Aligning the heart and mind – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Aligning the heart and mind

Assistant Professor of Education Mary Kelly’s EDUC 336 students fostered a strong commitment to public service this past semester. The course, titled “Self-Determination in Special Education,” included an important service-learning component. Kelly’s students worked with high school students with disabilities at Geneva High School with a school-to-work transition program and in special education resource rooms. They also worked with senior citizens with disabilities at the ARC Geneva Senior Center in downtown Geneva, with students in the ARC College Experience program at HWS, and with middle school and high school youth from the Bronx, N.Y.

This was Shanelle France ‘11’s first service-learning experience.  “While taking this course, I realized that there is a vast difference between volunteering and service-learning,” she explains.  “With volunteering, one can go in, do the work, and leave, but an imperative aspect of service-learning is the reflection process, which allows the mind to slow down, and for the heart and memory to align in order to assess the impact on others and on oneself.  My preconceived notions, concepts and ideas were challenged at times, fortified at others and overall broadened and opened to alternative perspective and opinions.”

All of the projects involve work with individuals with disabilities to tell their own stories through digital technology – whether video, PowerPoint, or online multimedia – and to enhance self-advocacy skills and practices. For example, as part of their service learning activities, Alysa Law ’11, Kyle Sinkoff  ’10, Alexandra Connell ’10, Kelliann Reeland ’09, Kelly Peneston ‘11 helped students develop multimedia presentations about their lives and for their special education planning meetings.

Class Project

Shavonne Ward  ’09, Carolyn Pluchino ’10, and Hannah Sprague ’10 assisted with a Geneva High School School-to-Work Transition program with high school students with disabilities both in school and in their internships, and helped students develop self-advocacy presentations about their internships experiences. One high school student, along with her college student mentor, gave a presentation at the Geneva Rotary Club meeting at the end of April in order to raise awareness about the employment needs of youth with disabilities in the Geneva community.


In other service learning projects, students worked individuals with developmental disabilities from the Ontario ARC at two sites – the Geneva Senior Center in downtown Geneva and the HWS College Experience. Nick Georgitseas ’10 and Alex Williams ’09 worked with individuals at the Senior Center on a variety of activities including developing self-advocacy presentations with individuals to share about hopes and dreams and interests.  


At the ARC College Experience program, Nora Devine-Carter ’11, Denisse Polanco ’11, and Chuan “Jenny” Wu ’12 developed an arts curriculum to teach individuals about visual, performance, and 3-D art expression. Kailey Chidester ’10 and Amanda Stern ’09 developed a video about shared and differing experiences with college life. Emily Pelo ’10 and Laura Harrington-Knopf ’10 worked with the college experience students on a series of videos about community internship programs.


Zaira Augusto ’11, Katrina Havrish ’10, and France facilitated a two-day digital storytelling workshop called “Sharing Youth Voices in March.” The Sharing Youth Voices digital storytelling workshop aimed to encourage and inspire middle school and high school students, with and without disabilities, through technology, digital storytelling, and self-advocacy. Middle and high school students, with their college mentors, created and shared digital stories that explored important and meaningful topics like global warming, neighborhood identity and pride, discrimination and judgment, cursing among children, musical expression, and dance.  


“I find the impact much more long-lasting and pertinent when I hear personal experiences from the people themselves.  Hearing the stories and opinions from the voices of children was such an enriching and encouraging experience,” reflects France.  “Every speaker has left such a powerful and moving impact on my experience both as a soon-to-be teacher.  I feel so blessed to have been given the chance to have heard firsthand from a number of individuals and from varied perspectives.”