Our faculty and staff wouldnâ€™t work at Georgia Highlands if they didnâ€™t believe in our mission to make higher education accessible to anyone who wants to pursue it.Â That mission is what compels us to work individually with students with alternative learning styles.Â Their challenges make us better instructors.Â It inspires us to change our teaching styles, to find ways to accommodate their schedules and families and help them through their difficulties.Â We listen to their stories, and we are touched.Â More importantly, we respond.
A recent survey of students listed the personal attention and interaction with faculty as one of the most important reasons they value their Georgia Highlands experience.Â Professors know studentsâ€™ names and take the time to help them.
Thatâ€™s probably why our students are so willing to give back in kind to our community.Â And why our faculty encourage it.Â Not only is doing so a noble act of volunteerism.Â It is a teaching and learning opportunity for students.Â Besides the very human lessons of compassion and empathy, there are other, more academic lessons to be learned.Â For example, when working with a day care center, early childhood education students get valuable hands-on experience in effective teaching methods for small children.Â When volunteering at an AIDS prevention program, nursing students can see first-hand the problems these patients encounter every day.
Here at Georgia Highlands College the Citizen Project, a new service learning program that is part of the First Year Experience for freshmen, helps organizations find ways to educate the public about issues affecting the community.Â Student teams actively serve in their chosen organization.Â They also produce a brochure about the services of their organization and promote it on campus, producing an informational session on campus to discuss the associated issue and its related service organization.
Issues can be broad but must be current and relative to the community in which students are working.Â Â Fall semester 2010 saw GHC students choose a wide variety of worthy causes:
- Health-related organizations such as the AIDS Resource Council, the AIDS Alliance of Northwest Georgia, the Cobb Pregnancy Resource Center, Planned Parenthood, NextSteps (drug rehab center) and Bright Stars (teen pregnancy resource).
- Faith-based initiatives with the Floyd County Baptist Association and Must Ministries.
- Animal rescue and treatment facilities such as Mostly Mutts, Etowah Valley Humane Society and the Cobb County Humane Society.
- Child and family organizations, including the Open Door Home, Prisoner/Family Outreach Program and Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
- Other organizations like Upward Baseball, Upward Sports, Atlanta Gay Pride, Savannah Courts and Trees of Atlanta.
As a first effort, the initiative has begun impressively.Â The range of organizations gives students of many interests something to work on and learn from.Â It also gives them a look at the real problems of our culture and region, the way those problems impact lives and the barriers to success for people facing them.Â They put a face, a name, a personality, a character to difference and suffering and difficulty.Â By doing so, students gain a greater understanding of the human face of our world.Â They see that no matter what people face, most of us share a commonality of purpose and ambition.Â Most of us simply want to be healthy productive people who take care of their families and friends, work hard and live well.
In bringing back these broadened perspectives to campus, students help the college community understand this broader view of the world, too.Â First-Year Experience students in Cartersville worked with clients at the AIDS Alliance of Northwest Georgia, then coordinated a day of HIV testing on campus.Â There was information, promotion and coordination for the campus testing day.Â A number of students took advantage of the free test.Â One of the volunteers involved said she felt empowered from her experience because she could both help people in need and bring important and factual information back to campus to inform other students.
Such activities build bridges of understanding.Â They bring our small part of the world together and open our eyes to the idea that difference is simply superficial.Â Our common humanity binds us together.Â Helping each other not only provides a port in the storm for those who need our help.Â It enriches us personally.Â It strengthens us as a region and a country.Â We are all, indeed, bound together in the imperfect toil of living in a human community.