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An Educator’s Entrée into Research on Service-Learning


ann anaebereAnn Kiki Anaebere recently completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at UCLA School of Nursing in Spring 2012 and is an Adjunct Faculty at Mount St. Mary’s College, Department of Nursing.  Ann also continues to practice clinically as a Registered Nurse. She has previously worked as a Registered Nurse in Intermediate Care/Telemetry and Primary Care. Currently she works in Public Health Nursing with Queens Care Health and Faith Partnership (Parish Nurse Program) and for Kaiser Permanente, West Los Angeles as a Nurse Care Manager. In these positions Ann has worked with various minority, uninsured and medically vulnerable populations within Los Angeles County.

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I will learn.
–Benjamin Franklin.

I first came across this aforementioned quote, a few months after completing my PhD in Health Disparities and Vulnerable Populations Research at UCLA School of Nursing. I was doing an online literature search to prepare for a lecture I was to conduct for an undergraduate level Global Health class. As I continued to read the article, the next byline in bold italics read “Service learning.” My eyes continued down to a description of a new service learning curriculum that was being developed at a School of Nursing on the East Coast.  The nursing students as part of their Professional Nursing Role course, worked with a women’s shelter in Mexico to construct a health education curriculum that focused on dental care, basic hygiene and nutrition. 

After I finished reading a summary of the students’ service learning experience, I again looked at the article’s byline: “Service Learning.” I hadn’t heard about this area before and I really had no idea what service learning was. However, from my brief reading of that online article I couldn’t help but become excited about the linkage made by the nurse educators’ between student service, learning and community development. Pairing these concepts seems like a no brainer to me. Engage students in service within their community as a tool for supporting their professional development and learning. It was immediately easy for me to recognize the mutual benefit that such a service learning curriculum could have. For example, it could help support vulnerable populations’ access to care and health services, while at the same time provide important real world experience for nursing students prior to beginning their professional roles.

Instantly, the wheels began to turn in my mind. I would be beginning my Postdoctoral Fellowship at UCLA School of Nursing and I wanted to learn more about the area of service learning and service learning research. I was intrigued.

When I started my Postdoctoral Fellowship at UCLA, I immediately knew that service learning was something that I wanted to incorporate and focus on in much of my current and future research work. The summer prior to starting my Postdoctoral Fellowship, I begun an email correspondence and set up an appointment to meet with the Director of the UCLA Center for Community Learning. It was during one of our email exchanges that the Director referred to a text that references John Dewey’s educational and social philosophy of education and learning. She mentioned in our correspondence that examining Dewey’s perspective would give me a window into the principles of service learning and would shed light on how it differs from volunteer or field experiences. It was in my initial reading that I learned how John Dewey's educational frameworks were key in informing the theory of service-learning. Furthermore, it became clear why the principles of service learning (grounded on the premises of learning from experience, reflective activity, citizenship, reciprocity and community) support student’s academic development.

I continued to spend most of my summer preparation for my year fellowship reading articles that examined community-campus partnerships for health science students and service learning curriculum in nursing education. I ordered a few texts online that focused on the theoretical models examining pedagogical strategies for nurse educators who utilized service learning as a tool to provide academic instruction. While I was reading through the various texts I had obtained, I jotted down questions I would raise during my meeting with the Director at the UCLA Center for Community Learning.


When I finally met with center’s Director towards the end of the summer, I was very happy to see that the time that I spent reading about service learning allowed our dialogue to delve beyond some of the introductory concepts of service learning and into some of my research/educational interests. We discussed my work in Chronic Disease Prevention/Management ranging from hypertension, diabetes to HIV, as well as my dissertation work looking at sexual decision-making and African American women. I further let her know that although I hope to conduct research that informs the public and health practitioners, one of my primary goals is to develop health science curriculum that will allow future health professionals (especially nurses) to garner real-world experience and link with diverse populations prior to beginning their professional roles. As we continued to talk and brainstorm, she suggested that I continue to review the service learning literature and also audit the Perspectives on Civic Engagement class that she would teach in the Fall. I immediately thought that was a great idea and believed that was time well spent as part of my first quarter into my fellowship.

I spent the beginning of that Fall in my postdoctoral fellowship auditing the weekly Perspectives on Civic Engagement course, emailing and corresponding with one of my Postdoctoral mentors Dr. Mary Molle (who has expansive experience in Service Learning and Community-Academic Partnership Research), as well as a few other faculty nationwide to learn about their previous and current active research in service learning. It was amazing to see the commitment of faculty to this research trajectory and the diverse application of service learning in the health sciences. During my fellowship year, I also had a chance to meet with the one of the administrators at George Washington University to learn about their health service learning program named the Interdisciplinary Student Community-Oriented Prevention Enhancement Service (ISCOPES). Through this program health professional students from the Schools of Medicine, Physical Therapy, Physician Assistant, Health Services Management and Leadership, and Public Health actively engage in service learning experiences. Learning about their program, allowed me to see how truly important service learning research is to student academic development and the community.

Engaging in these many activities for the first few months of my Postdoctoral fellowship helped me greatly as I sought to develop my service learning research proposal. My finalized proposal focused on developing a service learning curriculum that would support nursing students’ understanding of HIV Prevention and Chronic Disease Management for HIV-positive individuals. The service learning experience was implemented at two community based organizations in Los Angeles County and involved senior level Bachelor of Science Nursing  students at a local college in Southern California. This qualitative research pilot study included a total of 12 nursing students (10 females and 2 males). The students were to complete a 30-hour community service learning experience. The 30-hours completed would subsequently be applied to their community health nursing clinical practicum hours.

Prior to beginning their service learning experience, the students had to complete a 2 hour course. In the first hour of the course I reviewed HIV prevention, pathophysiology and treatment with the students. In the second hour of the course, I reviewed the principles of service learning and provided an overview of the two community-based AIDS organizations where students would have the opportunity to complete their service learning experience. Students had to complete written reflections according to the prompts that were associated with each reflection assignment. The students were also instructed to complete four reflections at different time-intervals of their service learning experience (i.e.: at the start of their service experience, 10 hours into their service learning experience, 20 hours into their  service learning experience and at completion of their 30 hour service learning experience). Each student who has completed the service learning experience also completed an exit interview that lasted no more than one hour. Finally, an interview with our community partners for this service learning research study will be completed so as to garner insights on how future service learning activities can be implemented to support both student learning and the community partners’ infrastructure.  It is my hope that the students’ reflections and the interviews completed by the students and community partners will shed light on how I can continue to develop my service learning research trajectory.

As I continue to complete my first service learning pilot study, there are a number of lessons learned that I will carry with me into my future service learning research work. Although I have learned much on this journey, there are two important things that will stick with for me for a very long time. The first has been witnessing the strong commitment of professionals and researchers to service learning work.  Secondly, I have been encouraged by the enthusiasm expressed by both my students and community partners as it relates to service learning. It has reinforced the great benefit that academic-community partnerships can have on student- learning and meeting the needs of diverse populations.

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