The symbiotic relationship between Indiana University and the Bloomington community at large expresses itself in myriad ways. One of the most direct is through the IU Service-Learning Program in which students partner with local organizations to experience real-life applications of classroom material.

Approximately 50 classes and 2,000 students take part in the program each semester. “Students are engaged in some type of service activity that meets academic objectives of a particular course and also meets a genuine community need,” says the program’s director, Nicole Schönemann.

Service-learning classes come in two varieties: direct and project-based. In direct service-learning classes, students are required to spend time outside the classroom working at their partner organizations. For example, dance students are running an afterschool dance program at the Crestmont Club of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bloomington. In project-based classes, students complete a project in the classroom. An example is a statistics class that is analyzing audience survey data for Bloomington Playwrights Project.

The Service-Learning Program connects classes with 60 to 80 organizations at a time. “It’s a very balanced sort of thing,” says Schönemann. “We want the community partner to get something and we want the student to get something.” The contributions of eager learners who work without pay benefit the organizations. Students learn about civic engagement, earn a resume booster, and can explore different job fields they may be interested in, all while gaining a better understanding of their course objectives.

Ronak Shaw, a recent IU grad who now teaches at a middle school in Indianapolis, says his service-learning experiences directly influenced his career path. “For me, service-learning work was both academically and personally enriching,” says Shaw, who took a Spanish class that visited Bloomington preschools to teach Spanish. “My Spanish class was the first time I ever learned about lesson planning and presentation,” he says. “The professor gave us very helpful feedback and support in creating [the lesson plans], allowing us to improve as teachers throughout the course.”

Organizations interested in service-learning classes can email Andrew Libby, community engagement coordinator for the program, at [email protected], or stop by his “office hours” at the Scholars Inn Bakehouse on the downtown Square on Fridays from 9 am to noon.

Bridgett Henwood, a Bloom intern and IU student, is in the project-based statistics course that analyzes data for Bloomington Playwrights Project.