Service to Learning

For 25 years, USC’s Joint Educational Project has worked to connect students’ academic life to the world outside the gates.

MARTIN GALINDO, PRINCIPAL of Vermont Avenue Elementary School, experiences déjà vu every time he sees USC’s Joint Educational Project students working with his Vermont Avenue kids.
That’s because Galindo remembers when he was one of those JEP students, venturing into a neighborhood school to mentor a child or teach a mini-course. He loved working in the schools and signed up for JEP courses for several semesters.
“JEP was a wonderful experience for me,” says Galindo, who graduated from USC in 1979 and went on to graduate school and a career in education. “I had the idea that I wanted to get involved with education, but I enjoyed working in the classroom so much that it totally sealed my decision.”

JEP, ONE OF THE OLDEST service-learning programs in the nation, celebrated its 25th anniversary in April.
Based in the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, it is designed to link students’ academic learning with experience in the urban community around the university. Each year, JEP places 1,500 students – drawn from some 45 courses spanning the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences, and occasionally from the professional schools – in the neighborhood as mentors, mini-course instructors, translators and assistants to teachers and other professionals.

Staff and students of USC’s “hidden treasure.”

In addition, about 18 students work as program assistants, coordinating with faculty members to help JEP students make the intellectual connections between their volunteer work and the concepts studied in their classes. Since its inception, close to 40,000 USC students have participated in JEP, assisting nearly a quarter-million children.
The program was the brainchild of the late Barbara Seaver Gardner, known for her creative ideas and tireless advocacy for the community. She had come to USC after working for the Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild Europe after World War II.
“Barbara saw that USC had all these energetic young students, and they were supposed to be learning about the world,” says current JEP director Dick Cone. “Meanwhile, there was this world across the street that really needed their help.”

THE PROGRAM STARTED on a small scale, initially involving a half-dozen schools in the neighborhood surrounding the University Park Campus. At first, it was a conventional program that placed volunteers as tutors and teacher’s aides, but it soon began offering USC students as teachers of mini-courses in a wide range of subjects, including creative writing, Spanish, business, math, dental hygiene and anthropology.
“Originally we were naive,” Cone says. “We thought that students would naturally make connections between their course work and the community.” Now the JEP program assistants work with faculty members to develop “academic questions” to call students’ attention to issues and theories to consider during their JEP assignment.
Geography professor Roderick C. Mc-Kenzie, one of the first faculty members to incorporate JEP into his classes, supported the idea of community service though he was initially skeptical about allowing students to do it for academic credit.
“I realized these students needed this kind of exposure,” he says, noting that in those days as well as today, many USC students hailed from the suburbs and were not familiar with the neighborhood. “It’s a chance for them to see that young people in this community are just as starved for an edu-cation as they were at that age.”
Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, an assistant pro-fessor of sociology who also uses JEP in some of her courses, finds the program’s strength is in its flexibility. “It can be built into any curriculum if a professor is willing to take time to look for parallels,” she says, calling JEP “one of USC’s hidden treasures.
“It allows USC to capitalize on its geographical location and provides an edge to which few universities can lay claim.”

– Carol Tucker


JEP’s “Visionary” Leader

AS A TEACHER in the Peace Corps, Dick Cone was the kind of educator who liked to tackle a problem school in some distant country such as Iran or Jamaica, make a quick fix, and then go somewhere new, carting along his wife and small kids.
When he decided to return to the United States in 1976 to settle down, he took a job as curriculum development coordinator of USC’s Joint Educational Project, a budding program that combined academic learning with experience teaching in neighborhood schools. JEP posed challenges similar to those he had found in the foreign schools. The program was in chaos, and Cone figured out ways to make it work, along the way earning master’s and doctoral degrees in educational psychology from UCLA.
Unlike his other jobs, the JEP position presented continual challenges, and he stayed with it. After taking over as director in 1980, he ushered JEP through 17 years of growth, developing it into one of the finest models of service learning in the nation. This spring, he received the USC Staff Achievement Award for his work.
The award citation praised Cone as “a visionary whose leader-ship and dedication to public service have made it possible for tens of thousands of students to serve their communities and to put into practice concepts they learned in the classroom.”
Cone believes JEP provides the perfect marriage between academic learning and service to the community. “One of the resources our society has not tapped very well is the human resource,” he says. “Not since the Roosevelt days have we thought about how to use human resources instead of trying to buy our way out of problems.”  


Community Support

SC faculty and staff donated $390,079 through 3,048 pledges to the university’s Good Neighbors Campaign, which benefits USC Neighborhood Outreach, United Way and other charities through United Way.
Of the pledges, 2,512 – for a total of $329,369 – were earmarked for USC Neighborhood Outreach, a nonprofit corporation created in 1993 to support USC-community partnerships that have a “visible, positive impact” on the neighbor-hoods near the University Park and Health Sciences campuses. This is a 27 percent increase over the $259,654 pledged last year.
USC covers administrative costs of the program, allowing 100 percent of every dollar contributed to be invested in the community. 


 

 


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Illustration by Andy Sklar / Photograph of JEP House and Cone by Irene Fertik / Photograph of button by Dan Logan

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