Service Learning and Civic Engagement at Kaplan University

Service Learning and Civic Engagement at Maine Campuses


The Kaplan University Maine campuses have a long tradition of supporting service-learning as part of their mission. We are extremely fortunate to have dedicated students, faculty, and administration that are willing to work to promote civic engagement, service learning, and volunteerism as part of our curricular and extracurricular activities. As part of this mission, Kaplan University Maine is a member of the Maine Campus Compact, which is part of the Northern New England Campus Compact (NNECC).

Early in 2013, the Northern New England Campus Compact (NNECC) was awarded a $150,000 grant from the U.S. EPA Environmental Education Sub-Grants program to support Campuses for Environmental Stewardship. The Kaplan University Maine Campuses submitted a winning proposal for one of the $5,000.00 sub-grants. Projects funded by the grant are to help "prepare college students for a lifetime of environmental stewardship, and commit to changing systems and processes on college campuses to better support environmental education through embedding climate change or water quality community projects into existing or new courses." Other grant participants represent 19 schools across Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine including Middlebury College, University of Vermont, Saint Anselm College, Southern New Hampshire University, Maine College of Art, Southern Maine Community College, St. Joseph's College, and others.

Each of the campuses are required to deliver at least 4 community-engaged courses, every one partnering with community organizations to address climate change or water quality issues. With support from our project coordinator, Christine Lashua, and Tony Tenneson (associate academic dean, South Portland), three faculty members began implementation in the January 1401C Term and the fourth will begin implementation in the June 1403C Term.

The Kaplan University Maine Team's projects have been taking place across departments and courses. Here's a summary of our work which was recently presented at a faculty conference in Washington, D.C.

General education faculty member, Dr. Harriet Duer, decided to build her project into CM 220: Composition II. Students work throughout the term on a research-based persuasive essay, fondly known as "the Big Idea." Harriet encouraged the class to concentrate their big idea final papers and presentations on issues related to water or sustainability.

Some of the outstanding projects developed in CM 220: Composition II focused on:

  • Creating an educational program and solutions for the proper disposal of fluorescent lights and bulbs which contain mercury.
  • Developing a recycling program for syringes and needles used by patients with diabetes or others who need daily injections at home.
  • Creating a boating passport system for assuring boats are properly cleaned before entering Maine waterways.

Working individually, students came up with a range of ideas that were meaningful to them and the community at large. Engagement was high as students put their research, problem-solving, and persuasive skills into action.

While Harriet's students took an independent approach, business administration faculty member, Glenn Walton redesigned MT 140: Introduction to Management, to include a team project that reflected group projects that are commonplace in today's businesses. Students researched how Kaplan University, Maine might reduce energy consumption of the overhead lighting on the Lewiston and South Portland campuses. The class partnered with Efficiency Maine, an independent trust dedicated to promoting the efficient and cost-effective use of energy. The organization provided guest speakers and a structure for conducting research.

The culmination of the project was a comprehensive proposal presented in person to Kaplan University, Maine campuses administration, Efficiency Maine Partners, and Maine Campus Compact. Students suggested several cost saving actions to Kaplan University, Maine campuses. The project gave students resume building experience as they took on research, management, and project coordination roles. Students noted, "…our team realized how much more there is to research than counting light bulbs."

As chair of the early childhood development program, it seemed a natural fit to build environmental stewardship into the new CE 260: Early Childhood Science Methods course.  The course content and teaching strategies reinforce the concept that children construct knowledge through exploration and discovery. Kaplan University students would be provided with opportunities to examine scientific ideas, with an emphasis on climate change and water, using a problem-solving approach and a variety of manipulative materials. With this in mind, I approached the Children's Museum and Theatre of Maine to be our community partner. Their exhibits are inextricably linked to Maine's environment. 

Kaplan University students had a rare behind-the-scenes opportunity to observe the instructional strategies the museum has developed around their various wildlife and outdoor environment exhibits. Students were invited to provide feedback on the prototype exhibits the museum had in development. In turn, students were inspired to create developmentally appropriate instructional units for K-3 classrooms culminating with a project that included writing at least three lesson plans to teach young children about climate change, water, and various "sustainability minded" topics. Students left the class with items to include in a professional portfolio and with enduring understandings about science education. One student wrote, "Before I took this class, I had no idea that kids were capable of learning about big science concepts. I never considered myself good at science. The museum and this class helped me feel good about my being able to do it when I'm teaching someday."

Carl Moulton, full time criminal justice (CJ) faculty member has been working this winter to plan on his two-course service learning project that will take place starting in June. Students in CJ 150: Juvenile Delinquency and CJ 130: Introduction to Corrections will work with the science teacher at the Arthur R. Gould School. This unique high school is part of Long Creek Youth Development Center (LCYDC), a detention facility for juveniles in the southern part of Maine.

Kaplan University CJ students will be working with the juvenile offenders on a water conservation study for the facility that will, in essence, engage the youth at LCYDC in their own organized community service activity. Kaplan University and LCYDC will be learning side-by-side in this exciting hands-on setting.

This initiative has been an exciting one for both the faculty and student participants. Each member of the faculty has stated that they have learned not only about the environment and service learning though this initiative but that each has learned about themselves as instructors. Through these projects we have learned about our community partners and our colleagues. We have learned about collaboration and teamwork. It is our collective hope that the initiative will not end with the culmination of these specific environmental community projects in these courses, but will continue through cross-campus, state-wide, and regional collaboration to further define and move forward the role of higher education in addressing environmental issues and student engagement.

Please click here to see more pictures from this event.

Kaplan Headshot
Susan Graham-Rent, Early Childhood Education Department Chair, Maine Campuses
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