The International Service Learning Program, University of Louisville

The University of Louisville International Service Learning Program (ISLP) “provides experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and development. This interdisciplinary program contributes to campus internationalization by infusing the classroom with various information from cultures to prepare students to be more receptive to global and comparative perspectives” (http://louisville.edu/student/isl).

Relation of Program to Character Development

This program allows for an integration of academic course content with practical experience in a structured manner increasing students’ critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills.  ISLP students also learn the importance of teamwork, balance, and relationships. Whether working with the UofL interdisciplinary team or working with an international team while in country, ISLP students have opportunities to develop life skills that will help them succeed in all facets of their lives. Moreover, ISLP also allows students to have opportunities for realistic self-appraisal and reflection.  The unique experiences offered through ISLP allow each student to have personal growth through clarification of values and enhanced self-esteem. louisville_botswana_2.jpgOften, an increased sense of social responsibility and appreciation for diversity emerges among the ISLP students. For example, students spend a great deal of time learning about the host country before they board a plane. They learn about the social, political, religious, and cultural constructs of their host country so they better understand and appreciate the people they will meet once in country. The time spent on developing this cultural understanding allows students to grasp the depth and complexity of each international community and thus creates a more empathetic, knowledgeable, and accepting student.

Overview of Program and Program Initiatives

ISLP is a collaborative project where the university works directly with communities indifferent countries to help solve complex challenges within those communities. ISLP also involves enrolling in a for-credit course that enables students attending UofL an opportunity to gain international experience while assisting another country.  Students enroll in one of five courses each semester, develop an interdisciplinary specific project, learn about a specific country, train for on-location activities, study country specific cultures, and then travel to the location.  While in-country the students work with local leaders in completing the projects.  These projects are developed based on feedback provided from  representatives in the country and could include university students working with teachers and schools, government agencies, villages or towns, police, engineering, or other specialized agencies, hospitals/clinics, or  other  groups identified by community leaders” (http://louisville.edu/student/isl).

Program History

Barbados (1997-1998) Gales Point, Belize (1999-2007)
Belmopan, Belize (1999-2007) Dangriga, Belize  (1999-2007)
Red Bank, Belize (2000-present) Punta Gorda, Belize (2002-2005)
Cebu, Philippines (2009-present) Bridgetown, Barbados (2010)
Gaborone, Botswana (2010-present) Charlotteville, Trinidad & Tobago (2011-present)
Sisak, Croatia (2012)  

louisville_drawing-300x225.jpgThe faculty for the program has grown from three to over 23 professors and staff representing 13 different departments and six colleges/divisions. The programs vary in size and time offered each year. Belize and Trinidad & Tobago program participants travel over spring break and include delegations of 40 students, faculty, and staff. Botswana and Croatia participants travel during May with a delegation of 30, and the Philippines participants travel during winter break with a delegation of 30. Participating students may have majors in any discipline. Currently, courses are offered in communication, education, justice administration, nursing, college student personnel/higher education, business, sport administration, psychology, civic leadership, and dentistry.  

Obstacles and Opportunities for Growth

ISLP has had many opportunities for growth since its inception.  What started as a small university project in one country has grown into a multi-disciplinary, multi-country program. With that type of growth comes many opportunities to reflect, discuss, and tweak different aspects of the program.  Three notable aspects of growth are support from university administration, available times to travel, and the interdisciplinary model.  Under the  leadership, of Dr. Thomas R. Jackson, Jr., ISLP has expanded and become a prominent program on campus. His vision, which includes quality student ISLP opportunities in multiple countries, and his leadership  have been crucial in maintaining an increasing university-wide administrative support. With growth comes previously unanticipated questions and discussions. For example, a frequent question  is, “Why do you have multiple programs offered in the spring and only one program offered in the fall?” The answer: because of the available times to travel by students and faculty. We need  adequate time built into the trip in order to get to the  work site (to flights, to vans, to the communities, etc.), to do the work, for cultural activities, and for reflection. In addition, there are more available times to travel in the spring semester. We also have to be mindful of other courses students are taking—we want to enhance their educational experience, not detract from other classes. Other factors we must consider are the weather conditions of the host country, costs for the students and program, and other university obligations of the students, faculty, and staff.  We have found that being mindful of how ISLP fits into the university calendar has resulted in increased support from students, faculty, and administrators. louisville_belise-300x225.jpgBeing mindful of the experience students have when working in a host country led us to develop an interdisciplinary educational model. The creation of this model, which is now used with every ISLP trip, began with the discussion that students in the field are not usually asked to solve a discipline specific problem, but they are asked to solve complex social problems. For example, individuals in one host country asked us to help them in their goal to create a healthier community. Rather than wanting us to look solely at their dental needs or help exclusively with science projects about health, they asked us to help with a more holistic problem.  We believe this problem, like all the other issues we work on in different countries, is multidisciplinary in nature. The ISLP interdisciplinary model fosters student thought about social problems from multiple perspectives.  First, the ISLP model asks students to think of two different approaches to working in a country:  how would individuals in their respective discipline approach the issue and how would persons in other disciplines approach the issue. While in the host country, students apply both approaches—a discipline-based program and an interdisciplinary effort. With an overarching theme for the trip (e.g., healthy communities), the ISLP interdisciplinary model allows each discipline to create a specific project. The students then train the other students traveling on the trip on their program. The result is that every student is trained and crossed-trained on every project.  Instead of working in discipline specific groups, we work in interdisciplinary teams, with each team comprised of students from across the disciplines. Students on these teams then work together at their assigned site to carry out the different programs. At the heart of the ISLP interdisciplinary model is an idea that Elaine Coleman (1998) refers to as “explanatory knowledge.” Simply put, explanatory knowledge suggests that if a student is aware that he/she will have to teach what is learned, then the student actually learns the material better, more thoroughly. The ISLP interdisciplinary model encourages students to learn their discipline specific knowledge in a way that is translatable to others. It also allows students an opportunity to teach other students about their disciplines, which we believe improves the overall educational experience for the students and the host countries.

Contact Information

Price Foster, Professor, Justice Administration Tom Clark, Clinical Professor, Dentistry Joy Hart, Professor, Communication Kandi Walker, Associate Professor, Communication Pamela Curtis, Director of Civic Engagement Leadership, and Service International Service Learning Program Vice President for Student Affairs University of Louisville 302W Student Activities Center Louisville, KY 40292 Contact Person Information Kandi L. Walker, Ph.D. Associate Professor Kandi.walker@louisville.edu

Reference

Coleman, E. B. (1998). Using explanatory knowledge during collaborative problem solving in science. The Journal of the Learning Sciences7, 387-427. International Service Learning Program. (2011). Retrieved November 11, 2011, from http://louisville.edu/student/isl