Spectrum Logo
A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

SWAP '94 to help communities and students

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 09 - October 20, 1994

When Lucinda Roy called a school principal to offer the help of SWAP '94, a service-learning project at Virginia Tech, the principal said the call must be from the angels.

"There's no way any of us is angelic," Roy said, "but it's a way Virginia Tech can address some of the challenges that communities are facing. We have the resources; we have the potential to do something extraordinary."

SWAP '94 is, in itself, a little extraordinary. The Service-Writing Awareness Project began as an attempt to bring women and minorities together to focus on writing grant proposals around the idea of community service for credit, Roy said. She came up with the idea of SWAP as part of her work as associate dean for curriculum, outreach, and diversity for the College of Arts and Sciences and serves with Cornel Morton, former director of EO/AA, as co-director of the university program until a director can be hired.

Service-learning consists of a series of courses or a program with a service option that allows students to perform community service for academic credit. Service-learning would let students work in women's centers, crisis centers, Head Start, environmental agencies, and other such places for academic credit or a stipend.

"The SWAP team is an opportunity for people from more than 20 different units across the university to come together," Roy said. "The only thing that joins us is a decision to make the learning experience for students in our classrooms more immediate and more active. We want them to be involved in their learning. We feel Virginia Tech has a responsibility to the communities and are hoping this will address that issue."

As it began work, the SWAP team didn't want just to talk about grant writing. The members wanted to actually write grant proposals. So they established a grant-writing workshop, facilitated by Roy and Elizabeth Creamer, advisor for the Liberal Arts and Sciences program, and invited Virginia Tech speakers such as Susan Reardon of University Development, Susan Eriksson of the Museum of Natural History, and Barbara Carlisle of theatre arts, who had experience with ways "to obtain money for projects you really believe in," Roy said. The speakers covered topics ranging from writing initial letters of inquiry to contacting sponsors to developing a list of major budget items.

With an affirmative-action grant from the EO/AA office, SWAP brought in Louis Fox and Kim Johnson-Bogart from the University of Washington to advise the group on making the program eligible for funding from external and internal sources and avoiding pitfalls of grant writing.

"I never really thought about our effort as being a particularly unique effort to bring about a service-learning component on a university campus until one of the consultants from the University of Washington described us as such," Creamer said. "Until Louis Fox said so, I didn't realize how unusual it was to bring together such a broad array of people from across campus and from the community before a Center for Service Learning had even been established."

Throughout the course of the workshop this summer, team members learned to network with each other and to team-write grant proposals. An example of the types of grant proposals is one called Project CI being put together by Detine Bowers in communication studies to fund the African American Museum in Christiansburg. "Most people don't know it exists, that it was founded in 1866, and that Booker T. Washington was on the advisory board," Roy said. "We plan to make it a center for African American culture in the heart of Southwest Virginia."

"The possibilities of Project CI for wedding the efforts of Virginia Tech students, staff, faculty, and CI alumni to educate regional and national audiences about the rich heritage of the African American school that served this region are enormous," Bowers said.

The service-learning program also plans to continue a project already begun, that of sending students to Lincoln Terrace Elementary School in Roanoke to teach first and second graders to read.

"All these projects will bring the community into the classroom and take the classroom out into the community," Roy said. "That excites us so much. By next year, we hope to have a thriving Service Learning Center on campus."

The team also involves such community-focus groups as the YMCA and the Virginia Action Council as equal partners.

"We have been told by a number of people that what we're doing has never been done before and that it would be impossible to bring so many different groups together, that we would be fragmentary and lose our purpose," Roy said. "That hasn't happened. We have been strengthened by our diversity and have every intent of working together until every student at Virginia Tech has an opportunity to participate in community service."

"This diverse grant-writing initiative is tremendous because it brings women and minority, faculty and administrators together to spark creative cooperative grant proposals related to service-learning," said Barbara Holcomb, co-director of the YMCA Student Programs and a workshop participant. "The YMCA is interested in seeing Virginia Tech embrace service-learning as a new pedagogy because service learning prepares students to be active, informed, and skillful citizens."

If service-learning works, students will be out working in the schools, women's centers and homeless shelters, will be working with ex-offenders and their families, and will be highly visible in Southwest Virginia. "That will result in a change in the relationship between this institution and the communities it serves," Roy said. "I can't think of a more profound way to change the general educational experience of our students at Virginia Tech than by pursuing this program."