Sarah Gordon '13
When I came to Duke as a sophomore I brought with me my own definitions of service and ideas about its role in my student life. Throughout my childhood and into high school I was always involved in a number of community service endeavors, which continued through my freshman year at Northwestern University: my service involvement was something I did when I had some free time and remained isolated from any other activities I pursued, and was especially disconnected from anything I pondered, challenged or explored in a classroom setting.
Upon arriving at Duke as a somewhat weary sophomore it had never occurred to me that service and academic engagement could combine for an incredibly powerful and enriching experience that is at times both thought-‐provoking and heart-‐wrenching. I dove into my first service-‐learning class with Dr. Deborah Gold in her Death and Dying seminar and volunteered both in the waiting room at Duke Children’s Hospital as well as at Hillcrest Nursing home. At the same time I was also tutoring fifth-‐graders who were underperforming in reading and math at Watt’s Elementary School through my Education 100 course with Dr. Kathy Sikes. This was also the year that I started as a LEAPS facilitator in Dr. Gold’s Psychosocial Aspects of Human Development. It was a busy and thrilling year. I was exposed to a number of different partner sites which demanded of me as much patience, open-‐mindedness and bravery as I could muster. I was constantly elated, worried, devastated and hopeful with each new experience. Best of all was the time in the classroom when we were able to explore and discuss the varying emotions and challenges that came with our volunteering, as well as the relevance of those experiences to our academic curriculum. I couldn’t believe how much richer and fuller my academic classes became with the addition of this service-‐learning thing. And I couldn’t get enough of it.
As a LEAPS facilitator I was challenged not only to continue my own exploration, but also to help lead others through that sometimes uncomfortable stickiness of reflection. It was difficult! But also so fun. Through my experience as a facilitator I realized that there is simply a dearth of spaces on campus where students are encouraged to truly ponder, examine and question their experiences. It therefore made the many reflection sessions I led for Dr. Gold’s classes through my junior and senior years that much more meaningful and exciting, to be a part of something that was rare to be seen or found at Duke; to watch many students struggle for the first time to articulate or consider what they were learning and to engage in that struggle together; to challenge and to be challenged by my peers as we waded through our own assumptions, biases, fears and hopes. It was an incredibly unique experience.
As the co-‐president of LEAPS, this year has been an incredibly exciting one. We’ve expanded and strengthened the student connection to service-‐learning by restructuring LEAPS itself and adding to our social media presence to generate more buzz among students about service-‐learning classes and events. We also hosted the hugely successful workshop “Finding Your Question” in February, which challenged students to explore the intersections of their passions and future goals while also creating a dialogue about the ways in which the Duke community can both foster and hinder the pursuit of those passions. It was a provoking and thoughtful event, and I was immensely proud to put the LEAPS logo alongside that of the Service-‐Learning Department. Most recently we launched a fellowship grant specifically to help support service-‐learning students who are pursuing service-‐learning projects of their own during the summer. As the deadline for submission approaches, I am already incredibly excited to welcome in the first-‐ever class of LEAPS summer fellows! It is my hope that this will help continue to generate excitement and passion for service-‐learning among students here at Duke.
In three years, my involvement with the service-‐learning department has challenged my assumptions about what service really is, and about my role within a community partnership. It has afforded me not only the opportunity to forge relationships with dynamic and interesting faculty, staff, students and community partners, but also has pushed me to confront the importance of reflection in service as well as the complexity of partnership in the realm of civic engagement. It is a humbling honor to be nominated for this award, named after the inspiring woman I have had the fortune of collaborating with on a number of occasions. It’s hard to believe I’ll be graduating in a few short weeks, but I am certain that my experience with the service-‐learning department has made a profound mark on who I am as a thinker, as a student, as an adult and as a civically engaged citizen; and I am so very grateful for that.