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Students Get Glimpse Of Field During Project

Criminal justice adjunct professor Stephanie Frogge’s students get a real-world application when taking her victim-related courses and are the focus for the March American Democracy Project’s Service Learning Spotlight.

In addition to her lectures, Frogge requires all of her students to complete 10 hours of service-oriented work with an agency related to the course topic and write a reflection paper detailing their experiences as a project that counts as approximately 20 percent of their grade.

For this semester’s victimology class, students are working with crime victims at agencies such as the SAAFE House, Children’s Safe Harbor, Conroe’s Texans for Equal Justice and other police departments or the district attorney’s offices.

Last semester, the first semester she made the service a requirement and not just for extra-credit, students in her family violence class worked with agencies that provide services to victims or offenders of domestic violence.

This kind of work is “where the rubber meets the road in the field of criminal justice,” she said.

“In the field of criminal justice, in particular I think, it is critically important that the students have theoretical foundations, that they understand the system backwards and forwards, that they’ve been pretty well immersed in the different components of the system, (and that they understand that) fundamentally, we have a criminal justice system because bad things happen to real people,” she said.

“I think that’s a piece that also needs to be underscored. That’s why I bring crime survivors into the classroom occasionally to talk about their experiences,” she said. “I just think it’s very, very important that students apply what they’re learning in the classroom to real-life settings.”

What students do as service is “between the students and the agencies,” Frogge said, adding that many places require training in order to do things like answer hotlines so students tend to do things such as office work and provide childcare or transportation.

“Some of them did absolutely nothing that had direct contact with victims, but that’s OK; as long as they were helping the agency, they were helping the clients as well,” she said.

Senior criminal justice major Ted Garelick served his hours last semester sorting food, clothes and toy donations at Cypress Assistance Ministries.

While the job became tedious at times, Garelick said he learned “there is a lot more to being a volunteer at a place like that than I had originally thought.

“The dedication that it takes to do such tedious, although fulfilling, work day after day for nothing but a ‘thank you’ is awe-inspiring,” he said.

“One thing that may be surprising to most is that even with an overflowing pantry of food, people continuing to donate to that overflowing pantry, and volunteers tirelessly working to sort the food, it is not enough to feed the people who need it,” he said. “I volunteered to work in the pantry just before Thanksgiving. If it had been almost any other time, I’m sure that the donations would not have been as plentiful, which is sadder still.”

Reading through last semester’s reflection papers, Frogge said she found that students learned more than just the amounts of food an organization goes through or the power of a thank you.

“People who did their work at SAAFE House worked at the agency’s resale shop, Elite Repeat, which is on the square,” she said. “Because SAAFE House clients shop there (they can get a voucher to go in and get things they need to set up their household), a lot of the students were really surprised that they look just like you and me. There wasn’t an image of a battered person that they were assuming (there was).”

Another of the themes Frogge saw repeatedly in the papers that she “thought was really interesting” was that students could not believe the numbers of clients served at some of the agencies.

“We think we’re in a little, semi-rural county, and we are, but many of the students were really, really quite taken aback by the sheer numbers of clients,” she said.

“Some of the kids did childcare while their parents were in (a) group (session), and seeing some of the mannerisms of the children was a little troubling for some of the students; that some of the kids weren’t very outgoing or maybe said something that made them reflect back on their own childhood, realizing that we weren’t facing these types of issues and wondering how these kids were going to fare as they got older,” Frogge said. “So that was pretty insightful.”

The work also served to dispel stereotypes or myths some students had associated with the line of work.

“I thought it was funny, I would not have predicted this; several of the students in their paper, not just at SAAFE House but at other places, said they thought that the agency would be really dingy and the employees really subdued and it would be a depressing atmosphere,” Frogge said. “A number of them in their papers said that the agency where they worked was really fun and the people were fun and it was upbeat and it was a relatively nice working environment.

“That kind of tickles me. What do people think these agencies are going to be like?” she said. “But I guess they thought given the issue that that would be reflected back in the work environment, and they were pleasantly surprised that in fact it didn’t.”

Many students made the commitment to stay on with the agency after their required volunteer time was complete and some are now applying for paid positions at agencies they worked with.

Both Garelick and Frogge said they feel service-learning projects are valuable learning tools, especially when the work is applicable to the field in which students will ultimately work in one facet or another.

“I think volunteer work is something that’s required of all of us. Students who are in the habit are more likely to do that after college, and I do think that we have some responsibility to promote that, both as part of the college experience but also in anticipation of students continuing to move into leadership roles in their own communities post college,” Frogge said. “Just as we try to promote good habits of citizenship across the board, this is one of the ways that we do that.”




SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
March 19, 2007
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