October 19, 2022

‘Purdue Pursuits’: Service-Learning Fellows Program


Pamela Sari’s interest in service-learning first blossomed several years ago while pursuing her doctorate degree at Purdue.

“When I was a graduate student, I took an American studies class called Archival Theory and Methods,” Sari says. “It was taught at the time by Professor Susan Curtis and Kristina Bross — two professors who were really committed to service-learning as a methodology. As a result of that, I was really interested in combining a traditional academic route with making a contribution to the greater community we live in.”

She immersed herself by seeking out grant opportunities, attending Purdue’s annual Engagement and Service-Learning Summit, publishing an article in the Purdue Journal of Service-Learning and International Engagement and applying service-learning principles to her course syllabus.

Now the director of the Asian American and Asian Resource and Cultural Center (AAARCC) and an Asian American studies affiliated staff member, Sari has continued to strengthen her understanding of service-learning and its application in learning environments by participating in the Spring 2022 session of the Office of Engagement’s Service-Learning Fellows Program.

Pamela Sari Pamela Sari. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood)

The semester-long, cohort-based experience is designed to foster the development of courses, projects and curricula that combine learning objectives with community service. The program is open to faculty (including non-tenure track), lecturers, staff and graduate student instructors from the West Lafayette, Purdue Northwest and Purdue Fort Wayne campuses.

“The fellowship helps us design our course and think about our community partnerships,” Sari says. “It helps us think about the outcomes of the project, the service activity and even how we reflect on the partnership — how we assess students and the programs in general. It really helped me think about my class from beginning to end.”

In preparation for her Internship in Asian American Studies course, co-taught with AAARCC program administrator Manabu Taketani, Sari partnered with six Asian American-owned businesses in Greater Lafayette and Greensburg, Indiana: Latea Bubble Tea and Lounge, Banh Mi Eatery, Sunny Period, Cold Stone Creamery, WonderLand Education and Mayasari Tempeh. These community partners each visited the class and shared their business stories and journeys with the students, who then had the chance to visit the business sites and interact more with the entrepreneurs.

“Mayasari Tempeh, for example, visited the AAARCC from Greensburg, Indiana and had a tempeh cooking demonstration with some of the students,” Sari says. “Other students had the opportunity to visit the 3D printing class for children at WonderLand Education, look at product prototypes from Sunny Period, or even taste food and beverage products that Latea, Cold Stone Creamery and Banh Mi offer.” 

After these interactions with community partners, groups of students created 10-minute storytelling videos about the businesses. Sari’s goals for the course directly translate to her mission as leader of the AAARCC.

“We cannot serve Purdue’s campus without thinking about our greater community and how Asian and Asian American history and lived experiences might be reflected,” Sari says. “Our students live in very close proximity to our communities, and they depend on businesses around town that serve their needs. It’s really an ongoing discussion about how Purdue and these business entities around Greater Lafayette can collaborate and partner in more ways than just ‘offering or purchasing a product or service’ but also understanding what students need in terms of feeling that they belong and that they are at home in the Greater Lafayette community.

“In our conversations with these partners, students are interested in understanding, for example, how partners’ racial and ethnic identities influence their business stories,” Sari says. “They are touched by meaningful stories about these entrepreneurs’ personal and family journeys that shape their current businesses.”

During the Service-Learning Fellows Program, fellows participate in nine meetings and complete various readings and assignments designed to help them integrate service-learning principles into their current or future courses. Sari says working on projects like the learning contract document, learning outcome statement, and student reflection assignment helped her quickly absorb the material and translate it to her classroom environment.

“I was learning and teaching the material at the same time,” Sari says. “It was very enriching but also it required a lot of commitment on my part to do that. I really wanted students and community partners to benefit from the program as soon as possible. I was eagerly sharing my knowledge.”

About 'Purdue Pursuits'

A variety of programs, workshops, fellowships and trainings are offered to Purdue faculty and staff each semester. How can Purdue employees use these opportunities as small steps in reaching their personal and professional goals? Purdue Today's "Purdue Pursuits" series will share employees’ stories of growth and development during their experiences as active participants of their campus communities.

Suggestions for the "Purdue Pursuits" series may be emailed to purduetoday@purdue.edu.

In the future, Sari plans to share her students’ videos with a larger audience by incorporating them into the AAARCC’s programming, posting them on the center’s social media accounts, and using her partnership with Purdue University Libraries and School of Information Studies to include them in Purdue’s Archives and Special Collections. Sari hopes the materials will help foster more meaningful relationships between the businesses and the Purdue community.

Although Sari participated in several Office of Engagement initiatives before joining the Service-Learning Fellows Program, she says anybody interested in integrating service-learning principles into their course should consider applying.

“I would highly encourage faculty and staff to apply,” Sari says. “There are staff members at Purdue who are teaching. Some of the programs or grants or fellowships might be open for us, but others are not. This is one example where the program is very inclusive of both faculty and staff who are teaching in the classroom, and I highly appreciate that.”

Throughout the program, service-learning director Lindsey Payne met one-on-one with Sari to guide her through the process of teaching the new course. Payne supported Sari by reviewing the course’s service-learning curricula, assisting in the development of a syllabus, offering insight into service-learning theories, identifying textbooks that include Asian American perspective and projects and even visiting the class to explain critical service-learning concepts. When one of the students showed interest in sharing their mentorship experience by writing a profile of Sari for the Purdue Journal of Service-Learning and International Engagement, Payne and other Office of Engagement staff were there to help.

Sari says those who are unfamiliar with service-learning concepts or hesitant about joining the program should reach out to the Office of Engagement.

 “One thing that I suggest is to contact the Office of Engagement staff and ask them questions,” Sari says. “It makes such a difference to talk with people who are passionate about service-learning.”

How you can participate

To learn more about the Service-Learning Fellows program and application dates for fall and spring cohorts, visit the program website or contact Lindsey Payne at paynel@purdue.edu or 765-494-5835.

Up to $2,000 is available per project, and a selection committee comprising Office of Engagement representatives and former service-learning fellows determine award recipients.

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