In addition to the demands of university life–attending class, studying, conducting research, part-time employment, and extracurricular activities—UT students perform tens of thousands of hours of public service. For the past two years, I have hosted a reception for faculty members who participate in our Service Learning Initiative, in which service is included in the classes they teach as a part of the course work. This spring, one of my guests at the reception was Chelsea Adler, the incoming president of the UT Senate of College Councils.
In June of last year, Chelsea was enrolled in Social Work 360K Community Development, a course that took her and 39 other UT students to the African nation of Ghana. Chelsea, a senior from Arlington, is majoring in Government and Social Work. In the semester preceding the trip, she and a half dozen students in her section met weekly to plan their trip.
Working through a non-profit foundation in Africa, Chelsea and her fellow students were assigned in small groups to different social agencies in Ghana. Chelsea’s group worked on prenatal care and empowering young women through educational programs on nutrition, pregnancy, and health care. They created an informative workbook and website for pregnant women. Faculty member Dorie Gilbert in the UT School of Social Work and Lanese Aggrey of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement accompanied the students to Africa.
“We learned a lot about international development. But we also learned a lot about race and diversity. You think you understand these issues, but seeing the dungeons used in the slave trade left a deep impression on us,” said Chelsea.
Chelsea and her classmates were in Ghana for four weeks. “We lived and worked outside our comfort zone and we worked closely with people we might never meet otherwise. We learned more from the Ghanaians than they learned from us. It was a life-changing experience. I see the world differently. And things we learned by experience on the street in Ghana were sometimes more relevant than what we learned in my classes in international development in Austin.”
UT has the fourth-largest study abroad program among American universities. Students like Chelsea combine international studies with service learning to make a difference.
What starts here changes the world.