Service Learning Projects:

Soul of a Citizen

The Impossible will Take a Little While

Faculty throughout the country have been describing how well Soul of a Citizen and The Impossible Will Take a Little While help their students reflect on their lives and then get involved with larger public issues. Sometimes the students do this on their own, reading the book in their classrooms, then finding their own paths of engagement, both on-campus and off. For instance, students in one Seattle Central Community College anthropology class got involved, after being inspired by reading the book, in causes as diverse as salmon politics, global trade issues, and groups working for racial justice. Students at Georgia's Kennesaw State, where 2500 first-year students were reading the book in the 2009-2010 academic year, got involved in causes from gay rights to an NRA project to local literacy campaigns.

But there's also value in directly tying community projects to classroom work. More and more teachers are assigning Paul's books in conjunction with individual or group projects where students go out into the community, then come back to the classroom, reflect on their experience, and write journals or papers based on what they've learned. Many courses will also connect them with civic groups doing good work on related issues. Faculty are also beginning doing the same thing with my new book on political hope, The Impossible Will Take a Little While.

[Soul of a Citizen - Living with Conviction in Challenging Times.]

Purchase Soul of a Citizen from your local independent bookstore;

[The Impossible Will Take A Little While.]

Purchase The Impossible from your local independent bookstore.

Here are some representative service learning examples from faculty teaching my books, primarily Soul of a Citizen, but also from The Impossible. They should be useful for both books, and if you have examples that others might learn from, please email me with a sense of how you've gotten your students engaged. If you can include a weblink and your email address, better yet. You can also find a nice list of discipline-by-discipline examples at the resources section of the Campus Compact site. Compact has also collected the materials from the 2008 Campus Election Engagement Project. Building off the original suggestions on the Compact site, I ended up creating projects in 15 states, largely through Compact's state affiliates.

Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA
University 101: The Drexel Experience
University 101 Coordinator Jackie McCurdy

Students in this required freshman course volunteered in the Philadelphia public schools during their spring term. 2200 freshmen read Soul of a Citizen, and will be again in 2003. Some participated in the America Reads program, reading one-on-one with elementary school students struggling with basic skills. Others taught the life skills and economics program Junior Achievement. We encouraged students to reflect on the stories of the students they got to know, and to compare Philadelphia's inner-city schools and neighborhoods with the schools and neighborhoods where they grew up.

St Cloud State, St Cloud, MN
Community and Democratic Citizenship
Community Studies Professor Rona Karasi

After reading Soul of a Citizen, my students in this new core required course wanted to do something in the community. They came up with the idea of creating a fully accessible playground that could be used by all local children, whatever their physical limitations or abilities. We had them research relevant models, line up community support, find an appropriate site, write grants to city and private funders, secure community input and volunteers, and document the initial progress of the project. Subsequent classes will take continued responsibility as the playground project continues.

Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA

Students from the ASPiRE Living Learning community who were reading Soul of a Citizen partnered with residents of the nearby Mosby Court public housing project to help other residents register, restore their rights if they were former felons (a major issue in states like Virginia and Florida), and secure rides to the polls. Partnering with the Mosby Tenants Association, they’re now expanding the effort to other housing projects. Here’s a guide to how they did this from the Campus Election Engagement Project that Paul founded.

University of North Carolina, Charlotte, NC
Freshman Composition: Writing and Community

[This course was taught by a Glenn Hutchinson, a wonderful young faculty member who had himself started a food recycling program at UNCC while an undergraduate. Though Glenn’s politics are quite liberal, one of the leaders in the college Young Republicans told me, when I came in to lecture, that the course had "restored his faith in humanity."]

Students in my course read Soul of a Citizen, which really inspired them, along with Linda Flower’s Problem-Solving Strategies for Writing in College and Community. They then picked individual service projects (some from suggestions I gave them), and their weekly writing assignments grew out of these projects. Examples included volunteering with seniors, helping build houses with Habitat for Humanity, coaching soccer and other sports, working with children with disabilities, visiting children with cancer in the hospital, connecting with International students on campus, writing articles for the University Times, teaching Japanese and Korean to children, recycling, delivering leftover food from the campus cafeterias to the soup kitchen, writing Congress to help change a law on immigration eligibility for Amerasian children, writing leaders around the world to help stop abuse of elephants, assisting animals at the Humane Society, mentoring "at-risk" students, and beginning an art therapy class at a battered women's shelter. Their writing projects described the feel of their outside activities, reflected on the purpose of their efforts, and explored the meaning of being a citizen and how their work connected to issues discussed in the class.

University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI
Writing and Research
English Senior Lecturer Kathleen Dale

This is a four-credit, freshman composition, service-learning class taught through the Academic Opportunity Program and the English department for students admitted through the Academic Opportunity program, and otherwise not admissible. Students conduct primary research into the causes of and solutions to, homelessness, illiteracy, and hunger at any of eight community service sites (homeless shelters, literacy centers, meal sites) and also conduct secondary academic and Internet research. They begin with a rhetorical analysis of Soul of a Citizen, which works as a great rhetorical model, and inspires my students in what is, for many, their first step into the social arena.

University of Colorado, Denver, CO
The Urban Citizen
Political Science Professor Jerry Jacks

This political science course helps students get involved in community projects and uses Soul of a Citizen for discussions and reflection. (The school has also taught the book in Introduction to Political Science). The course involves students directly in community issues and needs while developing academic and civic skills. Class members get involved in direct-action service and organizing activities in the low-income urban neighborhoods surrounding the university. The class often meets off campus, in the heart of these communities, and involves the participation of community activists and neighborhood residents. We hope to foster the social transformation of students into persons who are committed to rectifying political, economic, and social problems, such as the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor.We focus on neighborhood-driven "community development and organizing" strategies as one means to address these challenges, and encourage students to look at deeper structural roots. Many of our former students still work with us and donate time and money to their projects after they have graduated. We’ve had our students keep extensive journals on their reactions to their projects and what they are learning. These also include newspaper and magazine clippings on themes related to their projects. Our goal as a class is to educate ourselves and other community members in 1) becoming change agents in the range of social ills which need to be addressed, 2) understanding their underlying causes, 3) developing ways to solve them from a grassroots activist level by personal involvement in existing communities and developing and producing action-research that can be acted on, while, at the same time, 4) advancing the ideals of exclusivity and 5) developing and testing methods that will encourage participatory democratic values in our communities. I've posted the course description here. It's a very exciting model.

Monmouth University, West Long Branch, NJ
Civic Journalism
Dr. Eleanor Novek, Department of Communication

Civic journalism is news with a community service attitude. It is based on the idea that the press not only should report on problems, but should also inspire people to come together to solve those problems. Students in this class performed community service by researching concerns that are important in the lives of local people and bringing these to light for discussion and action. They gained hands-on experience in civic news gathering through speakers, field trips, interviews, and personal involvement with local issues. (Past classes covered important local issues like environmental pollution; AIDS awareness; youth mentoring; the needs of the elderly; and substance abuse.) Because the campus is close to Asbury Park, a community that is energetically grappling with a number of real problems, the class focused their civic journalism efforts there. Students wrote civic journalism news stories based on their research and experience with important public issues in Asbury Park. Their stories were published to the class website. The students also hosted a community symposium to encourage dialogue among diverse community groups. The class used Soul of a Citizen as its first textbook, to start the discussion going about community participation and the role of storytelling (and new reporting) in helping to make that happen. The questions on Loeb’s website were very helpful for getting students to talk about the book. To view the class website: click here. Please read stories written by the class

Baldwin Wallace College, Berea OH
Brain Leadership Program Director Dr. Tiffany Hansbrough

Students at Baldwin-Wallace College's Brain Leadership Program have been reading Soul of a Citizen as a core resource for years. The book helped give them a framework to participate in Ohio Free the Vote, a 2004 project that sent escorted volunteers to register people in local Cleveland jails who, because they were awaiting trial, were eligible to vote and gave them forms to request absentee ballots, that the Cayahoga Board of Elections then sent workers in to deliver and collect. Baldwin Wallace students participating in a class of the Brain Leadership program registered over 700 people to vote in the 2004 Presidential election. Students made a concrete difference, compared their own experiences about civic participations to the analyses in the books they read for their courses, and saw their existing assumptions challenged about who should be allowed to participate in shaping a democratic society. In 2008 Dr Hansbrough had her students volunteer with a self-selected political campaign, initiative, or nonpartisan voter registration or engagement effort. Click here for a longer description. including a powerful reflection by a Baldwin Wallace student who found her assumptions shaken to the core.

Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, FL
Malaria Project
Courtney Dwyer Satkoski, Foundations of Civic Engagement Instructor

Students in a couple of my classes created a project to spread awareness of the plight of individuals living in sub-Saharan Africa from mosquito-vectored malaria. My students worked through the Carter Center to help provide mosquito nets, and raised over $13,000 which was then doubled in a matching grant. It was enough to send 5,200 mosquito nets to families in Kanke Nigeria. They did this by selling T-shirts, baked goods, cub and bottle holders, holding car washes, selling at flea markets and hosting a 5K. They also creating display boards, Facebook pages, MySpace pages and more to raise awareness about this deadly and preventable disease. View a retrospective of this project.

Tusculum College, Greenville, TN
Citizenship and Social Change
Psychology Professor Melinda Dukes

This is a required course for all Tusculum students that’s been going for a couple of years. I coordinated field service with assistance from the campus Service-Learning Center. Students use their community service to provide concrete experiences that they’re encouraged to reflect on, and that can help them evaluate the theory of community and the practice of service. Groups they volunteered with include the Sierra Club and Habitat for Humanity.

Adelphi University, Long Island, NY

I'm not sure what service projects students did, but Adelphi had all their first-year students reading The Impossible Will Take a Little While and are now considering having them read Soul's updated edition. Their students wrote some amazing reflective papers framed as letters to Loeb. You can read excerpts here.

University of Texas, Austin, TX
Persuasive Reading and Writing

Students in this composition courses, between their freshman and sophomore years, received scholarships for being first-generation college students. They were each given laptop computers and returned to their hometowns for the summer, where they worked in a service-learning placement of their choice. It was a distance-learning course: We communicated by computer. I set up discussion forums on the course webpage and asked them questions every week about either the week's readings from Loeb’s book or their placements. I often used study questions from the book's webpage. Many of the students (and I) found the book inspirational--a powerful antidote to our tendency toward feeling overwhelmed by the challenges facing the country.

Students then wrote a research paper about an issue connected with their placements. Students wrote on, among other things: bilingual education (a Mexican-American student interviewed family members about their experiences in bilingual ed classes); multiculturalism in education (a student worked at an intensive summer program for inner-city kids); increasing high school graduation rates among Mexican-American women (a student worked at a program that helps women get GEDs and go to college); the transition from foster care to adulthood (a student who had been a foster child now works with the state foster care program); music therapy (a student worked with a nonprofit that does music therapy); animal neglect (a student worked at an animal shelter); unionization and low-paid service workers (a student worked at Goodwill). Students gravitated mostly to work that made tangible, immediate differences in individuals' lives—rather than the kinds of work that furthers more systemic social change. I’d like to think about how to incorporate both kinds of work for my future service-learning courses. Julia Garbusnow at University of Northern Colorado was instrumental in assisting in this approach.

Florida International University, Miami, FL
Lives, Livelihood, and Community
Management Professor and Honors College Director Robert Hogner

This course helped students reflect on their role in the community. My seniors read Soul of a Citizen, then participated in a mentoring project at a low-income high school, helped seventh graders with their homework, assisted in providing care to cancer patients, helped prepare high school students for the transition to college, assisted low-income citizens with tax preparation, worked in a social justice project with seniors, and helped feed the homeless. They then came back to class to reflect on their experiences. We complemented Soul of a Citizen with John Dewey's The Public and Its Purposes, which gave a nice theoretical balance. More recently Professor Hogner has been assigning The Impossible and I got a great response when visiting his international business class—students reading it came from 35 different countries.

Pacific University, Forest Grove, OR
Advanced Service Learning
Service Learning Coordinator Ellen Hastay

Students integrate reflection on their service experiences with discussion of the themes and examples from the book. Students in this class work on a variety of service projects from Big Buddy programs to more political efforts, like environmental campaigns.

University of North Carolina, Greensboro, NC
Communications and Community Service Learning
Spoma Jovanovic, Assistant Professor of Communications
Anne Po, UNCG Leadership and Service Learning Coordinator

Students read this excellent book and reflected on it in conjunction with their community projects. Soul of a Citizen helped them see that everyday people can be leaders and can make a difference. Organizations they worked with included: Action Greensboro, a civic initiative to improve the community and economic opportunities for Greensboro; Compeer, an agency that works with terminally mentally ill; Jackson Elementary after-school program, designed to help students improve skills so they can pass end-of-course testing; Immigrant Health Access Project, tutoring and helping students who are new immigrants with English and school work; Big Brothers Big Sisters (many made a year’s commitment although the class ended in May); Piedmont Ovarian Cancer Society, working to raise funds for Ovarian Cancer issues; and UNCG Connections, teaching computer skills to immigrants.

Providence College, Providence, RI
Practicum in Community Service
Professor Jane Callahanor

I've been using Soul of a Citizen as a reading for this two-semester course for Public and Community Service majors. I teach the course with a community member and the community service placement director of the Feinstein Institute of Public and Community Service at the College. Students enrolled in the Practicum are concurrently placed in community agencies and schools and assigned to work with faculty teaching other courses that have a service-learning component. Their responsibilities include working with the site to manage the service of students enrolled in the class to which they've been assigned, leading reflection sessions with those students to facilitate learning, and working with faculty to keep them abreast of happenings on site. At the same time, the Practicum encourages students to reflect on their own view of service and to develop a sense of how they wish to incorporate service into their future careers. Soul of a Citizen is used as a central reading for the class throughout the two semesters. Students read chapters and discuss different issues as they relate to their work on site and with students.

Ball State University, Muncie IN
Creative Writing in the Community
Barbara Bogue, Department of English

In this required course for creative writing majors, students are matched with outside writing partners from groups like Hillcroft Services, Inc. (group home residents with mental challenges), Big Brothers Big Sisters (clients and volunteers) and residents of Heritage Retirement Village. Students meet with these partners for a minimum of five visits (one hour each) to become acquainted and then explore a significant moment or event in that person’s life. This semester, students read Soul of a Citizen, and the directors of involved agencies gave presentations on their respective agencies and client population. Paul Loeb also spoke with the class the class as part of a February visit sponsored by the Lilly Endowment. Students also read literature (poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama) that focuses on issues faced by the chosen agencies and their clients. The the course touches upon psychology, history (of Muncie and its relationship with these particular populations) engaged), sociology, social work, linguistics, women’s issues, and socio-political matters.

The course lets student writers practice the techniques of characterization, point-of-view, setting, & conflict so that in fiction or nonfiction, prose takes on new meaning, intensity, and originality as they rend their writing partner’s story. It also offers the opportunity for the students to share their skills as creative writers (as they hone the techniques) with community residents. As the students develop as writers, they also develop a broader perspective of the complex ways through which individuals cope with their situations and environments. The course capstone will be a published collection of these works, celebrated at a public reception.

Franklin College, Franklin, IN
Religion, Values, and the Self
Chaplain Cliff Cain

Students read Soul of a Citizen in this capstone general education course required of all juniors, along with reading Tuesdays With Morrie and seeing films like Paying It Forward or Mr. Holland's Opus. The class helps them examine their personal philosophy of happiness, meaning, success, and service. They engage in 20 hours of community service as part of it, then write a reflection paper (7-10 pages) in which they integrate class materials and their experience.

Service activities included: tutoring children at the Girls' and Boy's Clubs; CROP Hunger Walk; organizing breast cancer 5K run; adult literacy program at local county library; coaching "bitty-league" football; Big Brothers/Big Sisters; local food pantry; Citizens' Action Coalition, a group that monitors the costs charged by utilities; public relations for Planned Parenthood; teachers' aides; highway litter clean-up; The Lord's Cupboard--a second-hand furniture and furnishings store; adopt-a-"grandparent" program at local Masonic Home; working with handicapped children in local school system; tutoring at juvenile detention center in town; helping with educational programming at battered women's center in nearby Indianapolis; coaching after-school basketball; working at a hospice; and helping at Indianapolis AIDS awareness center.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Blacksburg VA
Service-Learning Center Director Michele James-Deramo

I am using components of the book in my Community Leadership Development class. My students--15 first year students enrolled in a Residential Leadership Community—are working on literacy projects with middle schoolers in conjunction with the class. Usually, I ask students to complete a service-learning agreement using one of the Center's standard forms to demonstrate their relationship in the community. This semester, I decided that a more meaningful activity would be for them to construct a "chain of inspiration" showing the formation and development of their community service site. I culled the chain of inspiration idea from Loeb's book. I illustrated the concept by creating an overhead of one of the chains he described, beginning with the teen-aged girl asking her missile designer father why he created such terrible weapons of destruction which then led to the father's soul searching, his getting a Catholic Bishop involved, and so on leading to the end of the cold war. Loeb's book is great for inspiring so many ideas.

Instructor Nandini Assar, Instructor, Residential Leadership Community

In our community development course, students worked in a lower income neighborhood in Roanoke, VA that was trying to organize and rebuild itself. They augmented their 25-hour service with a lecture class and peer-led discussion sections. One group conducted an asset map analysis of the tenet population of their neighborhood and the other conducted a needs assessment, working with a community group that was just starting out. We used Soul of a Citizen to explore themes in organizing: connection to something larger, keeping motivated and not burning out, overcoming social barriers, dealing with cynicism, etc. Each week a different student group would teach the class based on the themes in the book, leading discussions, developing class activities, and integrated reflection on their fieldwork. The course broke the traditional mold of expert teacher lecturing to student, and Soul of a Citizen provided great parallels to themes students observed in their community partnership. By having to intentionally apply the book’s themes to their work, they got a lot out of it.

University of Indiana, Bloomington, IN
Cathy Hart, Center on Education and Lifelong Learning

"I just finished facilitating a course called Voices of Poverty, during which 15 undergrads took a trip to D.C. for their spring break. I included your book as a pre-read and it was a wonderful introduction that set the stage for the rest of the course. In addition to the usual 'direct service experience', I designed a component that included advocacy experiences/service learning. I only know of groups that focus on one or the other, so this was an experiment, but very powerful. Kids who were more interested in the direct service, saw the need for also becoming a voice for those service, while the poli sci, majors, etc, while up on the politics, also got first hand experiences with how those decisions actually affect folks in real life. It offered wonderful growing experiences for all and I learned so much I can't wait to do it again!"

Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
Tom Hughson, Department of Religion

"I taught a new a course with a Service-Learning prerequisite called "Christian Faith and Justice," conceived as Public Theology, a new genre. Students who signed on all got involved in one form of community service or other. About five are doing jail visiting with inmates, for example. We asked the students how people they met at the S–L sites feel about, understand, speak about and deal with their situations. What are their stories and expectations? What social structures touch their lives? What public policies affect them? What changes do they seek, if any? How do their struggles witness to truths and values the rest of society may overlook or resist? What possibilities for participation in the democratic process have they?

The class sought gradual shift in student perspective from generosity in the alms of time and money to citizen–advocacy for just social structures. It is my opinion that realizing this possibility poses a major challenge to the Churches and to individual Christians in America, and represents an important area for common witness by Christianity contributing to American society."

University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta
Blaine Ackley, Department of Education, University of Portland, Portland, OR, assisted in organizing this course

I used your book in a graduate course I teach entitled, Transforming Schools: the Process of Change as a visiting professor at the University of Alberta. One student initiated an International Baccalaureate Program at the school where he taught. In the "Civics" social studies course that he teaches, his students are all involved in case studies of particular issues within their own communities. Another student implemented a program to assist new minority children at her school in a buddy program so the new children would feel welcome and have a friend to show them around the school. In the same vein, another class member implemented an adult mentor program so that every adult at the school has a small group of kids to mentor and befriend. This includes cooks and custodians. Another student changed the entire curriculum of the school to spend time talking about personal responsibility and making a difference in the lives of others. This really connected with the students at the school who then went out and did good deeds around the school and community. A kind of random acts of kindness up to each student who is then free to report it to others or to keep it to themselves.

Lewis and Clark High School, Spokane, WA
Practicum in Community Involvement
Social Studies Teacher John Hagney

This year-long course mixes a variety of seniors, from college-bound "stars" on the AP track, to students on the verge of dropping out. They intern two hours a week at a community non-profit, and then do research on a related issue while reading excerpts from Soul of a Citizen and other relevant books. Examples include researching the long-term psychological effects of pediatric disease at a Pediatric Oncology Unit, making a film on media depictions of poverty, and working with a local lands council on the effects of logging on wildlife, with Amnesty International on death penalty issues, with the Support Care and Networking program on the social history of mental illness, and with a local crisis nursery on cycles of child abuse.

Notre Dame de Namur University, San Mateo CA
Psychology Professor Gretchen Wehrle

The Community Psychology class of Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU) partnered with the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center of San Mateo (PCRQ. They worked with PCRC's Civic Engagement Initiative as it relates to children and families. Students were involved in facilitation training, community dialogues, and reflection activities.

Georgetown University, Washington DC
Sociology Professor Sam Marullo

The Project D.C. urban research internship is designed as a community based research seminar. The central feature of the course is that each student will work in a research internship with a community based organization (CBO) or a D.C. government agency in order to undertake a collaborative research project of value to the organization. The student, site supervisor, and faculty member will collaborate in the design of the project to which all three parties will agree which will be carried out by the student over the course of the academic year. The research process and product are intended to help advance the work of the CBO and the student's academic and personal development.

Rochester Community and Technical College, Rochester, MN
Coordinator Lori Halverson Wente

They assigned The Impossible as a common reading across the curriculum, which meant sociology, English, political science, nursing, even some chemistry students. They had students do a variety of creative projects . Their digital arts students read it, then made a wall opposite the college bookstore where you touch various tiles and hear the voices of different students reading their favorite quotes. Their speech students did dramatic interpretative readings of the poems. Art students created installations taking off from various essays. The school's health classes used the Terry Tempest Williams essay for breast cancer awareness week and the Diane Ackerman one for discussions of youth suicide prevention. One young woman did a whole slide show giving background on an essay about the mothers of the disappeared in Argentina and the people who succeeded in getting the Nazis to free 1700 imprisoned Jews from the Berlin police station. She asked people to write responses on Post-it notes while they watched, then assembled these responses into a poem that she read to the class. Students in most of the classes did accompanying community service projects, and those I met in a recent visit said they found the book completely inspiring. The school also created a special website including annotated study questions, profiles and annotated bibliographies of the authors I included, and links to student multimedia presentations and to a video of my campus lecture. They're also compiling their own book of student essays responding to my themes.

Share this page.