Photo by Laura J. Cole

One Day at a Time

Planting the seeds of service for first-year students

By Leigh Perkins Brown

One Day: Sparc Day of Service

Annamarie Carlson ’14 says SPARC truly did spark her passion for community engagement at Rollins College. All it took was one visit to the Mayflower retirement community, where the English major from Ohio spent hours chatting with residents about their SPARC life stories. “Having first-year students engage in service projects from the moment we step on campus really sends the message that service is going to be an important part of our life here at Rollins,” Carlson said. “It sets the tone for the rest of the year.”

The only program of its kind in the state of Florida, SPARC (Service Philanthropy Activism Rollins College) was created in 2006 to introduce Rollins’ first-year students to the Central Florida community in a day of learning, community service, and activism by partnering students with community agencies across Central Florida. Last August, 826 SPARC participants at 24 local nonprofit agencies contributed more than 3,000 community service hours while igniting their interest and passion for service and activism beyond the college campus.

“Because they’re told that Rollins stands for community engagement from day one, they come into college thinking that’s what all Rollins students do and they assume they’ll do it too,” said Katie Sutherland, associate professor of biology, who removed invasive plant species from a local park with students in her Rollins College Conference course Endangered Earth. “Service is the norm at Rollins.”

Director of the Community Engagement Micki Meyer believes that grabbing students’ attention early is crucial to keeping their long-term interest. “They’ve already engaged in a service project before they’ve opened their first textbook. They understand right away that coming to college is so much bigger than just our campus and they have a responsibility to get engaged in the surrounding community.”

As for Carlson, she loved the experience so much that she came back to volunteer in her sophomore year, this time as a photographer. “I watched so many first-year students have this service experience and immediately go and pursue other service opportunities in the days and weeks that followed,” Carlson said. “SPARC is the start of your journey into community service and the beginning of the realization that you can really make a difference.”

Photo by Judy Watson Tracy

One Week: Be a Part from the Start

At the beginning of every fall semester, Rollins presents Be a Part from the Start, a weeklong series of events ranging from academic discussions to active service in the community. Often inspired by the first-year summer reading program, Be a Part from the Start includes events such as this year’s bike ride to the Enzian Theater to watch Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and subsequent discussion of the film; lecture by a local African-American historian; mentoring fairs; and tour of toxic Apopka farms.

The hope, of course, is that participants of Be a Part from the Start will fall in love with serving and begin a long, happy relationship with community engagement. “It’s not required,” Meyer said. “All events are open to students, faculty, and staff if they opt to do it.”

For students like Chris Lockwood ’13, the week of events provides another layer of engagement for first-years who are still finding their way on campus. “Be a Part from the Start introduces freshmen to things they’d never see on their own,” said Lockwood, who helped plan one of the events this year, “and it encourages them to establish connections with the community outside of Rollins.

“What I always like is seeing a first-year student go to an event, do something they’ve never done in their entire life, and then seeing that ‘wow moment,’” she continued. “This week is truly the catalyst for them to have new experiences and to see what’s available, and as a result, I see many immediately start asking about when other events like these will be scheduled.”

Photo by Doreen Overstreet

One Semester: Service Components of RCCs

They say a picture speaks a thousand words, and Assistant Professor of Art Dawn Roe would agree. Her Rollins Conference Course, The Photograph as Language, instructs first-year students in the art of taking photographs that communicate more than their image. Then it goes one step further by having the students pass on these techniques to patients at Brain Fitness, a community-outreach program that works with people with earlystage dementia.

“The course is designed to stimulate and exercise the brain,” Roe explained. “We use the photograph to prompt memory, but it’s not using the photograph to assist in memory repair; it’s about intellectual stimulation. Research suggests that stimulation early in dementia is therapeutic in slowing its progression.” Discussing the technical merits and composition of the photographs students and patients take, as well the ability of photographs to create deeper meaning, is just one component, the intellectual component, of that stimulation. The other component is the manual dexterity required for working with a camera, which stimulates a different part of the brain.

Roe and 18 students traveled to Brain Fitness each Monday. The class met on campus each Wednesday, beginning each session with reflection about what’s working at Brain Fitness and what’s a struggle. “It’s different every week,” Roe said. “You think you’ve built a relationship with someone and the next week it’s gone. It’s not easy.”

“Meeting with the patients gave us a perspective we wouldn’t have gained in the classroom,” Danae Zimmer ’15 said. Her classmate David Cottrell ’15 agreed. “Interacting with people from the community was the best way to learn. It definitely enhanced the course,” he said.

Despite its challenges, Roe said The Photograph as Language is the class she most looks forward to teaching each week. “It’s a unique way to deal with the visual arts in a liberal arts context. And there is no question that I do see the benefit for the patients and for the students.”

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