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Service translates to writing skills for freshman class

September 18, 2019

KOKOMO, Ind. –  What do ramen noodles, Gatorade, soup, and canned tuna have to do with writing?

The skills used to organize those foods for hungry students translate into writing, according to one Indiana University Kokomo faculty member. 

Karla Stouse, senior lecturer in English, began her reading, writing, and inquiry class for the fall semester by having students prepare bags of non-perishable foods for the campus food pantry.

“All the pieces we use for a writing project also work for a service project,” she said. “It shows students right away there is a practical application for writing and organizational skills, and focusing on a bigger picture. You have to look at your audience and your purpose, come up with a main idea or thesis, and do some research and planning.”

She recently attended a workshop on college food insecurity, and what she learned was on her mind as she planned her class, which is an introductory writing class taken by freshmen.

“As I started laying out the skills we teach in this class, it became obvious the skills we teach in this class are the same skills you would use for a service project. It was a good way to start the semester, and it addressed the concern I had about college food insecurity.”

Students say they’ve gained more than writing skills from the experience — it’s helped them build a community for themselves, as they learn how to be college students.

“I was nervous about college, and this project helped with that,” said Hannah LaLonde, Kokomo. “Now I have friends from this class I can text and talk to outside of class.”

Logansport resident Alex Villafana said it’s turned a group of strangers into friends.

“Karla said as she walked to our class, she could see students from other classes on their phones, but she could hear all of us down the hall, talking and laughing,” he said. “She couldn’t believe people of our age were talking, instead of being on our phones.”

Dwayne Zeissig, Noblesville, said coming from high school to college, he’s used to an English class just being about reading and writing. 

“This was a good way to take something from a class and apply it to something else,” he said. “We all connected with each other, and learned from each other.”

Students first researched a definition for food insecurity — a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life — and statistics about how it impacts college students. Stouse said they found varying numbers, ranging from 20 to 48 percent of their peers experiencing it.

They formed groups, each with a budget of $10, to pick non-perishable foods college students would eat, like ramen noodles, soup, Gatorade, granola bars, chips, pancake mix, and ravioli.

Stouse and her husband, Jeff, bought the supplies, and Zeissig, who works at Culver’s in Noblesville, asked for and received a coupon for a free value basket for each bag.

The class spent one session stuffing 15 bags, each with enough for one week of meals.

Now, they will translate the planning skills they used into their writing, Stouse said.

“We have talked about their capabilities to solve a problem, their ability to organize and carry out a project, and the good questions they asked as we planned,” she said. “I’m really proud of them. I thought they did a great job.”

She’s also pleased with the social benefits she’s seen.

“This project has paid dividends in ways I did not realize it would,” she said, “They have something in common now. They did some good, it wasn’t that difficult to do, it didn’t take a long time, and they’ve seen their efforts have benefits for others.

“Deep down, everybody wants to help people.”

Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.

Last updated: 09/18/2019