New Service Learning Courses Showcase Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the English Department

February 21, 2013

The Department of English is pleased to offer several service-learning courses this semester that complement the University of Maryland’s broader interest in “Fearlessly Supporting Entrepreneurship.”

splash: Service learning

President Loh has committed the University to make professional entrepreneurship and innovation hallmarks of the undergraduate education experience. While we might intuitively associate these goals with disciplines such as business and the sciences, core humanities offerings--not least of all those offered in our department--equip students with the ability to engage a wider audience in dialogue about real world projects. Innovative service-learning courses, which often orient classroom assignments toward the greater Maryland community, ask students to reflect critically on how ideas come to life beyond the walls of the university.

Scott Wible, Director of the Professional Writing Program, emphasizes that the university’s commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation begins with using writing to solve problems--not in a hypothetical way, but actually by doing it. This semester the department is offering three service-learning classes: ENGL 278P, Writing for Change (also offered to English majors for internship credit); ENGL 398N, Writing for Non-Profits; and ENGL 398B, Writing for Social Entrepreneurship. Each of these courses teach the research, analysis, writing, and language skills that students will call upon in their lives beyond the classroom, while also participating in partnership, outreach, and engagement initiatives that embody President Loh’s aspirations. By incorporating service-learning elements into the curriculum, these classes ask students to engage the actual stakeholders on particular issues and to acquire the academic and experiential knowledge necessary to intervene.

“Writing for Change,” a service-learning course taught by Heather Lindenman, a graduate student in rhetoric and composition, takes undergraduates into Northwestern High School as part of the University of Maryland’s award-winning Campus-Community Partnership. In conjunction with Carly Finkelstein, an English teacher at Northwestern, Heather designed this “scholarship in practice” course with twin goals: to provide mentoring and literacy training for local high school students; and to introduce undergraduate students to innovative ideas in composition studies in a pragmatic way. Heather’s students--many of whom belong to the university’s Leadership and Community Service Learning program--are helping their high-school colleagues draft performative texts that model argument, persuasion, and advocacy. They will also be producing final projects (grant proposals, creative stories, lesson plans) that take up central questions of genre, cultural context, and literacy in approaches to composition.

“Writing for Social Entrepreneurship,” co-taught by Zahara Heckscher and Amy Kincaid, equips students with the writing skills to create businesses and organizations with a social mission. Each student in the class will complete a major writing project such as a business plan, a website design plan, a fundraising proposal, or a concept paper for a new non-profit organization. They will then draft pitches to prospective investors or donors, marketing materials, and a job announcement. Students learn from local social entrepreneurs who visit class and share their experiences using writing to succeed in the field.

"Writing for Social Entrepeneurship" may be the first university course offered in the country that considers writing and social entrepreneurship, and the first to incorporate an ethical approach to writing processes and outcomes. The course was developed with the support of a number of different units on campus, including the Professional Writing Program in the Department of English, the Center for Social Value Creation, the Robert H. Smith Business School, UM Ventures, the Dingman Center, and the Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership.

Finally, Rebecca Holden and John Mancini are teaching sections of “Writing for Non-Profits.” This course helps students to analyze and compose writing suitable for non-profit organizations, including press releases and other public relations materials, position papers, reports, and grant proposals. Students research and learn from the writing of local and national non-profits and write for real-world situations. Though not required, students have the opportunity to participate in a service-learning component of the course by working with and for area non-profits, and many have shared work they’ve produced in class with the organizations they are studying--and have even secured jobs with those institutions as a result!

What’s more, several students in past “Writing for Non-Profits” classes have started their own non-profits, including the Food Recovery Network, MyMaryland.net, the Tap Root Foundation, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, The Do Good Challenge, Students Helping Honduras, Share Our Strength, and Food and Friends.

The Department of English and the Academic Writing Program are excited to support University of Maryland students who embody President Loh’s commitment to entrepreneurship, and to offer courses that provide service to the community while at the same time enriching student experience and research.