Service-Learning Projects Adapt to Pandemic Challenges

Posted Dec 14, 2020

By Madelyn Nelson ’23

Thirty-two Otterbein students conducted semester-long service projects as part of an Integrative Studies course this fall. The Interrogating Social Inequality projects ranged from more traditional projects like volunteering, fundraising, and collecting items to unique ones like creating infographics and sitting on national boards to combat a social inequality in the community. The students served 24 different organizations in Ohio and found creative ways to give back during the pandemic.


Students enrolled in INST 2006 chose a social inequality issue and organization, created a plan to make an impact and executed it throughout the semester. After the service projects were complete, students identified a personal perspective shift, which describes how they feel about the social inequality after working alongside their organization. The perspective shift demonstrates learning that can only be experienced — not taught in a classroom.

Melissa Gilbert, associate dean of experiential learning and community engagement, saw the projects go from ideas to life-changing work. “I’m most proud of the connections they have made in the community. They did what they could during an extraordinary, challenging time by connecting with local change-makers and asking where they could help,” she said.

“I was moved by how many of the students engaged their peers, family members, and neighbors in the projects. It’s a powerful way to raise awareness about their social issues and multiply the impact they could make,” added Gilbert.

Students in the class partnered with organizations like the Ronald McDonald House, Moms2B, YWCA, My Brother’s Closet, Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD), and many more.

Junior nursing student Emily Clement created an infographic with resources from Otterbein’s Counseling Center. The infographic explained the stigma around mental health, and was distributed to students through the Promise House.

“This project helped me to better advocate for mental health awareness on campus and realize that if just one person benefited from the resources provided on my infographic, then I made an impact on my community and helped reduce the stigma of mental health,” Clement said.

You Are Not Alone

“Pivot” seems to be the word of the year, and that is exactly what these students did. They used contactless pickups and deliveries, donated items, or volunteered from home. Their creativity made experiential learning possible during an unusual semester.

Sophomore Brenna Teece volunteered with Westerville Area Resource Ministries (WARM) to fight food insecurity. “When working with WARM, you must work with their regulations,” she said, describing the challenges she encountered.

Even when the pandemic presents challenges, students are connecting with community partners for future volunteer opportunities. “WARM is a place I would love to work with in the future,” Teece added.

Between in-person and online classes, athletics, Greek Life, clubs, jobs, internships, and staying healthy, college students have a lot on their plate. These 32 students did impactful work and found a way to give back to the community alongside their other commitments.

“I loved completing a service project because it made me feel like I am actually making a difference with my time in college compared to just earning a grade,” Clement said.

When asked what she hopes students take away from this project, Gilbert said, “I really just want each student to walk away from the project internalizing their own social responsibility and efficacy — understanding that they have a place in the unfolding of a fair and just society and that every move they make has an impact.”

The service projects demonstrate the core values of Otterbein’s Integrative Studies program: knowledge, action, and the common good. These students learned about a community need, acted to improve it, and worked to make the world a better place for everyone. They proved that nothing — not even a pandemic — can stop Otterbein students from doing good.