Student Spotlight: Dani Harton

Dani is a senior in CCAS majoring in Human Service and Social Justice. Anthony Hammani, a community engaged scholar at the Nashman Center, sat down to talk to Dani about her experiences in service-learning courses, HSSJ, and what she will take away from the program. 

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Dani first learned about the HSSJ program in Phyllis Ryder's University Writing course, a service-learning class. She wasn't aware of service-learning before she found herself thrown in the middle of it, and now you'll find her saying, "Everyone should take service-learning!"

It allowed her to become more engaged in the community and she changed majors to take more service-learning courses. The expectation was to engage the community in authentic ways so she registered for more of them. 

In Dr. Wendy Wagner’s Ethical Leadership course, there was not a direct service experience, but a group project co-created with a community partner.  Her group worked with Thompson Elementary, planning and executing field trips to Smithsonian Museums, including pre and post reflection worksheets that aligned the trips with the social studies curriculum. By working on this group project, she learned to observe group dynamics, reflected on her own leadership practice, and also had the opportunity to delve into the field of education. 

The focus of the class was to examine the evolving scholarship of leadership, applying a variety of theories to the real word examples that emerged through their group projects.

Community-engaged scholarship strengthened the academic work. Dani learned to apply theory to inform how she worked with her peers, with the Thompson students and the teachers. She has taken a lot of classes without a service-learning component, and found it difficult to understand how those subjects applied in the real world.

When applying theory to real life, Dani took things she was learning in class such as positivism and trait leadership and explored the extent to which those approaches worked for each service-learning group that met outside of class. The groups spent time reflecting on how leadership theory informed and explained how they were able to work together, "The things we talked about in service-learning classes do directly apply to real life."

Dani went on 4 or 5 Saturday field trips with 5th graders. Thompson Elementary is dominantly Latinx and she identifies as Latina. Dani found it cool to connect with students in that way and said that students were both “hilarious to interact with” and “ brilliant.”

To explore the learning objectives of one trip, Dani talked about the civil war and compared it to contemporary events and social environments the students were all experiencing now. The experience solidified the importance of social studies for her and she was able to support that curriculum by helping to develop the program. 

Overall, throughout all of her service-learning experiences, Dani felt learning how to ask the right questions was important. She said knowing that you have to ask questions and listen to feedback from  community partners and participants. She says the service-learning experience is not impactful for community participants or you if you don’t do so. It was difficult for her to understand this at first, but has become the foundation for how she serves today.