Learning: Its Opportunity and Promise

Vol. 15, No. 2
ISSN: 1546-2676


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Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM

Vol. 15, No. 2. 
1546-2676. Editor: Dorothy I. Mitstifer. Official publication of Kappa Omicron Nu National Honor Society. Member,
Association of College Honor Societies. Copyright © 2004. Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM is a refereed, semi-annual publication serving the profession of family and consumer sciences. The opinions expressed by the authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of the society. Further information: Kappa Omicron Nu, PO Box 798, Okemos, MI 48805-0798. Telephone: (727) 940-2658 ext. 2003

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Tying Service-Learning to the Curriculum: The Design of an Intergenerational Center


B. Jeanneane Wood, Lindsey Kauffman, Shelly Schaefer Hinck, Kimber Abair, and Jamie Schramski
Central Michigan University

Ms. Wood is an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Environmental Studies. Kauffman, Hinck, Abair, and Schramski were students in Interior Design.


Experiences gained from service-learning are redefining the purpose and outcome of undergraduate education. To this end, this manuscript will describe the service-learning experience provided to students enrolled in an interior design course at Central Michigan University (CMU). This project provided students with an opportunity to experience interdisciplinary education through course/client requirements targeting the unique needs of seniors, children, and individuals with disabilities. Participants developed the understanding that service-learning, volunteerism, and outreach have the potential for far-reaching impact.

Universities and colleges alike are being pressured to respond to current societal problems. Concerned that higher education had abandoned its mission of serving the community, Ernst Boyer (1990) offered that the goal of the New American College was to connect action and theory to practice in the name of service. “Service,” according to Boyer, “is not just something students do in their spare time; it connects back to the core curriculum and the search for shared values” (p.26). Boyer called on members of the academy to become reflective practitioners who move back and forth between theory and practice in order to bring the daily problems of real people in real neighborhoods into the university classroom. One educational approach that has addressed and acknowledged Boyer’s concern for increased connection between universities and communities has been that of service-learning. Service-learning, an educational pedagogy that promotes the integration of community service and academic learning, is looked upon as a vehicle that will enable higher education to develop programs that will enrich undergraduate education, allow students to serve their communities, and develop academic skills. This paper describes the service-learning experience provided to students enrolled in an interior design course at Central Michigan University and the impact of the experience on the students, faculty member, departmental community, and agency representatives.

Service-Learning Pedagogy

The National and Community Service Act (NCSA) of 1990 indicates that service-learning is a method: (a) under which students learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service experiences with either a nonprofit agency or organization that meets actual community needs and that are coordinated in collaboration with the school and community; (b) that is integrated into the student’s academic curriculum or provides structured time for a student to think, talk, and write about what the student did and observed during the actual service activity; (c) that provides students with opportunities to use newly acquired skills and knowledge in real-life situations in their own communities; and (d) that enhances what is taught in school by extending student learning beyond the classroom and into the community and by helping to foster the development of a sense of caring for others.

The literature notes the importance of well-designed service-learning projects. Service-learning is a powerful teaching tool if the service-learning project is a part of the curriculum; it should not be viewed as an “extra” activity. Students must be committed to the service project and must recognize the time and energy required for success. This is more likely to occur if the service project is viewed as an important component of the course. Second, if possible, students should be given the opportunity to interact with those with whom they are collaborating. Conversations concerning the project, the importance of the project, and an understanding of the project play an important role in the success of the service-learning experience. Finally, the opportunity for student and faculty reflection is another key component of an effectively designed service-learning project. Students should be allowed to focus on what they have accomplished, the impact they have had on those being served, and how their own attitudes and behaviors have changed. All must be integral to a project.

Project Development

Research in service-learning demonstrates that the experiences gained are redefining the purpose and outcome of undergraduate education. To this end, this manuscript will describe the service-learning experience integrated into an interior design course at Central Michigan University (CMU). Directors from a Detroit intergenerational center contacted a CMU interior design class for assistance in developing preliminary design work for a new facility. After preliminary consultation, this project was found to meet the course learning objectives, making it possible to integrate the requirements directly into the course. Students were very committed to providing quality solutions to the project requirements, which targeted the unique needs of seniors, children, and individuals with disabilities.

Although intergenerational programs vary widely across the country, this program was structured to include adult day services and child day care in the same facility. Each age group had its own staff, activities, and spaces so that the special-care needs of each age group were met. Additional spaces were programmed for controlled shared activities. The physical needs of the two groups varied in certain circumstances, but were generally similar. These variations and similarities were both apparent in the solution of the building’s interior.

This center was unique in that it needed to integrate the needs of three existing organizations into one facility. These existing programs were designed to offer early educational opportunities for at-risk children and low income families by providing service to children three to five years of age; to serve the needs of children who are disabled; to provide resources and assistance to parents including literacy development, GED training, employment training, and career development; and to relieve caregivers with family members afflicted with Alzheimer's disease or other irreversible dementia by providing supervised adult activities in a group setting. These criteria were communicated during interviews between the center’s staff and university students, which increased the students’ understanding and commitment to the project.

Project Requirements

Within the intergenerational center there was a need to accommodate approximately 106 people during its peak operation. This was accomplished by including: classrooms for 50-55 children ages three through five, meeting rooms for 20 –35 senior participants, and workspaces for approximately 22-26 child and senior staff members and volunteers.

In developing a solution which would meet the diverse needs of these groups, the design process for the intergenerational center involved four distinct phases: programming, schematic design, design development, and contract documents. Ongoing direct feedback from staff aided students in the successful completion of each phase.

  1. Programming Phase (one and a half weeks)

The programming phase involved research and review of current literature relative to day care for seniors, children, and Alzheimer's patients; interviews with the intergenerational center's staff; on-site observation of current intergenerational facilities, nursing homes and child day care centers; preliminary development of a proposed budget; project idea generation; and code searches.

  1. Schematic Phase (approximately three weeks)

The schematic phase required students to begin development of their ideas through rapid sketches, quick renderings, loose finishes and furnishings, a study model, and project graphics. Upon completion of this phase, students presented their ideas to the intergenerational center staff for feedback related to existing/future ideas and selections.

  1. Design Development (approximately three weeks)

The design development phase involved refinement of technical drawings such as floor plans, flooring diagrams, perspectives, and final selections of furniture and finishes for the center.

  1. Contract Documents (approximately two and half weeks)

The final step in this project’s design process was development of contract documents, involving the development of specifications, quotations, bid documents, and performance standards. This information was passed to the center’s future design professionals to assist in the final development of the facility. Upon completion of all four phases, design students again met with the center’s staff to review their final projects. The staff’s response to this process was overwhelmingly positive.

Primary Accomplishments

Researchers have found that integrating service-learning into the classroom experience yields many positive benefits. Drawing from the service-learning experiences of more than 1500 students at 20 colleges and universities, Eyler and Giles (1999) reported that service-learning programs “appear to have an impact on students’ attitudes, values, skills and the way they think about social issues even over the relatively brief period of a semester” (p. 10). They concluded that offering courses that integrate service-learning into the curriculum strengthens the educational value of the programs, facilitates positive faculty-student relationships, and enhances a commitment within students for effective citizenship participation.

Service-learning has also been linked to a variety of developmental outcomes. McEwen (1996) suggested that “students who engage in service may develop greater complexity in their thinking, may make more ethical commitments regarding themselves, their lifestyles, and what they know and believe; may experience movement toward higher levels of moral reasoning; and may enjoy greater development and clarity of their faith and spirituality” (p. 26). Eyler and Giles (1999) found that involvement in service-learning affected how the students saw themselves. Survey responses indicated that the service-learning positively affected students’ tolerances of others, personal efficacy, leadership skills, communication skills, feelings of connection to the community, and value for helping careers.

In addition to aligning positive student developmental outcomes with service-learning, academic benefits have also been found in relation to service-learning experiences. Eyler and Giles (1999) found that when they defined learning to include a more complex understanding of issues and greater ability to analyze and apply information, service-learning courses impacted students’ academic learning positively. Specifically they found that the majority of students in service-learning courses: (a) are more engaged and curious about academic issues, (b) are motivated to work harder and learn more from service-learning courses, (c) claim they have a deeper understanding of subject matter, (d) offer that they have a greater understanding of the complexity of social issues, and (e) are able to apply material they learn in class to real problems. This remained true for the students in this project.

As students worked with the center’s staff to clarify the project criteria, it became increasingly clear that this service-learning opportunity was desirable for many reasons: (a) it provided an outlet that promoted collaborative efforts with existing non-profit community groups and university service organizations through non-traditional volunteer opportunities, (b) it allowed CMU students to increase their social consciousness and encouraged lifelong involvement in community service by allowing students to learn about the needs of the elderly in general, elderly with Alzheimers and dementia specifically, the needs of young children, the needs of the disabled, and the needs of low income at-risk parents and children. During their efforts to learn about the needs of these diverse individuals, students had the opportunity to interact with other seniors and children from around the state during visits to other day care facilities. Their critical thinking skills were heightened as student discussions with other caregivers placed them in the unique role of “educator” with regard to the impact of the environment on users, while also being in the position to facilitate their own learning. The students became empathetic to the needs of these diverse groups and in many cases heightened their involvement with these special populations through increased volunteer efforts to similar organizations or by seeking employment that allowed them to design environments for children, elderly, or both, (c) it provided students with the opportunity to integrate theory with practice as they worked through design issues with their client, leading to more in-depth academic preparation; (d) it allowed CMU students to see how design impacts special user groups; (e) it provided the opportunity for CMU's interior design students to increase visibility by showcasing their skills, which may create more opportunities for continued service-learning projects and marketability of employment skills relative to special user groups, (f) it provided increased collaboration between both faculty and students throughout this service-learning project; (g) it provided increased opportunities for interdisciplinary feedback from professionals within the community (e.g., the center’s staff, an outside child development director, and a faculty member from gerontology, family studies, and child development during different phases of the design process), modeling the type of interaction that students would likely encounter as professionals; (h) it provided interior design students with the opportunity to present a new model for service-learning ; and (i) it provided the facility staff with the criteria and tools to continue the development of their center. This project closely tied service into the curriculum and community at the most basic of levels to create a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Building Community Partnerships and/or prPfessional Development and Scholarship

Importantly, students who participate in service-learning courses seem to enjoy the experience. In a survey of over 1300 students from 28 institutions with Learn and Serve America grants, Gray, Ondaatje, Fricker, and Geeschwind (2000) found that “students assess their service-learning courses very favorably and perceive the experience as valuable. In addition, there is some evidence that participation in service-learning is associated with a reported increased commitment to service and enhanced life skills” (p.37).

In this project, feedback from students was overwhelmingly favorable and they would highly recommend this opportunity in future courses, should a similar project become available. One student reported an “increased accuracy in her work knowing that it was going to impact real people from the community” while another student felt that “the client clarified their own needs in working through the process, creating a better solution for them.” “When I go to meetings or talk on the phone with clients, I feel more comfortable now as a result of this project. I know what to ask . . .”

The service-learning project provided the perfect opportunity for community partnering, for professional development, and for scholarship. The center program director/staff members, CMU faculty and a Child Care Director from a nearby intergenerational center, attended various meetings and presentations of student work, offering feedback on student work and answering questions for the client with regard to special user needs throughout the entire process. Department faculty enjoyed opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and felt that it strengthened the bond between disciplines. In addition, the center’s staff was introduced to CMUs Gerontology and Child Development faculty to establish opportunities for future site visitations or alumni employment. Providing service directly to this non-profit organization had positive ramifications for overall programming and facility development. For example, the center’s staff had not developed their project objectives prior to our interviews. As a result, this communication was fostered earlier among the center’s staff, which allowed them to move forward in a more unified direction providing long-term, far-reaching benefits to the community-at-large. This project clearly linked service into the curriculum and community at the most basic of levels.

Summary/Lessons Learned

Service-learning as part of the curriculum provides enhancement for students, faculty, and universities as a whole. Involvement in future service-learning opportunities of this type may be expanded to include collaboration among other specializations and disciplines. For example, it may be possible to include food service students in the design of a commercial kitchen or provide opportunities for gerontology, child development, and interior design students to work together on the universal design of spaces that adapt easily to the changing needs of children and seniors within a center. Students in foods and nutrition could work with students in family studies on developing programs to explain the changing nutritional needs across the life span to caregivers; or child development, gerontology, and clothing and textiles students could develop clothing to meet the developmental and changing needs of children and seniors. Family studies students could establish educational workshops that might serve participants in the center, or business or graphic-design students could expand the scope of the overall project through development of marketing plans and graphic programs to assist in the marketing of these facilities. Obviously, there are many opportunities for service-learning and collaboration to occur among these specialties (Goodwin & Wood, 1994).

In summary, this paper has shown how one service-learning project modeled expanded teaching and learning activities into the community and how students discovered the benefits of working on design solutions in the context of social issues that they will encounter in their careers. By proposing a problem from a real life situation and asking them to provide a solution based on the needs of actual people, students were better able to develop effective problem-solving strategies that will benefit them in working with future clients. Service-learning also provided students with the understanding of how to serve their community with their unique gifts and talents and may encourage them to begin some type of community outreach in their places of employment, if one does not already exist. Concurrently, it developed the understanding that volunteer and community outreach projects benefit both the receiver of the goods or services and the giver through increased knowledge of situations and people, networking, positive relationships between the community and the volunteer or organization, and public name recognition. Service-learning, volunteerism, and outreach have the potential to work for the good of all parties involved.


Boyer, E. (1994, March 9). Creating the new American college. Chronicle of Higher Education, 48.

Boyer, E. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professorate. Princeton: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Eyler, J. & Giles, D. (1999). Where’s the learning in service-learning ? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Goodwin, M. & Wood, J. (1994, Spring). Experimenting from within: Collaboration between specializations. Home Economics FORUM, 35-38.

Gray, J., Ondaatje, E. J., Fricker, R.D., & Geschwind, S. A. (2000). Assessing service-learning: Results from a survey of “Learn and Serve America, Higher Education”. Change, 30-40.

McEwen, M. (1996). Enhancing student learning and development through service-learning. In Service-learning in higher education, edited by Barbara Jacoby, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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