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Community as Classroom

Students and a broader society stand to gain from courses that combine learning with service.

Nikiya Crisostomo

INSPIRATION: Taking the Human Trafficking course prompted Nikiya Crisostomo, '12, MA '14, to create nine paintings, including this portrayal of survival, and two below that depict the results of exploitation.

Community-engaged learning. As a teaching technique, it's wide open: Students acquire knowledge and skills by participating in activities that also benefit communities. It might be a course that involves a local archaeological dig or one that teaches math to young children. More intrepidly, an instructor can extend the concept, with care, to fieldwork in public health and public safety. That's where Katherine Jolluck comes in.

Jolluck, a senior lecturer in history, admits she was nervous about implementing her idea for an interdisciplinary course with a complex service-learning component on human trafficking. But with help from within the history department and well beyond, it succeeded in ways she didn't anticipate. Jolluck, MA '90, PhD '95, and faculty from the Law School and Medical School are offering the class for the second time this spring.

Human Trafficking: Historical, Legal, and Medical Perspectives is a particularly ambitious example of the type of course fostered by a partnership between the Haas Center for Public Service and the office of the vice provost for undergraduate education. The initiative was spurred by the 2012 Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford University and offers interested faculty help from staff specialists, including directors of community-engaged learning for education, environmental sustainability and health.

As Jolluck plunged into her first go-round with the trafficking course last year, she was intent on challenging students, "pushing them out of their comfort zone." And she did. But from their side, the students found more than an invigorating experience. They began to think about themselves differently, because they were being asked to adapt their knowledge and skills for problem solving that was unlike anything they had ever encountered in a classroom. From there, they moved straight to inspiration.

History major Olivia Bryant, '15, says, "Every student at Stanford should take a course like this." Bryant worked on developing informational palm cards that can be easily put in the hands of suspected trafficking victims at places such as hospital emergency rooms. Among the puzzles she faced: Existing statistics on the likely ethnicities of victims didn't seem to jibe with reports from local hotline operators and other sources. As a practical matter, this made for hard choices about what languages to use on the palm cards. Academically, she noted, "This opens up important questions for researchers."

Painting #2
Nikiya Crisostomo

Bryant was so motivated by her work for the course that she's teaming with another senior, Vivian Shen, to launch a "corporate citizenship" startup that will match young professionals as volunteers with appropriate nonprofits.

In preparing the trafficking course, Jolluck had advice and encouragement from lecturer Carol McKibben, who teaches courses in public history and is part of a Haas "community of practice" that shares ideas university-wide. And in addition to ramping up on the breadth of trafficking issues and their relevance locally, Jolluck took a seminar on service learning taught by Julie Reed, associate director for community-engaged scholarship at Haas.

The training, designed by Reed, provides direction in elements such as partnering with community organizations and how to grade non-classroom work by students. Jolluck's co-instructors this spring are clinical assistant professors Suzanne Lippert and Rebecca Walker from Stanford Emergency Medicine and lecturer Stephan Sonnenberg from the Law School.

Painting #3
Nikiya Crisostomo

Tom Schnaubelt, the Haas Center's executive director, and Harry Elam, vice provost for undergraduate education, made a presentation to the Faculty Senate in February spotlighting the range of courses with community initiatives and outlining the support system and staff contact information for interested faculty.

Jolluck will vouch for what she considers the ultimate result—the commitment demonstrated by students. "It's really incredible."

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