Service Learning Part 2: To The World!

Hello! I’m Shelby Smith, a junior majoring in marketing and pursuing the Public and Professional Writing Certificate and the Certificate in Leadership in Ethics (CPLE). I hail from the small town of Dallas, PA so I’m eager to travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico over spring break as part of the Global Service Learning (GSL) program! Over the past three-ish years at Pitt, I’ve become involved with Pitt Tonight, a student-produced talk show, and Pitt Pathfinders, a student tour guide organization.

While neither organization is part of Pitt Business, I’ve realized that both activities actually apply directly to my professional field of interest: marketing. Working on the Pitt Tonight marketing department has provided me hands-on experience with graphic design, social media management, event tabling, promotional contests, marketing partnerships, website maintenance, and more. I’d argue that serving as a tour guide is another practice in face-to-face marketing. My platform skills and ability to walk backwards have developed greatly through my position. In terms of my extracurricular involvement, nothing has been more rewarding than having a student who was in line for a live taping of Pitt Tonight tell me that I was his tour guide! Aside from student organizations, I love to spend my free time experiencing food and music; I intend to explore both of these interests during my time in Puerto Rico.

This school year has brought on the realization that graduation is looming, and with that I have been considering deeply what I seek from my professional life. So far, I know that I am enthusiastic about applying my marketing knowledge to promote things I believe in. In other words, my ideal position will allow me to practice technical marketing skills while furthering a cause I support.

Last semester amidst these end-of-college-nearing ruminations I identified that if I ever wanted to study abroad again, I should do it soon. My roommate was preparing for a spring semester in Florence, but because of the homesickness I experienced during Plus3 Italy, I knew that a semester abroad wasn’t feasible for me.

Enter: GSL Puerto Rico.

Last year during the CPLE course Service Learning in Organizations, some of my classmates were deeply stressed about the red marks on their scope of work documents for GSL Trinidad. At the time, I felt relieved that I only had to write a single scope for the Service Learning class, and not another for a second course. Ultimately, my classmates told me they had a great experience with the program.

When researching potential short-term study abroad programs last semester, I remembered GSL and thought it would be perfect to gain experience with a non-profit and go abroad for just a week. I scheduled a meeting with Hillary Koller. After our discussion, I was certain about applying to the program but extremely confused about which location for which to apply. My brain kept flip-flopping between thoughts like these: “The environmental aspect of the Puerto Rico trip really appeals to me. The remote town of Matelot, Trinidad sounds like a place I’d never visit outside of this program. CEOLI has such a strong impact on the individuals it serves.”

I asked friends from CPLE about their experiences in each location, which was not so helpful; they all had such glowing reviews! In the end, my conversation with classmate and GSL Puerto Rico 2019 student Jack Conville and reflection on my interests led me to apply to GSL Puerto Rico. More specifically, I became a lot more environmentally-conscious this past summer, so I wanted to learn more about environmental preservation directly through Caras con Causa.

Caras is a nonprofit founded upon “community development” (from their website). They seek to do this in many ways, including running a charter school in their community, maintaining an environmental field station, and providing tutoring services to children. They operate in a lower-income community, so creating sustainable employment is an important outcome of their work.

Our project is focused on promoting Caras’ environmental field station situated next to an urban coastal wetland in a tropical environment. This rare ecological setting makes it a valuable destination for researchers. Our team will propose research and lodging packages for these researchers and execute a marketing initiative to generate their business for Caras.

This opportunity will allow me to practice my marketing skills, learn more about the environment, and give me consulting experience in the nonprofit sector. My consulting experience began last spring in the CPLE, when my team worked with the Hill District Community Development Corporation. The phrase that always stuck with me from Dean Murrell is “building capacity,” and this concept will apply to this year’s project as well. There are many distinctions between community service and service learning. Community service is generally temporary. It can have positive outcomes, but when volunteers leave the site, there are often unfinished pieces of projects left behind and the recipient may not have the resources to complete it. Service learning seeks to form long-term relationships with organizations and give them tools to grow. For instance, the GSL projects are part of a 10-year commitment between CBA and the nonprofits involved. This reflects a desire to establish a relationship built upon trust and sustainable improvements.

I was surprised to learn that service learning has been statistically proven to improve GPAs. I was less surprised to learn that service learning experiences promote lifelong service engagement. This makes sense; when you take the time to develop context surrounding the environments in which you serve, you’ll feel compelled to help the community in a lasting way, not just in a way that makes you feel good.

In reviewing class “culture smart” materials, I watched Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance on Jamie Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. Miranda emphasized that Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory only “100 miles across” from the mainland, is hurting. This sealed my understanding of the context in which Caras con Causa operates: a territory often left unaided by the U.S., deep in debt and still recovering from Hurricane Maria. This type of context is an important tenet of service learning that this course covers.

My personal goals for this course are to become a better global citizen and to become more comfortable with ambiguity.

Whew! That’s it for this post.

Talk soon,