Carlyn Crowe is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Journalism and the Internship Coordinator for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC) at Drake University. She is a Faculty Fellow of our office, and enjoys engaging her students in meaningful and thoughtful service around the Des Moines community.
How did you get involved with the Office of Community Engaged Learning & Service?
I started back in 2011, with the Experiential Learning Council. I was at the forefront of the office’s development, and have been working with the office since its beginning. Back in 2011, the office was dedicated to faculty recognition. There was not a lot of training or even much of a commitment to service learning. Over the years, I have helped rebrand the office, not only keeping the faculty recognition, but also implementing that training and placing an emphasis on service learning. Because of this, faculty contributions are now based on personal interest, and allows a stronger and deeper connection to the Des Moines community.
What are your personal interests that you incorporate into your work with community engaged learning?
I am very interested in the topics of food and food insecurity. I teach the FYS “The Real Hunger Games: Food in America,” and saw how many students were genuinely interested in this idea of food insecurity. These students then got involved with service through my FYS by doing work at food pantries, as well as working with researchers to see how clients are served and whether we are actually helping these people or causing more harm. In 2014, this FYS started Drake’s chapter of the Food Recovery Network. At Drake, it is called Next Course, and aims to donate leftover food that has been untouched in the dining halls to various food pantries around Des Moines. Ever since then, my FYS has been closely working with Next Course as part of their semester of service.
Why do you think so many students enjoy doing this type of service?
I ask my students at the start of the semester what got them interested in taking this FYS course. Many responded, saying they worked in food service, either at a grocery store or in a restaurant, and saw how much waste was being produced. This inspired them to want to take action, and with food recovery programs such as Next Course becoming more and more popular, it has become so much easier to facilitate this type of service. I have also heard from students after the FYS was over, telling me they have continued to volunteer with Next Course, and that this class really opened their eyes and provided a new way of looking at food waste and brainstorming ways to meet the needs of the community.
Earlier, you talked about your FYS students working with researchers. Could you talk a little more about that?
DMARC (Des Moines Area Religious Council) was in the process of creating research projects, and reached out to us at Drake to find out if any of our students would be willing to help them as a sort of intercollegiate opportunity. One of the projects was tied to food and food insecurity, so my FYS worked with that group from DMARC to try to understand and learn more about the people who visit food pantries regularly. Through this research, we found that a large percent of the food pantry clients have diabetes or are diabetic, which made us wonder whether food pantries could be delivering healthier food. Through this project, students also found some misinformation about the clients who take advantage of food pantries and ran with it. This allowed our collaborative group to help deliver fresh produce to food pantries, and helped the pantries to implement healthier food.
Aside from the work you do with your FYS, what other service are you involved with through the office?
I have an interest in connecting Drake faculty to service opportunities on campus, in the community, and globally. Last year, I was the co-leader in the faculty development seminar for service learning. We had 20 faculty members participate. This year, I am in charge of the global service learning faculty development. Essentially, I am helping faculty develop new courses to include service or rethink current courses to be more service learning efficient and effective. We are working to change the notion of service learning-it’s not about how it works, but more that it engages students in a meaningful way and gives them an opportunity to reflect on what they are doing and the impact they are creating. This training is a way to start and continue to look at how service is being done internationally and giving faculty the resources needed. It also includes a follow-up after, which helps create and foster a long-term relationship with the faculty members.
What inspires your passion for service?
Service is just the right thing to do. Because of this, I try to incorporate service into client work. Capstones work with non-profit organizations (NPO), and working with these NPOs allows students to learn about these organizations, as well as provide students with service and teaching experience. I also have a personal connection to food and nutrition. This got me involved with local food, and from there, a snowball effect happened. Good nutrition led to good agriculture, which led to healthier ways of living and consuming. My love of growing food and eating fresh veggies sparked my desire to start a garden with my church to donate our harvests. If we have the means to help others, why shouldn’t we?
Can you tell me a little more about your work on a more global level?
I started getting involved with global service through a mentor who would lead an international seminar. I began to plan and organize other similar trips, and my work has stemmed from there. I have led four J-Terms, and the focus of these intensive courses is to learn from each other, learn about what needs to be done, and help the students get the most out of the course. We also strive to make it work in ethical ways-we don’t want to show up and fix the things we think need to be fixed, because that sometimes causes more harm than good. Instead, we build relationships with the local community, learn what they actually need help with, and assist them to the best of our abilities. In this instance, we typically help with issues related to poverty. A large amount of people need access to health care and childcare. Our goal is to dive deeply into one issue rather than try to tackle multiple issues in a short amount of time. This focus really reinforces the purpose behind the trip, and allows the students to return home with a positive experience, knowing they helped a community in need.
This interview has been edited and compressed for clarity.