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Professor focuses on service-learning

Photo courtesy of Carol Spaulding-Kruse

Carol Spaulding-Kruse always wanted to teach. As a child she played teacher, and after transitioning from one education to the next, that’s where she ended up.

“It seems like some of the biggest decisions of my life felt so natural that I didn’t decide ‘OK, now I go into teaching,’” Spaulding-Kruse said.

The English professor has been at Drake since 1996. After attending a workshop by Associate Sociology Professor Darcie Vandergrift on service-learning, Spaulding-Kruse was inspired. An actively involved member of the community, she thought service-learning would be a great way to engage her writing students.

“Learning isn’t going to just take place in the classroom anymore,” Spaulding-Kruse said. “There is more of a sense of experiential learning and hands-on engagement, and so service-learning is a part of that trend.”

In 2009, Spaulding-Kruse began by incorporating service-learning into English 061, an introductory writing course required for all English and writing majors and minors. A portion of the course focused on service-writing. Spaulding-Kruse paired students up with nonprofit organizations, and they collaborated to help the organizations and show students a different outlet for using their talents.

“I was trying to find a way to make writing vital,” Spaulding-Kruse said. “Sometimes I felt like Drake students were insulated on campus, and I wanted them to have a better sense of the community in which Drake was situated.”

She said helping students find a way to make a difference through writing was one of her main priorities. In addition, giving them an opportunity to write in the real world — other than papers graded by professors — was just as important.

“So many times I hear the students say the stakes are really different here,” Spaulding-Kruse said of service-writing. “(The students say) ‘My writing is going to affect people. It’s going to affect whether or not an organization gets funding. It’s going to affect public perception of this issue. This organization is depending on me. I really don’t want to screw it up, and it feels different.’”

The service-writing segment of English 061 was so successful, that Spaulding-Kruse created a new course, English 199, entirely for that purpose. But with a new class came new territory, which challenged Spaulding-Kruse.

“It was a lot of work,” she said, “and any professor who has taken on this initiative to include a service component in their course has also dealt with the same kind of issues as I have.”

Despite the struggles she faced, students enjoyed the class and have been successful, which is the most rewarding for Spaulding-Kruse.

“It’s so meaningful to me to see a student both feel like her writing made a difference in someone’s life, become aware of a social issue that she can have a positive impact on and throughout that have writing be at the center,” Spaulding-Kruse said.

One particular student, senior Vladislav Frederick, took his experience as an intern through English 199 and turned it into a career. He worked for Younger American Poets Reading Series during the class, and after the organization lost its director last semester, Frederick took the position.

“It is great to see when a student has an internship that is so completely in line with what they want to do with their own writing and own work,” Spaulding-Kruse said. “In Vlad’s case it was just the perfect match.”

In the past year, Drake created a special program to encompass all service-learning, headed by Mandi McReynolds. The organization looks to find real-world experiences for students to learn from, such as studying abroad or internships.

Even though she is currently on sabbatical writing a historical fiction novel, Spaulding-Kruse will be back in the fall to continue developing her service-writing class, while working alongside McReynolds to build off the young program in hopes to create an actively engaged campus involved in experiential learning.

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