Megan Griffin, Mitchell College’s AmeriCorps VISTA, has a wealth of organizing and community development experience from across the United States and beyond. When she had the opportunity to bring her skills to Mitchell – which she describes as a “hidden gem” – she took it. During her one-year term of service (through August 2023), she is charged with building the architecture of a service-learning program for Mitchell.
“This particular project really piqued my interest,” she said. “As someone with experiences in community organizing, as well as academic research, the notion of helping students to feel more embedded in the local community and helping them discover and develop their potential as agents of change really resonated with me,” she said.
Megan cites several reasons for why it is important for students to connect to the larger community.
“As one of my professors used to say: Mentis vita pro vita mundi—the life of the mind for the life of the world. Mitchell is all about developing the power of unique minds, and I think each student here has particular experiences, skills and understandings of the world that are important to share with the community,” she said.
“I also think this experiential learning opportunity will complement students’ education, and help them to think creatively, systemically and independently about social, environmental and economic challenges and help them explore how to apply their education to meet any challenge, be it professional, personal or social.”
“Lastly,” she said, “I think it’s a wonderful way for students to learn more about themselves, and to develop their interests, values and commitments.”
To better understand the current interests of students in service-learning, Megan created a brief online survey for them to complete and has been doing other outreach.
“So far, a little over 100 respondents have taken the survey. That gives us some helpful insight into what issues, organizations and service-based activities interest them. I’ve also been tabling, visiting classrooms and speaking one-on-one with students about this new opportunity,” she said.
She said that she has begun to develop a rapport with some students and feels inspired by their interest in a diversity of issues and how they conceive of community work and their role in the community.
Although it can be challenging to appeal to busy students, Megan said, “the novelty of this project also provides more opportunity for students to give meaningful input in shaping what service-learning at Mitchell will become.”
After completing her time in the AmeriCorps VISTA program, Megan, who will receive her master’s degree in rural sociology from Penn State in December, said that she would like to pursue a career in higher education, “ideally in a position that engages with the public good. Colleges and universities are such a hub for self-discovery, self-exploration and the creation of new knowledge. These are things that could be applied to address the ‘wicked problems,’ inequities and injustices facing our world.”