COM 1000- Communication and Community Engagement

Communication Course Incorporates Service Learning

Taught by Dr. Chad Edwards, Associate Professor for the School of Communication, Communication and Community Engagement introduces and develops basic skills in major areas of communication, and emphasizes the ways those skills can be used to engage and improve communities. The course covers topics such as ethics, citizen-oriented journalism, media literacy, public dialogue, intergroup communication, co-cultural communication, team and service leadership, appreciative inquiry, and interpersonal communication. It is a required course for all students with a major or minor in communication and open to those who wish to take it for general education credit.

As a part of a community learning project, students must volunteer for five hours at an organization in the Kalamazoo area. Dr. Edwards incorporated the project to get students out of the “academic bubble” that causes many undergraduates to be disconnected from the community in which they live. Upon completion of service, students discuss their experiences in class, and apply communication concepts and theories to the service activity. The impact on the community thus far has been great, and students report that the experience helped them gain a better perspective on community involvement and become more appreciative of their own lives.

In fall of 2010, there were 2 sections of the course offered, with a total of 100 students in each, which adds up to 1,000 total service hours completed in the Kalamazoo community in one semester. In the spring of 2011, the student capacity in each section reached 150 students, resulting in a projected 1,500 volunteer hours to be done. In the fall 2010 semester, students volunteered with 45 different local organizations. Sites included The Kalamazoo Humane Society, Kalamazoo Gospel Mission, The Salvation Army, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, and The Boy and Girls Club.

Some students have worked directly with Dr. Edwards on a volunteer project in which juniors and seniors from the Kalamazoo high schools visit Western Michigan’s campus. Dr. Edwards, and the students, give these teenagers a tour of Brown Hall and campus, have lunch, and discuss the School of Communication. Dr. Edwards will do this again in the spring with students from Washington Elementary.

Com 1000 was offered for the first time in the fall of 2009. Prior to this, the course was an optional elective for 2 years. The School of Communication initiated its development, to make a transition for an introductory course in interpersonal communication to one that focused more on civic engagement. The course will continue to be offered indefinitely.

BUS 3700 – Integrated Communication in Business

Business Course has Service Learning Component

Integrated Communication in Business expands students’ understanding of the complexities of oral and written communication in business. Individual and team projects provide practical experience in the development of effective written and oral communication that reflects students’ ability to analyze and adapt to an audience, and be persuasive in written, oral, visual, and electronic modes of communication—as well as in combined modes. All undergraduate business students are required to take the course as a part of the BBA program.

Every semester, 20 sections of the course are offered. The 2 sections offered by Faculty Specialist, Barbara Sagara, incorporate service learning into the course. For the assigned service project, students form groups of 4 to 6 and select a local organization with which to volunteer.  Students must set up the initial meetings, fill out any required paperwork, and each student completes 8 hours of service. In addition, they write a team charter, work plan and progress report, as well as give an oral presentation on the experience at the end of the semester.

Barb Sagara has taught Business 3700 at WMU for 7 years. She offers 2 classes a semester, with a student capacity of 22. To do the math, she teaches 88 students each academic year, plus an additional 44 most summers. Each individual performs 8 hours of service, which means each year 1,056 hours of service are completed in Kalamazoo and Southwest Michigan. Over the past 7 years, 924 students have done a total of 7,392 hours of community service.

Sagara estimates that students have worked with over 70 organizations. Popular sites include the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission, the Kalamazoo Air Zoo, the Kalamazoo Nature Center, and the Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity. Other project examples include building demolition at a teen camp in Allegan county, special events work for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, meal preparation assistance at soup kitchens for the Kalamazoo Deacons Conference, and project management for the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce.

The service learning project is intended to enhance students’ teamwork and leadership skills as well as their communication with external sources (i.e. community organizations, especially in an intercultural context). It gives students an opportunity to apply the concepts taught in class to a real world setting. Also, students begin to see the value of civic engagement and volunteer work. Sagara points out that the experience is a great resume builder, and that her former students are often asked about the project by prospective employers. Sagara notes that every semester students tell her that the community service project was their most favorite part of the class, and she intends to continue this project with even more community partners over the next several years.


Do you integrate service into your course? Please contact us and provide us with a course description and title!  Please click here:



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: