Authors: Katherine Cushing, Executive Director; Hoa Ha, SJSU Communication Studies Graduate
The backbone of CommUniverCity’s model for community-engaged learning is a core group of courses that emphasize social justice and civic engagement. One such course is Communications Studies 157 (COMM 157SL), which offers students the opportunity to get involved with local neighborhoods and learn about important issues facing our residents, ranging from public safety to food insecurity. Hands-on learning is complemented by regular instructor-led meetings, reflections, and lectures. Below, Comm 157SL student, Hoa Ha, reflects on his experiences as a service learning student with CommUniverCity last semester. Hoa helped plan and implement several large-scale events including the Spartan Keyes Egg Hunt and beautifying Backesto Park.
Q: Did you have any expectations before starting COMM 157SL?
A: Coming into the course, I didn’t know much about service learning. I decided to take this course after one of my classmates recommended it to me. He told me how the class met bi-weekly and worked on community service projects. It seemed more interesting to me than sitting in lecture for hours. Prior to this course, I was not very active in the local community.
Being a local resident, I would pass by parks events were taking place, but never thought much about the people who made it happen.
Q: What are some of the main projects and events that you worked on?
One of the most memorable projects that I worked on was the Spartan Keyes Egg Hunt at Bestor Art Park. The intern team–Andrew, Ariksa, Bryce, Caley, Tyler, Amber and I–would meet up every two weeks to brainstorm and carry out project ideas for this family-focused event. I helped create a fun Instagram photo frame for participants and also designed a flyer for the event in both English and Vietnamese. As a Vietnamese student, I enjoyed playing a role in increasing accessibility to the event for Vietnamese residents in the Spartan Keyes neighborhood.
I also supported the Backesto Park Beautification clean up. Along with two other interns, we organized several landscaping and garbage collection projects with community volunteers and SJSU alumni. I was so happy that my co-intern Bryce had tons of experience gardening that he could share with our volunteers! By the end of the day, the park looked really nice and inviting. We even had a resident come up to us afterward and personally thank us. I also was really thankful for the help of Sue and Molly, two community residents, who worked with us to spruce up the park.
My COMM 157 work also included two food drives in the Spartan Keyes Neighborhood, one indoor and one outdoor. I remember driving up to the location and seeing a huge line outside as the volunteers helped set up the groceries. After the first food drive, we debriefed with Liz Figueroa, CommUniverCity’s Education Programs Manager, about our experiences. Surprisingly, this was the first food drive for the majority of the participants.
Projects like the food drives helped me better understand social inequalities and disparities in our society on a global scale. It was eye-opening. Combining this classroom knowledge with the service learning component provided by CommUniverCity gave me and the other interns a unique opportunity to analyze these issues within our own local communities. Personally, I am more aware of certain social issues, especially food insecurity.
Q: How did your ideas about the class and CommUniverCity change over time?
A: Everything about my CommUniverCity experience exceeded my expectations. At first, like the majority of my classmates, I just wanted to finish all of my hours as soon as possible. However, as the semester continued and I went to more events, I realized how rewarding it felt to lend a helping hand. The events I was assigned to work on no longer seemed like a chore or requirement. That’s one of the reasons why I showed up to so many events. By the end of the semester, working with the community didn’t feel like a class anymore–I was personally motivated to be here in action.
Professionally, through my work with CommUniverCity, I was able to improve my communication skills significantly through interactions with community members. I also honed my Adobe Photoshop skills by creating print media for some of the events. As an advertising minor, my CommUniverCity experience provided me with the perfect environment to experiment and be creative. I would advise prospective COMM 157 students to take advantage of opportunities like CommUniverCity because it will shape your understanding of the local community around you and the role you can play in improving it.
Q: Did this course and work with CommUniverCity meet your expectations?
A: Everything exceeded my expectations. At first, like the majority of my classmates, I wanted to finish all of my hours as soon as possible. However, as the semester continued and I went to more events, I realized how rewarding it felt to lend a helping hand. The events I had to do no longer seemed like a chore or requirement. That’s one of the reasons why I showed up to so many events, it didn’t feel like lecture anymore, I wanted to be here in action.