Tiffany Gandolfo is no stranger to community service. She has spent many hours as a volunteer and found kindred spirits in her service sorority, Gamma Sigma Sigma. However, before she came to the University of South Florida she had not had the opportunity to participate in a service-learning course. An Orlando native, she joined USF as a PhD student in the Anthropology Department
Tiffany’s first experience with service-learning occurred in her Community Development course. Tiffany explained, “I wasn’t really aware it was going to be a service learning course. I had really just started learning what that meant. I mainly took the course to learn more about Tampa neighborhoods.” When asked what she thought upon discovering there was a service element to the course she responded, “I thought it was a great idea to have community engaged components of a course and give back. I was excited. I wanted that hands on experience and I like interacting with people.”
Students enrolled in Community Development are presented with different research projects to choose from. Projects are developed by the community partner and the professor. Community partners are invited to the classroom to explain the organizational mission and the issue that needs to be solved with the students’ help. Tiffany elected to work with Layla’s House in the Sulphur Springs Area. Layla’s House, is an early childhood community learning center which offers everything from child development workshops and parent support groups to parent-child literacy programs and child safety trainings. Layla’s House is part of a larger initiative, Sulphur Springs Pipeline to Success, which is a plan to eradicate poverty through education.
Tiffany chose this project because she thought it allowed her to be most involved with the residents of the neighborhood. Tiffany was asked to research why the community was not accessing resources provided by Layla’s House. “It was presented as we should go out into the community and talk to the residents and organize focus groups. That sounded right up my alley being from Anthropology,” Tiffany explained.
When asked about the benefits of taking a service learning course, Tiffany was quick to call attention to how the experience impacted her understanding of the theoretical piece behind the practice. “It’s not just sitting in an armchair and going through your mind about what hypothetically things could be like. We were actually doing things and experiencing a lot of the things we read about. I think when you do things in person it’s definitely better than just reading about it.”
Tiffany also pointed out that by taking learning off campus and into the community leads students to make valuable connections. “I have now taken three classes with service learning projects and this is in just my first year at USF. I’ve made so many connections. It has opened so many doors…so many options. I feel like the possibilities are endless. The best way to get a job is to know someone. The more people you know the better. Through service learning projects and getting to know the community, I’ve met so many people. I’m from Orlando, and I’ve only been here one year. In one year I’ve made more connections than I ever thought possible. This makes me feel like I’ll have opportunities to choose from after I graduate instead of just hoping for one.”
Reflecting on the importance of engaged scholarship, Tiffany said, “We have so many skills and so much to offer, but at the same time the communities have so much to offer to us because that real world practice is what students really need. That’s the way we learn.”
Tiffany’s experience is truly an example of how engaged scholarship leads to student success. Tiffany shared, “By the end of my service learning project with Layla’s House, they didn’t want me to leave. So I offered to continue volunteering there. They said ‘no, that’s not enough, we want to hire you’. So, ever since the summer I’ve been working for them.”
To find out more about Layla’s House and the Sulphur Springs Pipeline to Success please visit http://www.tampaymca.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=398&Itemid=620