A quick guide to six socially engaged efforts that weave together classroom learning and the betterment of society.
By Renée Olson
Se Habla Español
As part of a Drew project with Morristown’s nonprofit Neighborhood House/Pathways to Work program, undergrads from Elise DuBord’s Spanish class, “Service Learning and Translation: The U.S. Latino/a Immigrant Experience,” recently served as interpreters for a Seton Hall University School of Law survey on wage theft among Jersey day laborers.
Drew Civic Scholar Pirianthini Suntharalingam C’14 devotes a half day each week to helping Furniture Assist, a central Jersey nonprofit that makes donated furniture available free to low-income households. Passionate about issues facing her family’s native Sri Lanka, Suntharalingam, one of 33 civic scholars, is well on her way to learning the skills she’ll need for that work—she’s already taken a seminar exploring the meaning of community service.
Tell It On the Mountaintop
Drew students, together with Marc Boglioli (Anthropology), headed to Appalachia last spring break to learn about mountaintop removal mining, the controversial practice of extracting coal from mountain summits. Students described the 10 days as “life-changing.” Says Boglioli, “They saw the environmental and social consequences that are paid in regions like eastern Kentucky every time we turn up the thermostat in New Jersey.”—Funded by a grant from NASA
Students working with Anthropology Chair Maria Masucci at Drew’s archaeological field station in El Azúcar, Ecuador, interviewed local residents last summer about the toll a new dam has taken on their village. Deforestation topped the list of concerns, and Drewids responded by building the community a pilot tree farm.—Funded by grants from NASA, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Science Foundation
A medical waste treatment facility proposed in Newark, N.J., got shot down last fall with help from Zoe Crum C’10. The Ironbound Community Corporation called Crum’s GIS map showing the neighborhood’s high number of preexisting toxic waste sites “useful” in its campaign against the facility. A biology major, Crum created the map during a postgrad internship with Catherine Riihimaki (Biology) and Krista White (GIS support specialist).—Funded by a grant from NASA
Friday Night Lights Star Tackles Race Issues in L.A.
Best known for portraying “Smash” Williams on NBC’s football drama Friday Night Lights and his role in the 2010 Angelina Jolie flick, Salt, Gaius Charles now spends his days far from Hollywood. As a Theo student working on his M.Div., Charles is busy with the same coursework and exams that try any seminarian. But he slipped back into character last summer to make his work as a Drew Communities of Shalom intern come alive.
Playing to an excited house at the Echo Park United Methodist Church in central Los Angeles, Charles—or rather, Smash—screened two episodes of Friday Night Lights in which Smash takes the lead in grappling with a racist coach and teammates. After the second episode, Charles stepped back out of character and led a discussion with members of the largely Hispanic community about gang violence and racial hostility.
“It was a really powerful event,” says Charles. “I feel a lot of people were able to let their guard down and have a dialogue about genuine issues that, I think, planted the seeds for transformation in the community.”—Funded by the Jessie Ball duPont Fund
Photo of Pirianthini Suntharalingam by Bill Cardoni. Photo of Gaius Charles courtesy Gaius Charles