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A campus without borders

UIndy students are known for helping others, especially around Indianapolis. Riley Children’s Hospital, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana, the YMCA, the Children’s Museum, and Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center are just a few of the places where you can find students serving their community.

Students complete thousands of volunteer service hours each semester. Faculty, staff, and students all work together to support the University’s motto: “Education for Service.”

Last year, Dr. Peter Vakunta, an assistant professor and chair of the Department of Modern Languages, led 17 students through Languages Without Borders, a service-learning course focused on providing at-risk youth with needed homework assistance and support.

Languages Without Borders featured a partnership between UIndy and the Laurelwood Public Housing Community, an apartment complex located near the campus.

The course required UIndy students to go to the Laurelwood After-School program Monday through Thursday, helping nearly 500 kids with their homework and improving their reading skills. They also used different teaching games and tools to help the children learn a modern language, such as French, German, or Spanish.

Laurelwood_-22Michael Rheinheimer, a junior communication major from Elkhart, Ind., chose to take the Languages Without Borders class because of its emphasis on service.

“Dr. Vakunta and I share a passion for community service and education,” he explains. “My faith teaches me that everyone has a duty to help our neighbors when they need it. I felt like it would be a cool experience because I love working with kids. The kids I worked with left a lasting mark on me.”

Students benefit too

The kids at the after-school program were not the only ones to benefit from the course. One of Dr. Vakunta’s primary reasons for creating the class was to challenge his students to become productive, loyal citizens of their community.

“More than ever before, there is an increasing need for faculty to create a nexus between liberal arts education and service-learning,” Dr. Vakunta says.

Laurelwood_-8Heather Wignot, a sophomore French Education major from Carmel, Ind., says she not only enjoyed her time with the children but also grew professionally, as she gained hands-on experience in teaching a modern language.

“I planned a lot of language activities for the kids,” she explains. “They learned the French alphabet and vocabulary like colors, numbers, and animals. We also taught them about the French flag.”

Katherine Dzelme, a junior Communication major from Indy, was able to connect with the kids at Laurelwood through some of the games her family enjoys.

Laurelwood_-23

“My family is from Latvia, and I sometimes brought games that my family liked to play,” she says. “Since the class was offered through the Modern Languages department, we tried to focus on language and culture activities.”

One of her favorite activities was reading with the Laurelwood kids.

“Most of the kids knew I loved to read,” she says, “so they would present the book they had just checked out to me, with a huge grin on their face. I would discuss it with them as they read it and have them give me updates along the way.”

Outside of the work at Laurelwood, students completed a journaling assignment to reflect on their experiences. Students also completed a cumulative portfolio that reflected the efforts of their semester-long commitment at the after-school program.

Languages Without Borders will be offered again in the coming semesters and is one of many service opportunities at UIndy.

It’s more evidence that at UIndy, “Education for Service” is a motto that is taken very seriously.

—Steven Freck ’16