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Beyond the Classroom

By Lisa Martin for TCU Magazine

For decades, scholars have looked to service learning as a way to enhance the university experience. “Research on service learning has shown positive effects on many aspects of students’ lives, including cultural awareness, social responsibility and student cognitive learning outcomes,” wrote Jami L. Warren of the University of Kentucky in the Spring 2012 issue of Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning.

Warren added that research studies indicate service-learning experiences amplify student engagement “and that when students are engaged they are more motivated to study.” Boyd said TCU students tend to like service-learning courses.

Carol Thompson, professor of sociology, appreciates how the river project represents an expanding vision of service learning. “If you think about the most narrow version of service learning, it’s going out to an agency or community and helping them, and our students did that.

“But when you are talking about global problems or environmental degradation and talking about service to humanity and nature, it can be harder to pin down what that looks like,” Thompson said. “Restorying the Trinity is engaging the community in a broader way.”

Thompson took several students to the river on a Saturday to tag turtles for what she describes as an ongoing service project for both the academic community and the community at large.

Thompson’s group worked with Andrew Brinker ’06 MS, a science teacher at R.L. Paschal High School in Fort Worth. He organized the Trinity River Turtle Study, a multiyear conservation project that received support from the College of Education.

For two years, TCU students have assisted with the turtle project both as volunteers and in the context of service learning, said Brinker, who was a biology graduate student at the university.

During that time, 700 turtles have been marked by community volunteers and TCU’s service-learning students. More than 150 marked turtles were later recaptured. Brinker shares the turtle census data with the biologists at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Students helped Brinker trap turtles, scan them for microchips and add chips to turtles that did not have them. Before releasing the turtles back into the river, the team measured and marked the animals for further study.

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