses enable them to integrate this goal into their busy academic lives.”

This course partners nonprofit organizations with students, who will address the needs of these entities. One of these nonprofits is Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG), which is involved in projects geared toward the conservation and practical use of the coasts, especially southern Lake Michigan.

The course allows for students to exercise a great deal of creativity and freedom. Werpetinski said students will spend time in small teams planning and implementing projects that align with the mission and environmental education needs of IISG. They will also teach and collaborate with youth on community stewardship projects.

“Students in this class are given a great deal of responsibility and are provided with leadership and critical-thinking experience,” said Robin Goettel, IISG associate director for education. “A key issue we will be looking at is how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Students will explore ways to work with community organizations to get that message out to the public.”

For example, college students in 2010 worked with an 8th grade class in making a group of projects that raised awareness about different invasive species. Some children created comic strips and poems that were published in the News Gazette, while others made the song “All the Zebra Mussels” to the tune of Beyonce’s pop song “Single Ladies.”

The LINC program promotes a life-long commitment to learning and service for U of I students by serving as a resource and connecting members of the university community with local non-profit organizations to engage in meaningful service experiences.

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