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Students learn through service

Sana Samdani explained her French placement in a poster using the literary metaphor of the hero's journey. (Photo by Ken Jones)

When Thanuja Vinayagamoorthy started assisting with a special education class at Don Mills Collegiate Institute, she wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. What she discovered there was an inspiring classroom full of students who were optimistic despite their challenges.

“It was a great experience. This community was so supportive. Their mindset was, ‘I can do anything.’”

Vinayagamoorthy is a fifth-year UTSC student majoring in international development studies and health studies, and minoring in psychology. She took the placement with the Toronto District School Board as part of UTSC’s service learning and outreach program, designed to give students real-world experience in their fields of study.

Vinayagamoorthy was one of 20 students who presented posters summarizing their learning experiences at the Meeting Place last week. Others placements included tutoring students in the community, or helping to teach and develop materials for classes in science and the arts.

“The program allows students to take the knowledge that they get in a classroom setting and understand that material at a deeper level because they had to apply it,” says Kamini Persaud, senior lecturer and coordinator of service learning and outreach.

To participate, students sign up for an outreach position with an outside institution like a community group or a hospital; or for an internal position within the university. In addition to the five to seven hours per week they spend in that position, they also take Introduction to Service Learning, a class that teaches them strategies to get the most out of the placement, and helps them reflect on what they are learning.

Vinayagamoorthy says the placement in the classroom gave her insights into classwork she had done in psychology. She also hopes to go into social work, and discovered that there are many jobs in the TDSB that might interest her.

Until this year the program was called Science Engagement, and only placed science students. But now the program has opened up to others as well.

Sana Samdani had her placement in a French class taught by Senior Lecturer Corinne Beauquis. Among other projects, she developed teaching material that looked at the similarities between Hollywood movies such as Mrs. Doubtfire, and early 18th century French plays such as Marivaux’s Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard.

Neuroscience students Peter Huynh and Bindia Darshan, on the other hand, spent most of their placement developing a lab techniques instructional video for students. Andrew Loughlin helped students run rat-training experiments for a semester.

“It was a learning experience,” he says.

© University of Toronto Scarborough