VISTA Rizz Dickson is in their second year of service and has been exploring how to increase low-socioeconomic (SES) student retention through service learning. The concept of the Peer Advocates has been carried over and now CSCC hosts both Peer Advocates that work in student advocacy and Service Learning Advocates (SLAs) that support service learning classes. SLAs are student leaders who work in the Community and Civic Engagement department to build community partnerships between current or aspiring service learning instructors and nonprofits by coordinating student service opportunities, designing and leading reflection on social justice and community issues, and providing instructors and students with one-on-one support to build structure around service learning experiences.
So far, Rizz has been able to support instructors with five service learning courses, four of which are new courses. The type of service that students are able to do in the community through service learning varies greatly because it is contingent upon the class size and content the instructor is seeking to teach through service. For example, one of the service-learning courses is an Automotive Technologies class that provides subsidized car repairs to low-SES Columbus State students. This is an on-campus service experience that the SLAs support by coordinating low-SES students to get their cars into the class and leading reflection on poverty, transportation and service in the class. In a service learning Psychology class, there are over 400 students each semester, and the Service Learning side of C2C promotes group service opportunities to the students and leads reflection with as many of them as possible while they are engaged in service in the community. A Sociology service learning class exposes students to six local nonprofits that work to fight hunger in Columbus, with the students serving in food pantries, community gardens, soup kitchens, and advocacy spaces.
The most in depth service-learning class Rizz has supported this year features a deep relationship between the nonprofit Community Refugees and Immigration Services (C.R.I.S.) and an interpreting class. Interpreting students serve each week in the homes of elderly Nepali, Bhutanese, and Pakistani refugees by tutoring them in U.S. Civics so that they can pass the U.S. Citizenship test. After being in the United States for seven years, refugees are required to pass the citizenship test in order to keep any benefits they may have, including food stamps, Medicaid, and childcare assistance. These benefits are necessary for their survival, as many of them live in poverty because they have had to live in refugee camps for most of their lives to escape violence. Access to literacy, formal education, job training, and employment are limited opportunities for many refugees because of these circumstances. Passing the citizenship test and keeping their benefits is vital because the only jobs that they are able to get hired in do not provide a living wage, benefits, or job security.
Rizz’s favorite part of their second year of service with Ohio Campus Compact happened this past month when one of the SLA’s and an Interpreting student in a service learning class helped two Nepali refugees pass the U.S. citizenship test. This represented the first success stories with this class; one of them happens to be an ESL student at Columbus State and the other one is his dad. Rizz considers this a great example of how peer-to-peer mentoring keeps everyone involved motivated to stay in school, create community and build a culture of service at Columbus State. Given the current sociopolitical climate that refugees face in the U.S., Rizz finds it vital to show that refugees are welcome in our community and that we support them on their path to citizenship. Setting up a community partnership that serves families like this one has made Rizz’s time as an AmeriCorps VISTA member a very meaningful experience. “I know that I am having an impact on people that will last a lifetime and that no one can take away from them. Service learning projects like this one are sustainable vehicles of social change because they are written into instructors’ syllabi for use each time their class is taught. To me, this means that service learning can be one of the most durable pathways of building sustainable, culturally responsive community partnerships that both meet the needs of local nonprofits and teach our students how to solve social justice issues in their communities. I am very grateful that I have had the privilege to learn about this through my service in AmeriCorps VISTA.”
Written by Rizz Dickson, edited by Ava Carvour
View Rizz's bio.