This past semester, Professor Monica Tetzlaff has guided her First Year Seminar students through a variety of community service projects in collaboration with local parks. Although this semester looked a little different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tetzlaff said “it was a lesson of needing to adjust.” To allow her students to apply their study of literary and intellectual traditions, students served local parks by “striving to make them more inclusive and welcoming,” Tetzlaff explained. Projects took place at Bendix Woods County Park, Pulaski Park, Fremont Park, Veterans Memorial Park, and Prairie Winds Nature Education Farm. Students safely visited parks by wearing masks and maintaining physical distance from others.
At Bendix Woods County Park, students infused Mexican and Central American culture into a story of Monarch butterfly migration for a story walk; the story walk will be translated into Spanish, thanks to Heather Jones, an IUSB Spanish Lecturer. The group that worked at Pulaski Park researched Dolores Huerta for the pavilion that will be erected in her name. Students also researched Monarchs, milkweed and butterfly gardens. At Fremont Park, students worked alongside their peer mentor, Tiara Nelson, on a proposal for a Monarch butterfly garden with signage that would be attractive to kids. A group of students also did research on the Riverwalk by IU South Bend Student Housing, Veterans Memorial Park, and the Boat Launch. These students designed guides to the natural life and history of the St. Joseph River for other IU South Bend Students. The last group of students worked with Prairie Winds Nature Education Farm to incorporate The Birchbark House, a Native American children’s story, into the nature education curriculum for the farm.
At the end of the semester, students wrote short papers to reflect on their projects and their semester. Tetzlaff explained, “There was a need to be flexible this semester, both for myself and the students. But, when the weather was nice, everyone visited their parks. They were able to find metaphors and comfort for their own turbulent lives by getting out into their communities and seeing all that the plants, animals, and neighborhoods of people have gone through. Despite their challenges, they have persisted and have kept giving their gifts to the world. This made a real impact on the students, and their reflections really show that.” These reflections illustrated how community-engaged learning allows students to explore the world around them and connect with class material on a deeper level. This early exposure to community engagement also shows first year students that they can make a difference in their community, no matter how small or big the project.