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We shook up my Cell and Molecular Biology of Aging class by adding a Service-Learning component

My 17 students spent over a hundred hours baking, painting nails, exercising, playing bingo, providing tech support, and socializing with seniors in six nearby assisted-living facilities.


First, a bit about my class, which on the surface is about the recent scientific discoveries that transformed our understanding of aging. But the real goal is to prepare upper-level undergrads and grad students for the post-graduation world.

To do that, we dig deep into the literature and work in teams to evaluate and communicate scientific findings. This helps the students become more judicious scientists, but can we make them have a greater purpose?

Enter service learning.

As an aside, it has been a great and ongoing journey to learn about pedagogy from my amazing colleagues @NortheasternCOS University, Gail Begley and Missy McElligott, who encouraged me to shake up the classroom via service.

Also, this experiment would not have happened without the great support from @Northeastern’s Service-Learning champs Lisa Roe, Becca Berkey, and Chelsea Lauder. The @NU_SLearning office supported and trained a TA for the class!

I am also grateful to @NSF_BIO for supporting my long-term research and education plans.

The premise of my classroom experiment was that by engaging with seniors in our community through service, the students would bridge the gap from learning about the basic science of aging to caring with purpose.

We teamed up with the Students to Seniors undergraduate organization @Northeastern and built on their existing partnerships with assisted-living facilities around Boston.

(follow this link to volunteer with S2S!

Natalie D’Ambra, our incredibly talented Service-Learning TA funded by @NU_SLearning coordinated all the schedules, helped train the students, and lead reflection activities.

Throughout the semester, the students reflected on their service experiences, both in class and though the amazing TEAMMATES peer-feedback app.

We had many successes, and some challenges. As one student put it: “the human connection is really important and acquiring new knowledge in our classes can serve a greater purpose. The service events were very humbling and grounding.”

Want to know more? Check out the video we put together for the @NU_SLearning Virtual EXPO:

So, this was an awesome experience; not just for the students, but for me. It challenged me to think deeper about why I teach and what I hope to accomplish though teaching.

So where do we go from here?

I will have a service-learning component next time I teach my Aging class.

But, wouldn’t it be much better if we could replicate that in many classrooms at many universities?

So here is an idea: we can scale things up across classrooms and universities. This would give us the power to measure and track outcomes. Together we can have a broader and more quantifiable impact.

Let me know if you are interested.

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