Laura Gray Named 2020-21 Recipient of Outstanding Contribution to Service Learning Teaching Award
Laura Gray, a senior instructor in the English Department at the U of A, was named the recipient of the 2020-21 Outstanding Contribution to Service Learning Teaching Award. The Service Learning Initiative Committee recognized the extraordinary commitment and accomplishments of Gray through her Service Learning courses, Technical and Report Writing and Health Coaches.
Gray has taught service learning classes over the past 15 years. In Technical and Report Writing, students collaborate with community partners to identify, research and move forward solutions-based ideas to challenges that they connect to and care deeply about. In Health Coaches, classes partner with Washington Regional to discuss patient health goals with a team of medical experts and create practical classroom communications.
Gray says that the benefits of her service learning classes are that "students gain real-world experience in how solutions can be negotiated, how written communication can matter and how to work with peers and others to share information and become part of something larger than the classroom." While shifting to Zoom and telephone interviews with community leaders and patients was not easy during the pandemic, Gray mentions that successes did come out of this challenge.
For example, in her Technical and Report Writing class, students found a loophole in the state of Arkansas healthcare system regarding foster children and mental health visits. Students addressed this issue at the state level by creating a proposal and report to create attention for a policy change. In the Health Coaches class, Gray said, "We work with some of the most vulnerable patients in our local community with complex medical and socio-economic issues. Students develop close relationships with these patients, and we did lose patients to COVID. Shifting from wordless bedside presence in those kinds of experiences to speaking over the phone underlines how difficult and sensitive words became necessary. [The students] were able to be there no matter the medium for those patients we have come to care for deeply."
In considering service learning as the mode to teach her classes, Gray connects her writing expertise to this method of learning for students. She shares that "the first rule of good writing is to 'show, don't tell.' Students can see through course design, firsthand, how knowledge and effective communication CAN have a meaningful impact, and when we are in that place, the classes are fun for us all."
About the Service Learning Initiative: The Service Learning Initiative is a joint initiative of the University of Arkansas Provost Office and the Honors College with the purpose of formalizing and expanding Service Learning opportunities on campus. Since 2014, when the Initiative was launched, more than 150 courses have been designated as Service Learning. Each semester, faculty and course instructors are encouraged to apply for Service Learning course designation. More information regarding Service Learning Course Designation can be found on the Service Learning Initiative website.
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