In “Introduction to Sociology” and “Economics of Caring,” Hobart and William Smith students turned to virtual tools to explore the community issues at stake in the service-learning components of their fall coursework.
During the fall semester, HWS students became tutors on Zoom. They were trained on contact tracing and pandemic safety measures, and how to communicate that guidance. They developed correspondence as pen-pals with elementary schoolers and built relationships over the phone with residents in nursing homes. In Professor of Sociology Jack Harris’s “Introduction to Sociology” course and Professor of Economics William Waller’s “Economics of Caring” course, the service-learning requirements connected students to the course themes in direct and meaningful ways.
“One of my biggest moments of weekly joy comes from tutoring fourth and fifth grade students at the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva,” says Jonathan Garcia ’23, who was enrolled in Harris’ class. Also one of the 100 HWS Tutor Corps members, Garcia tutored students twice per week via Zoom, helping with mathematics, reading and writing.
In Waller’s “Economics of Caring” course, students like James Kennedy ’22 explored the way society cares for those who are unable to care for themselves, and the role of money in that paradigm. As part of that course’s service-learning component, Kennedy participated in a pen-pal program with third graders in Arlene Eddington’s class at North Street Elementary School in Geneva.
“Hearing back from them is always something I look forward to because I love hearing how they respond to the questions I ask them,” Kennedy says. The semester concluded with a virtual meeting with the class — “truly an amazing experience to finally connect with these students and finally know what my pen pals look and sound like,” he says.
Other HWS students participated in the Johns Hopkins Contact Tracing course, which focused on the process of contact tracing as well as the science behind COVID-19 and its transmission. At the culmination of the course, students created a video to share what they learned and promote safety habits during winter break, including social distancing, wearing masks, practicing good hand hygiene, being aware of symptoms, getting a flu shot and being mindful of mental health resources.
Still other students were paired with residents of the Seneca Lake Terrace and Penn Yan Manor nursing homes as a part of the “Conversations Across Generations.” In partnership with the Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning (CCESL) and the care facilities, the fall pilot program is an oral storytelling project, designed to connect students with people 50 to 60 years their senior. While volunteers in years past could visit the residents, health restrictions prevented in-person interactions —and also put into focus one of the program’s central strengths: companionship in a time of isolation.
“Despite the social restrictions the pandemic has required, students reached into the Geneva community to share themselves through service,” says Harris. “Their reflective course papers demonstrated a deep feeling intellect in their analyses and their connectedness to Geneva community members.”
Waller credits the hard work of the CCESL staff in finding and creating 62 placements for his students alone. “It was amazing to see how the students adapted and succeeded in projecting empathy and providing care digitally,” he said. “They made genuine connections in the community under extraordinary circumstances.”