This service learning project helped students in the
Human Environmental Studies program at Central Michigan University to
learn across the curriculum. as a result of this real life project,
students helped prepare themselves for the working world and future
community service projects.
As we move into the 21st century, new ways of learning continue to
emerge in colleges across the country. Once such educational method is
service learning, which has seen substantial growth within college
communities during the last decade (Gray, 2000; Paulins, 1999). service
learning is becoming a critical component of many students'
undergraduate college experiences.
Service learning is defined as:
. . a course-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which
students (a) participate in an organized service activity that meets
identified community needs and (b) reflect on the service activity in
such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader
appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic
responsibility. (Bringle & Hatcher, 2000)
According to Payne and Bennett,
1999, service learning is “one example of how the functions of
teaching, research, and service can be combined to invigorate
undergraduate education.” Service learning as a part of the curriculum
provides enhancement not only for students, but also for professors and
universities as a whole.
Recent studies in the field of service learning have shown that the
experiences gained from service learning are redefining the purpose of
undergraduate education. National efforts like Learn and Serve America
and AmeriCorps have worked to encourage college students to become
involved in their community. In many cases, this has been achieved with
the help of institutions who integrate service learning into the
curriculum. One study investigated the involvement of students after
participating in a service-learning project. They found that 90% of the
students in this study had plans to become involved with service
learning at a later date (Payne et al. 1999).
Other strengths of service learning include the interdisciplinary and
collaborative learning that occurs, thus allowing students to learn
across the curriculum. Individual outcomes as a result of service
learning frequently include boosted critical-thinking skills and
improved abilities to integrate theory and practice. Also, students may
be able to clarify their career goals and work on developing the skills
they need to succeed in the workplace (CMU, 2000; Ehrlich, 1999;
Although numerous benefits exist, service learning experiences are often
set up differently depending on the university, the project, desired
outcomes, and the people involved (Melchior, 2000). Some people may see
service learning and volunteerism as the same thing. However, “One
of the characteristics of service-learning that distinguishes it from
volunteerism is its balance between the act of community service by
participants and reflection on that act, in order for both to provide
better service and to enhance the participants’ own learning” (Gray,
1999). Students who apply their knowledge in a service situation often
provide a meaningful contribution to the community.
This type of active learning is highly effective in teaching real life
skills to students. To this end, CMU students enrolled in an interior
design course collaborated with faculty/students from the Human
Environmental Studies department to develop an intergenerational center
for campus. The project provided students with a first-hand opportunity
to integrate service learning as a solution-based strategy in the
learning process within their curriculum. This experience also provided
the opportunity to integrate cross specialization across disciplines.
The participants in this project were enrolled in the Interior Design
Class, HEV 339: Studio III-Special User Groups, a required course on the
Interior Design major. Nine students participated in this project. Six
were juniors and three were seniors. After it was decided to develop
plans for a campus-based intergenerational day center, they enlisted the
help of clients Dr. Eileen MaloneBeach (Gerontology faculty), Kimber
Abair (Gerontology student), Helen Hagens and Cheryl Priest (Child
Development faculty) to help develop the project data. Together they
provided the parameters for what would be needed for the children, older
adults, and caregivers in this project.
The intergenerational center incorporated new approaches set forth for a
day care center involving young children, and dependent seniors. In this
center, seniors are not responsible for the children, as caregivers.
Instead, they are present as clients themselves and may participate in
separate and controlled shared activities with the children. This
facility provides social interaction between individuals, as well as
educational opportunities and enhancements in each individual’s motor
skills. Each individual has a chance to make new friends and
foster new relationships while emphasizing how both seniors and children
This facility was designed adjacent to the current child laboratory in
order to facilitate easy access between the new and existing space by
HEV faculty for research/service learning and to facilitate increased
student interactions and observations. This space itself will provide
support through interactive programs that benefit individuals, area
families, students, faculty and the community-at-large and will provide
a unique opportunity for all to look at family units from diverse
perspectives. This center will provide interdisciplinary opportunities
to work with individuals across the lifespan and to build bridges that
connect the generations.
The design of this facility incorporates space for approximately 295
people, which includes 208 equivalent full-time children, 22 seniors,
and 66 staff members. In addition, the unique combination of providing
care services to the community, in conjunction with the facilities’
location within the university community, requires an increased need for
observation spaces and conferencing spaces. A two-story facility was
planned, with participant care services being provided on the first
floor and most administrative offices being provided on the second
There were many design objectives incorporated in the design of this
facility which include:
soft neutral colors with bold patterns to provide a contrasting, yet stimulating environment.
an atmosphere where adults and children are comfortable and feel safe
within any given space of the center.
many areas designed for interaction among seniors and children.
a large atrium for movement within the indoors and outdoors which allows
for fitness and a sense of relaxation and comfort within an unfamiliar
the Eden Alternative of providing plants and animals within the facility
to promote better health for all clients at the center.
storage space into the walls with fixtures set at a lower eye level so
people who are wheelchair bound and children can have access.
furniture layouts that promote interaction, as well as conversations
between seniors, children and staff.
a residential quality throughout the building through the use of windows
and wood for a more natural ambiance and to promote the concept of
“caring for individuals in their home away from home.”
wall space for showcasing artwork, plants and personal messages to help
each individual feel ownership of a piece of space.
a professional, yet comfortable staff area that will accommodate both
professional conferencing needs, while at the same time providing staff
with a space in which to getaway to nurture their own souls.
spaces and furniture to fit the needs of children and adults, so that
all people are comfortable within the space.
a centrally located second - floor for office use only so staff
can work freely, without distractions.
Several benefits of this project may be promoted. For example, Interior
design students were able to present a new model for service
learning while tying the needs of their curriculum to the needs of the
community. Another important goal of this project was to empower
students and faculty from the university community. This was
accomplished by providing opportunities for cross-curriculum learning,
specifically between the Interior Design, Gerontology and Child
Development programs. The importance of allowing Interior Design
students to learn about the needs of these diverse populations cannot be
In addition to the hands-on experience that students gained from this
project, the ultimate goal is always to also empower the community. In
this case that community consists of the individuals within Wightman
Hall, our Human Environmental Studies building on campus. Meaningful
contributions were made in the following ways:
By providing opportunities for cross-curriculum learning,
specifically between the Interior Design, Gerontology and Child
By sharing the final results with faculty and staff in the
Gerontology Program, as well as those students within the Interior
By allowing opportunities for Gerontology students and
Interior Design students to learn from each other
student summarized her experience by saying, “I feel the client
benefited by learning more about their own design needs, and the
solutions that were available to them.” This can help them in the
This service learning opportunity:
interior design students with the opportunity to present a new model for
service learning through development of an adjacent building which will
house 295 people. This project also ties in the needs of curriculum and
student knowledge with relation to special user groups, seniors and
at-risk children, low-income children, parents and seniors, and aged
individuals with Alzheimer’s, all of whom might not be able to afford
or seek such services individually.
provided students the opportunity to design a working
environment that involves critical thinking and collaboration to design
a center that allows the integration of service learning with
students’ academic learning.
CMU students the opportunity to display their design skills, and
knowledge of design across the age continuum.
asked to reflect on this project, one student replied,
exposed me to what working with real clients in an actual project would
be like. I also think that it exposed us to more ‘real’ information.
I think that we really learned more from the Gerontology professors and
used their expertise and Gerontology information to better understand
the needs of elderly people. We could not have gotten the kind of
beneficial feedback from a book or a hypothetical project. Because of
their information, we could better design a space that was oriented
toward the end users: the children and elderly.
student stated this opportunity made him feel better prepared on the
I go to meetings or talk on the phone with clients, I feel more
comfortable doing it. I know what to ask and I’m now used to people
changing their minds all the time.
positive outcome of this experience was that all students felt that they
would participate in future community service activities/projects.
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Michigan University. (2000). Service Learning Pamphlet.
M. J., Onjaatje, E. H., & Ricker, R. D.
from a survey of "Learn and serve America, higher
32 (2), 30-39.
A. (2000). Service
learning at your service. The
Education Digest, 26 (2), 26-32.
C. A., & Bennett, E. B. (1999). Service-learning
and changes in involvement preferences among undergraduates. NASPA Journal, 37 (1), 337-348.