Saturday, May 7, 2011

Proud of Group Projects

Coming to terms with Service-Learning, Group projects, community service and public rhetoric.

The Project

I end every semester by asking students in my basic public speaking course to do a group project. There are more details to the project, but the first line of my assignment sheet pretty much sums it up: "Using what you have learned in this class, you must create a persuasive, public service communication artifact." With these words I ask my students to spend the last four weeks of class out in the community, using the skills I have taught them in persuasive communication, to do something in the public good. Every semester I am shocked at all the awesome things that they do and I wanted to share it with you:

My MWF class:

  • Group One joined up with the football team and worked with them to help elderly members of the community clean up their yards for summer. Certainly, just joining with them would have been good, but they put their skills they learned in class to work getting a spot on a local television show (view it here) and persuading their friends and family to help the team do this work.
  • Group Two did a car wash and barbecue to raise money for Big Brothers and Big Sisters. They were able to use the skills they learned in class to ask for donations and raised $487 for that charity. The money will be used to help the little brothers and little sisters get school supplies in the fall.
  • Group Three only planned to go out and persuade people to pledge to eat at least 10% of their food locally. That was an ambitious enough goal. They garnered a number of pledges, but as they said in their presentation: "This has snowballed into so much more than a simple group project for school. We now have a website going up and regular weekly meetings beginning soon."
  • Group Four decided to do a local concert to raise money for the arts and music programs at the local school. They used the skills they learned in class to set up the venue and do all the publicity for the concert. As if that wasn't enough, they were worried the school board would not endorse the concert (which, in the end, it did). So, they did a second project, "just in case." In their second project they did an accessibility study for disabled students on campus. The information they garnered will go to our disability services coordinator and be used to help disabled students in future semesters.

The First Tuesday/Thursday class:

  • Group One worked with the Gospel Mission, a non-profit that helps the poverty stricken and homeless in the area. First of all, they did interviews with the local homeless population to ascertain the extent to which the homeless were aware of what services were being offerred. Then they engaged in a poster campaign in areas where homeless frequent to raise awareness for unknown services. This certainly would have been enough for the class, but they took it a step further and actually helped the Gospel Mission distribute commodities to those in need.
  • Group Two worked with a local group called "Firewise" to set up a large public meeting. Fire is the major natural disaster in our area, and the students helped the group to create a meeting designed to minimize risk. In preparation for the meeting, they not only did promotion with flyers, but actually went door-to-door in at-risk areas talking to local residents and using the skills they learned in class to persuade them to come to the firewise meeting. Their work made the front page of the Silver City Daily Press, our local paper.
  • Group Three worked with the local pet clinics in town to create awareness for health needs of pets. They contacted the pet clinics and asked them what they could do to help raise awareness. They ended up doing four separate poster campaigns all around town. One was for general pet-health awareness, the other three focused on parvovirus, rabies and the need to spay and neuter, respectively.
  • Group Four worked with the High Desert Humane Society to help in that groups annual rummage sale. The group went around to yard sales and used the tools they learned in class to persuade the people at the yard sale to donate whatever was left over to the Humane Society's rummage sale. One of the persuasive techniques they used was to make it easier on the persuadee by coming and picking up all the leftover items themselves.

Second Tuesday/Thursday class:

  • Group One worked to help one of the families who lost everything in the recent fires that have plagued our area. The family this group helped lost their house and all their possessions except for the clothes they were wearing. The victims had no insurance and have no means of recovering their losses. They sponsored an easter egg hunt which was coupled with a bake sale. Their advertisement worked, because the easter egg hunt brought in 200 kids and made the front page of the Silver City Daily Press. From this event they were able to raise $186.95. That would have been great, but they actually were able to do more by persuading New Mexico Bank to match their fundraising. That brought the total to $373.90. This won't, of course, be enough to let the family rebuild their house, but they will be helped and they will know that people care!
  • Group Two did a campaign to promote recycling on campus. Those of you who work at other campuses might be surprised at how difficult it is to recycle at Wester New Mexico University, where my students work. My students worked tirelessly, not only doing a poster campaign letting students know that it is possible to recycle here, but actually persuading the recycling agency to give them recycling bins that they were able to put in the residence halls and high traffic areas of the campus.
  • Group Three did publicity for Our Paws Cause, a new thrift store opening in town to support the Humane Society. This publicity included using their public speaking skills on the radio and their skills of persuasion in the form of flyers. They did not stop there. The students did a free barbecue for the thrift stores opening. According to one student "The main persuasive tools we used were free food and puppies. If that doesn't bring people in, nothing will."
  • Group Four worked with a local day care to teach them about the environment, primarily focusing on spring and the new life involved. They helped the students color eggs and taught them about life emerging from eggs. They brought in some recently hatched chickens and let the students interact with them and helped the students decorate pots in which the children planted seeds that they can see grow. They also sang several songs about spring and new life. It was such a treat for me as a professor to watch the video of these little kids singing, being led by my students.

The Night Class:

  • Group One did a "walkathon" to raise awareness for fitness. The publicity for the walkathon included creation of a Facebook events page where the students could use their persuasive skills to convince people to come be a part of it. The students were able to tie their event to the "Tour De Gila," a nationally recognized bike race that takes place annually. The students were able to convince 20 people to take part in their walkathon.
  • Group Two worked with the Cobre Consolidated school system in their backpacks program. This program allows students who need it to take home food in their backpacks. For students who depend on school lunches, this can literally be a lifesaver. My students actually stood outside our grocery stores and asked people to donate non-perishable food or money to the cause.
  • Group Three worked to help some local girls attend "Bloom," a young woman and girls empowerment conference, which will be taking place in Orlando, FL. My students not only used their persuasive skills to create flyers to bring people in to a rummage sale for the program. They also were creative in convincing a local Mary Kay representative to donate some small make-up bags which my students raffled. On the whole, my students raised $610 to help these girls go. Some of my readers might be even more impressed that half of this group working for empowerment of girls and young women, are males.
  • Group Four had two members on the football team. They decided that their work with the football team's fundraiser could dovetail nicely with this project. So, they did the part their coach assigned them, writing letters and cleaning up yards.

This is not to brag.

Well, it sort of is to brag, but not to brag about myself. Honestly, all I did, and all I really do every semester, is turn my students lose and give them permission to use their considerable skills to do some good. I am always awed by the work they do. I really don't do anything, but stand in awe and I just wanted to give my readers the chance to stand in awe too.

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