As I was planning topics for the “On Women, Work, and Academics” this past year, I knew I wanted to cover Ann Parker’s achievements at Southern Polytechnic State University in relationship to service learning, the University Honors Program, and the Gobble Jog. When I wrote her to plan a time for an interview, she asked if I could arrange an interview after the Gobble Jog. Unfortunately family problems arose for me before the Thanksgiving holiday and preoccupied me for the rest of the semester. The next thing I knew Mark Nunes, the chair of the English, Technical Communication, and Media Arts Department, was announcing that Ann was resigning her position as a senior lecturer at the end of the semester. Thus, this blog covers not only Ann’s great contributions to service learning, but it also encompasses her achievements as a teacher and as a leader interested in helping students to become leaders.
When I was hired to teach at Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU) in 1999, Ann Parker had already been hired to teach part-time in the English program. In 1998 she had been hired to teach a World Literature class. She must have enjoyed the experience since she continued to teach part-time until her children reached a responsible age, and then she began teaching full-time, first as an instructor and then as a lecturer. Her current status is that of a senior lecturer who is also the Assistant Director of the University Honors.
When I was director of the honors program, I liked to think of Ann as the Oprah Winfrey of the program because she shares Oprah’s ability to show compassion to others, to draw them out of their shells, to organize the group into a team, and to prompt them to see and to respond to the needs of others. Like Oprah, Ann is a warm person who is genuinely interested in the lives of others. Like Oprah, she shows her interest by asking vital questions to her students that invite them to reflect on what it means to be human.
In 2006 Ann began her participation with the honors program by teaching Honors Composition II. Because this class was capped at 15 students instead of 24, Ann used it to try her hand at using service learning in her classroom, one of the first faculty members at SPSU to do so. After the semester concluded, she wrote the article “Service Learning in the Classroom: What Difference Does It Make?” for the University Honors Program’s faculty handbook. This article led to Ann’s publication in 2007 of an article of the same name in the National Collegiate Honors Council’s journal Honors in Practice.
In both articles she explains that her parents introduced her to volunteerism at an early age. They acted out of compassion to help those in need. Ann remembers them giving of “their time, their money, and their tangible donations.” Her interest in passing down what her parents taught her was sparked when a woman came to their home to thank her parents for all the help they had given to her family when she was growing up. She told them that she was now working in a service capacity at her current job and that they had influenced her decision. The woman happened to have been a classmate of Ann’s from elementary school through high school.
Ann became determined to teach not only her children, Elizabeth and George, but also her students the benefits of volunteerism. In the case of her students she was determined to ask the students to reflect on what they learned from the experience, thus moving her practices into the realm of service learning. Her decision to add service learning to her curriculum was very much a grass roots effort. SPSU was not building it into its curriculum nor was it part of the curriculum for those of us teaching English classes. What Ann didn’t realize at the time was that members of the university community itself would later get involved in one of her projects by participating in the Gobble Jog hosted by Ministries United for Service and Training, otherwise known as MUST Ministries.
Service Learning in the Honors Composition II Class
Ann’s first service-learning project was incorporated into the second unit of her Honors Composition II class titled “Reality vs. Make-Believe.” In the unit she wanted students to consider different realities—their own as college students and the realities for other people who were poor, homeless, and/or hungry and who lived not more than five miles from the university. You might ask, “What is located only miles from the school?” MUST Ministries is the answer.
MUST Ministries provides food, clothing, shelter, and job training for those in need. Ann decided that her students needed the opportunity to understand the needs of the 60 men, women, and children who shelter at the Elizabeth Inn for up to 60 days as they search for jobs and housing. She decided to help the students to learn more about the residents by asking them to serve breakfast to the men, women, and children located in the temporary shelter. She asked students to come up with menus and to plan how they would go about cooking for and serving everyone.
Once students had served breakfast, Ann asked them to write about their experiences for their writing portfolios, turning a volunteerism event into service learning as they reflected on what the event taught them about people and about reality. Ann describes the students as pretty “blasé” about the event until it happened. For classes in the past (this coming spring will mark the ninth year that students will have participated) the event itself has always been a real eye-opener, prompting them to rethink their assumptions about the poor and about reality.
In 2007 Ann and the students added a second service project to the class. For the research portfolio Ann asks students to write on topics concerning social issues around the world. They began in 2007 to decide as a class what they could do to actually raise funding for a social cause of their choice. What they decided to do was to hold a photography exhibit and to sell photographs for $5 a piece. Given that students in Ann’s class take photographs for each unit, this was an easy way to raise funding. Thus began the annual photography exhibit, the eighth of which will be held this spring. Students have donated funding raised by their exhibit to organizations such as MUST Ministries, Charity:Water, The Polaris Project (concerns ending human trafficking) and, a Japanese charity working to help victims of the tsunami in 2011.
Volunteerism in the Honors Program
Once Ann became the Assistant Director of the University Honors Program in the fall of 2010, she helped to promote volunteerism and service in the program itself. Ann determined that the first large event honors students would participate in would be MUST Ministries Gobble Jog. At this point, the Gobble Jog, which takes place on Thanksgiving morning in Marietta, Georgia, had only existed for eight years. The first event had been held in 2003 and 1,400 people had participated in it.
Ann found three students interested in participating and accompanied by her dog, husband, and children, they took part in the jog. Soon the jog caught on at SPSU. In 2011 seventeen people—some of whom were family members of the honors students—participated, and in 2012 over thirty members of the SPSU community itself participated. Ann and the students were awarded with a turkey platter to commemorate the fact that the group was the largest school organization represented at the Gobble Jog that year. This past fall over 30 people participated once again in the Gobble Jog. More importantly SPSU became a sponsor of the race.
Service Learning and the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference
Ann and a number of honors students have also presented on service learning at the National Collegiate
Honors Council Conference. This conference uses a peer-review model to determine who speaks at the conference as well as which topics are part of the conference. While Ann has presented on other topics such as experiential learning and discussion-based classes, two of her significant presentations have been on service learning.
In the fall of 2011, Ann organized a panel of herself and three students (Joshua Gober, Alex Harrison, and Lauren Tyus) to address the concern that it sometimes seems as though educational models ask students to provide service because it looks good for them to do so. Their panel, “Honors Service Opportunities that Teach: Moving Beyond Service for the Sake of Service,” explored what can be learned through the act of serving others.
This past fall Ann organized another panel (Sydney Lyman, Shannon Hames, and Danica Roberts) to explore the importance of service that begin as grassroots initiatives and bloom into something larger that others may join in as the initiative catches fire. Their panel “Reaping and Sowing: How Honors Grassroots Initiatives Benefit the Students, Campus, and Community,” explored three such initiatives.
Ann’s Service as a Teacher
While Ann’s initiatives in service learning are the most important aspect of this blog, Ann Parker has served the entire SPSU community as a faculty member who teaches core classes such as Composition I, Composition II, British literature with an Irish literature focus, and American literature. The caring attitude she has taken concerning volunteerism and service learning is clear in her teaching style. Her classes in the English program are always among the first to fill. Students enjoy her discussion-based pedagogy and her ability to get them to think critically about the issues raised in their writing and in the literature.
Ann’s concerns with helping students to become strong leaders has shown up in a leadership-based special topics class for Composition II, and within her job as the Assistant Director of the University Honors Program where she has worked with Student Honors Council members to help them to hone their leadership skills. Because of her hard work with students, Ann has earned several teaching awards from the honors program as well as an outstanding faculty award from SPSU.
Those of us who work in the English, Technical Communication, and Media Arts program as well as those who work in the University Honors Program will soon find out just how difficult it will be to replace her. While the entire SPSU community won’t be as aware as we are of our loss, her absence will ripple through the university since her excellent teaching skills impacted the reading and writing of students across the curriculum. However, none of us should be surprised that her goal in leaving SPSU is to impact the health and wellbeing of someone else since she leaves SPSU and the Atlanta area to move to North Carolina so that she can help her mother who is suffering from poor health. I know that I (and many others) hate to say farewell to Ann but wish her well as she continues on her life journey.