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Dr. A. Wade Boykin

Dr. Arvilla Payne-Jackson
October 2005

Many Howard faculty consider teaching a form of service, but Dr. Arvilla Payne-Jackson, a professor of linguistics and anthropology, considers service a form of teaching:  By engaging her students in community service, she facilitates their academic learning.  Thus, she involves them in what is commonly called “service-learning.” 

With the support of Howard’s Center for the Advancement of Service Learning, Dr. Payne-Jackson has incorporated service-learning in her courses for many years.  At the start of the semester, she partners students with non-profit organizations to work as interns on community issues.  For instance, over the years, her students have organized “consortium breakfasts” to bring residents, academics, bureaucrats, and other stakeholders together to solve community problems.  Some students have mentored or tutored children in a family literacy program, while others have helped doctors and patients overcome cultural barriers to communication.  Some have planned an all-day workshop to deter domestic violence; others have sponsored a “Race against Violence.” Still others have collaborated with anti-gun and grief-and-loss groups to prevent gun violence. 

To maximize student learning during these projects, Dr. Payne-Jackson teaches students a variety of skills.  First, students develop “action plans,” which specify the mission, goals, resources, tasks, and schedule for the projects.  Then, instead of merely reading textbooks, students “learn by doing”:  They conduct basic research, interviews, and data analysis, and they engage in participant-observation, mentoring, and reflection.  

Dr. A. Wade BoykinAs a result, a former student recalls, students realize that they must develop themselves to become catalysts for community change:

. . . they must first learn fundamental skills in leadership, organizing, project management and team building, and to become adept in community-related skills, such as group facilitation, conflict resolution, public speaking, and organization.  Students learn to use reflection to help process experiences, identify patterns, explore their new awareness, discuss how to use their time, examine the successes and challenges of events and activities they have organized and participated in, and how to incorporate the lessons learned into future efforts.  They learn the importance of communicating with the wider community in order to maintain community momentum and involvement.  The end result is students not only learn the basic concepts taught in textbooks, but they develop an understanding and life-long commitment to civic service and learn the skills needed to bring about positive change in their communities.

No wonder Dr. Payne-Jackson won the Amoco Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Teacher for the Year in 1990-91.  Via service-learning, she has engaged students in academic experiences that are intellectually stimulating, thought-provoking—even life-changing.


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