Education //
July 22, 2020

Being a Service to Your Community – Giving While Learning

By Carl Borleis

During the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, PPE and needed hospital supplies were in short supply. Colleges, High Schools, Jr High Schools, businesses, organizations and individuals with 3D printers sprang to action, creating myriads of needed face-shields and masks for hospitals around the country. When colleges and other schools use their students and resources to meet a need in the community like that, we call it service learning. It is a chance for students to learn and apply their knowledge in a real-world environment to meet a need in the community.

Somerset Community College student Matthew Sizemore assembles 3D printed PPE for COVID-19 workers. Photo fromSarah Modgling, Director of Marketing, Somerset Community College

Service learning is an important part of technical education. It allows for real-world experience, helps to develop soft/employability skills, and allows the student the opportunity to have a higher level of self-worth by doing something of value for the community and helping those in need. Service learning can be diverse in its application. Hopefully the service learning projects listed below will challenge and encourage the readers to add or enhance service learning in their neighborhood classrooms (either as an educator or an industry partner) and bring about even more positive change to our communities.

            One example of a large service learning project was the creation of an approximately 1-mile bike/walking path from the Staples airport to the Central Lakes College (CLC) Legacy Gardens north of town. The Heavy Equipment Operation & Maintenance program joined with the city of Staples on the project. The city provided the aggregate and supplies for the project, while college, instructors, and students provided the personnel and equipment resources needed to finish the job. The project included challenges such as Gopher1 applications, surveying the ground, staking the land, calculating needed quantities of fill, dredging of a pond, and creating timelines which allowed students to problem-solve and use critical thinking skills to meet the challenge and finish the project. The path is a solid reminder of their collective effort.

The CLC bike path is more of a one-time, longer project that meets the needs in a community. Robert Bonin, Transportation/Small Engine Teacher for Fairmont High School, has a smaller, but equally-important and repetitive project that he does to help his community. For years, he has taken a couple of weekends out of his schedule, and with permission from his school, has opened up the school’s shop to teach girl scouts and boy scouts and help them earn badges for automotive and vehicle maintenance. This has been something he has done as a “hobby” for years. When the Transportation Center of Excellence heard about this project, we suggested he incorporate willing students from his classes to participate in this as well. He realized the students would learn more as they taught the skills, and that he would be able to get more accomplished with the help of his students. He plans to incorporate students into his next event.

            Sometimes, like Mr. Bonin’s example, a service learning project is simply including students in something you already do as a hobby. Forest Brownlee, a Diesel Mechanics Instructor from Hibbing Community College, spends some of his off time helping at a train museum. During the school year, he brings students in to help with general maintenance and repair of the vintage diesel locomotives. They are able to hone their skills on a piece of equipment they would not otherwise have access to, while providing a needed service to the museum.            

Truck Driving programs are not exempt from service learning projects. The Truck Driving program at Alexandria Technical and Community College has helped transport products for the area’s Outreach Food Shelf and Habitat for Humanity’s local thrift store, along with conducting free driver skills training for the city’s Fire Department, and other related activities.

Automotive programs are well suited for service learning projects. Cars are a necessary tool which provide needed mobility to jobs, medical appointments and other events in our lives. In rural areas without public transit, a car is even more important. Lake Superior, Ridgewater, and Central Lakes Colleges provide several great examples.

Lake Superior’s Auto Body Technology Program reconditions a donated vintage car for auction to a charitable organization. This year they completely restored a 1976 Chevy Laguna S-3. Their efforts were instrumental in being able to raise $15,000 for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Chapter 56. The chapter works with combat-wounded veterans in and around the Duluth area.

Photo from Benna Ford

The Automotive Service Technology Program at Ridgewater College has been known to repair donated cars and give them to single moms and others in need of transportation who had no other way of affording the purchase of a needed vehicle. The college has worked with the Heartland Advisory Council, along with area business. At least 29 vehicles have been part of the project. This has led to great press and relationship-building within the community.

Ray Johnson, Automotive Technology Instructor at Central Lakes College, stated that his program has had a long-standing relationship with the Wounded Warrior Project. Ray and his students provide low/no-cost maintenance and repair for vets in the Brainerd Lakes area.

In discussions with several aviation programs, not much was mentioned regarding service learning, but each program mentioned that many of their students are part of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). The CAP is a volunteer organization that is a “Total Force partner and Auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.”  The organization focuses on three areas: Emergency Services, including search and rescue and disaster relief; Aerospace Education, promoting aerospace, aviation, and STEM-related careers; and Cadet Programs, focusing on leadership, aerospace, fitness, and character – many of our nation’s astronauts, engineers, scientists, and obviously pilots first explored their careers through CAP.

Are you ready to add/enhance a service learning activity into your classroom? If you would like to know more information about service learning opportunities, please contact us! Additional things to ponder when considering service learning can also be discovered here.


Article resources not specifically mentioned in the article:

KSTP.com. Robotics students teaming up to make face shields for health care workers, KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company, Copyright 2020, https://kstp.com/minnesota-news/robotics-students-teaming-up-to-make-face-shields-for-health-care-workers/5686776/. Accessed 7/18/2020.

NSF Public Affairs. College using 3D printers to make face shields for regional hospital, National Science Foundation, April 8, 2020, https://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=300356&org=DUE&from=news. Accessed 7/18/2020.

Anderson, Mark. “CLC Heavy Equipment Working on City Trail.” Staples World [Staples, MN], Thursday, September 19, 2013, p. 1a.

Lange, Carolyn. Heartland’s car giveaway program continues to grow, West Central Tribune, Jan 23rd 2009 – 12am., https://www.wctrib.com/community/316306-heartlands-car-giveaway-program-continues-grow?amp. Accessed 7/18/2020.

Civil Air Patrol. Civil Air Patrol – Who We Are, Civil Air Patrol, Copyright 2020, https://www.gocivilairpatrol.com/about/who-we-are. Accessed 7/18/2020.

Civil Air Patrol. Civil Air Patrol – What We Do, Civil Air Patrol, Copyright 2020, https://www.gocivilairpatrol.com/about/civil-air-patrols-three-primary-missions. Accessed 7/18/2020.