International Service Learning Program Wins 2014 NASPAA Honorary Social Equity Award

International Service Learning Program Wins 2014 NASPAA Honorary Social Equity Award

From left to right: Marc Holzer, Farzana Katideen, Mohamed Alkadry, Nikita Pandit, and Clayton Walton
Photo provided by Nikita Pandit
On Nov. 5, The Rutgers University–Newark International Service Learning and Leadership Exchange (ISLLE) received the 2014 NASPAA Honorary Social Equity Award. The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) awarded ISLLE for exemplifying “high standards in diversity through outstanding contributions in research, teaching, and service,” according to NASPAA.

Launched four years ago, the program developed as a collaboration between RU–N’s Paul Robeson Campus Center-Office of the Dean of Student Life and the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) to cultivate students’ leadership skills within a global context.

Through ISLLE, students participate in service learning initiatives in Tanzania, Nicaragua, and India, where they engage with the community on various projects to improve social and economic conditions.  Last January, five students traveled to Nicaragua where they studied the country’s public health system and installed a solar panel for a maternity clinic plagued by power outages.

“…words can’t describe how grateful I am to have been given this opportunity to travel and see not only health disparities, but the living conditions, the way of life, and the motivation for those in other parts of the world,” says nursing student, Acia Robertson (Class of 2015). “I couldn’t believe just how much our contribution of light was going to change the lives of so many families in Rio Blanco.”

This award comes on the heels of the Champion of Sustainability Award that the program received in March from the American College Personnel Association, validating the efforts of ISLLE and its impact, not only on students, but on the global community.

Nikita Pandit, the assistant director for Service Learning and Student Development and SPAA alumna, says that ISLLE is distinctive because of the intensity that the program offers in a limited time span.

“We try to challenge our students in every aspect possible, there are physical, emotional, and social challenges and [students] are at the stage of identity development where all these things really matter. They come back as changed individuals,” Pandit says. “Within those seven to 10 days, it is hard to create that particular change in people, and we have been successfully doing it for the past four years.

Pandit, with Clayton Walton, dean of Student Life and director of the Paul Robeson Campus Center, and Farzana Katideen, coordinator of Judicial Affairs and Student Development, organizes and oversees every expedition.

Katideen says that the trio’s responsiveness to students’ needs is unique because she and her team are more than educators and chaperones.

“We all play roles as student advisors when we’re overseas, we don’t see that often in service learning and study abroad trips. Students go and they study at a university and they have some sort of cultural immersion, but there’s not that guidance and advisement that we give,” Katideen states.

Katideen says that research has shown that the most successful service learning programs are those that include frequent reflective activities. While overseas, students maintain video blogs and attend multiple debriefing sessions where they wrestle with their thoughts and emotions.

“They’ll share things that they’ve never shared with anybody. They feed off of each other’s energy, so if one person is feeling [a certain way] and talks about it, there’s a likely possibility that someone else is also feeling that way,” says Pandit.

Pandit says that she and her colleagues would like to see ISLLE expand. She states that Dean Marc Holzer from the School of Public Affairs and Administration envisions providing a global experience to every SPAA student, a vision that her office embraces.

“We realize how important it is to have that global mindset. It would be great to have all undergraduate students at RU–N have that international experience. It’s a big, big goal, but we’re definitely working toward it,” she says.