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All Things Texas Tech

Service Learning and Internships: The Third Component of Active Learning

Fall 2011

“Why is it that, in spite of the fact that teaching by pouring in, learning by passive absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still so entrenched in practice? That education is not an affair of ‘telling’ and being told, but an active constructive process, is a principle almost as generally violated in practice as conceded in theory. Is not this deplorable situation due to the fact that the doctrine is itself merely told? But its enactment in practice requires that the school environment be equipped with agencies for doing . . . to an extent rarely attained.”

—John Dewey (1859-1952) American educator and philosopher,
from his book, Democracy and Education, 1916

Students studying


Bob Smith


Imagine undergraduate students who work with nonprofit agencies to assist strategic planning. Imagine too, students who work side by side with congressional staff in Washington DC; others who assume major responsibilities in legal counseling; still others who provide management support in major construction or other projects as part of their education and training in certain professional areas. Sound far-fetched? It may to some, but the examples are all part of the service learning and internship landscape that is influencing greater and greater numbers of students who engage in active learning at Texas Tech University (TTU).

In recent All Things Texas Tech articles, we described two legs of the active learning triad: study abroad (Smith and Allen, 2010) and undergraduate research (Bailey and Smith, 2011). This paper completes the triad, offering an overview of service learning and internship opportunities organized and offered by faculty to Texas Tech students at all levels across the University. The article is completed with some concrete examples of students and programs that are playing an instrumental role in fostering life-long learning among students at TTU.

Service Learning

Practically all Americans are aware of volunteer efforts. Indeed, when it comes to giving – be it time or money – Americans are among the most generous people on Earth. And, when you say “volunteering,” listeners may picture “candy stripers” in hospitals, servers in food banks or children’s advocates in nonprofit organizations such CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, which has a branch here on the South Plains. We know the routine: You sign up, receive necessary training, and get to work, often with a head volunteer who serves as a resource person and mentor. The resulting work, typically a few hours or more per week, makes it possible for the enumerable nonprofit agencies to contribute so much to civilized society here and abroad. The “return” to volunteers includes unique and valuable experiences and the psychic satisfaction that comes with giving back to a community or nation that has given so much to us.

Now, consider volunteering with a twist. What if you take the notion of volunteer efforts but structure them in a way that you meet the learning objectives of a university course or courses? That is the primary objective of service learning, which emphasizes a weaving of voluntary effort and learning. For example, a management class on strategic planning and implementation would benefit from helping a non-profit organization with its planning efforts – all with students in the lead and all supervised by the instructor of record. It’s exactly the kind of effort that Associate Professor Claudia Cogliser pursues in management courses offered through the Rawls College of Business. In her MBA class, for example, students plan and implement programs that serve needs identified by local non-profits such as Women’s Protective Services, Guadalupe-Parkway Sommerville Centers, and the Children’s Home of Lubbock. These projects leverage students’ diverse work experience and business acumen gained in their MBA studies to provide much-needed resources for the local community. Another example may be found in the service learning offerings organized by TTU professors Jerry Dwyer, Gary Harris and Brock Williams (Mathematics and Statistics); and Tara Stevens (Educational Psychology). Their course offerings to pre-service education majors often contain a service learning component where the TTU students work with in-service teachers for collective learning and tutoring in middle school classrooms. In the past six years these TTU students have utilized their knowledge of mathematics and mathematical packages such as LOGO in nine middle schools in Lubbock.

As a final example, consider the work of Architecture Professor Elizabeth Louden who teaches courses on architectural heritage and preservation. As a part of these offerings, Dr. Louden integrates students’ efforts to assist communities with preservation projects by offering building research and analysis, documentation drawings, and visualization tools such as websites or 3D animations. Thus, the results of their course work tangibly serve community revitalization goals while student research and design proposals are supervised and evaluated throughout the process by the insightful devotion of their professor.

Learning by doing. That’s the mark of great service learning. It’s also a mark of interning – when it’s done right.


If you see the word “internship,” a health professional curriculum may come foremost to mind. And, the typical situation – be it internships for medical, nursing, pharmacy, or allied health students – involves assignments to clinical sites where tens of hours of work are pursued each week by students, all under the watchful eyes of clinical faculty members who are most often responsible for relatively few or even single students. The experiences will be directed through sets of learning objectives and grading will be required of the clinical instructor, not infrequently on a pass-fail basis for up to fifteen hours. During the internship, students are expected to deliver services to real patients in real time. And, in the health professions at least, internships have been around for a century or more.

In recent years, the internship model has been adopted broadly. Thus, we find analogs in fields such as architecture, business, counseling psychology, education, and law, to name just a few. In these non-health related fields, the supervising instructors are increasingly being referred to as “practice faculty” (as opposed to “clinical faculty”), and many will be professionals who contribute their time gratis, but are appointed and evaluated regularly by cognizant departmental or other collegiate faculty groups. The overall experiences for students in internships parallel that of service learning offerings but on a broader-based scale (i.e., internships may be required for certain degrees). Additionally, internships may occur away from campus, which requires students to relocate typically to another city for a semester or more. The experiences may, however, provide rich learning experiences for students. For example, consider the Washington, DC-based internship offered to students at Texas Tech.

Many may not know that Texas Tech maintains a residence facility on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. There, about twenty students per semester or summer period reside while working nearby in congressional and other government offices. The internships are typically managed day-to-day by congressional staffers or their equivalent, but under the overall supervision of a member of Congress or agency head. I have twice visited with students in the TTU federal governmental internship program and can predicate to the apparent learning and perspective expanding experiences that students attest to when asked. Imagine, for example, the student from a rural Texas town, or even one from a metropolitan area who perhaps has not traveled to DC, but now experiences, through her or his enrollment in the internship program, the life and culture of the federal governmental environment. Imagine too the opportunities that such a student has sampling the rich cultural heritage of our nation and world in DC museums and other cultural venues – most of which are free. Akin to the experience of students studying abroad, a student’s life “is changed forever” by an internship such as one based in our nation’s capitol. But, the Government and Public Service Internship program is not unique in its benefits. Well-crafted internships, in general, bring great returns in helping students build a framework for lifelong learning.

Reflecting on the Active Learning Triad

During the past three months, following on the heels of the administrative restructuring of the Division of Student Affairs and the placement of several units in the Office of the Provost (under the direction of Vice Provost Juan Muñoz), including responsibility for Red Raider Orientation (RRO), we have had a chance to rethink what messages we offer our incoming undergraduates. Accordingly, during this past summer, organizational and informational changes have been affected in RRO to emphasize with parents, prospective freshman, and transfer students that the academic experience is paramount in all that they will do once students enroll at TTU. A second message, reinforced by faculty and administrative officer contributors at the RRO sessions, is that students’ academic lives should not be submissive.

Graduates of generations past recall mostly passive college experiences: going to class, taking notes, studying, and passing examinations. At RRO we iterate and reinforce the message that however useful this learning model may have been, it ill-serves our current generation of students who must function in an increasingly complex world and deliver well-informed, ethically directed, skilled, and creative efforts throughout their professional lives. Meeting this functional objective requires active learning as is embodied in efforts such as study abroad, undergraduate research, and service learning and internships that have been targeted through this and the prior two essays. Let us hope that we can weave active learning in all that we do so that future graduates will uniformly have the representative experiences that have a powerful influence on lifetime learning.

As usual, we welcome your thoughts and suggestions on the material presented herein. Please direct your comments to Bob Smith at bob.smith@ttu.edu.


Bailey, Guy and Bob Smith. “Undergraduate Research: A Core Element of Texas Tech’s Movement to Tier One.” All Things Texas Tech 3 (1) 2011; http://www.depts.ttu.edu/provost/attt/2011/02/undergrad-research.php.

Smith, Bob and Katie Allen. “Studying Abroad—Is it Worth it?” All Things Texas Tech 2 (2) 2010; http://www.depts.ttu.edu/provost/attt/studyabroad.php.

Note Added

All of this author’s All Thing Texas Tech contributions (including those co-authored with colleagues at TTU) are circulated (prior to publication) to colleagues for feedback and suggestions. For this essay, the circle of reviewers included Ambassador Tibor Nagy (Vice Provost for International Affairs), who wanted to remind our readers that: “One point worth emphasizing is that the three active learning modules [study abroad, undergraduate research, and service learning internships] can be combined—such as doing a service learning project or internship while on study abroad. Professor Charles Klein’s (Landscape Architecture) ‘faculty-led’ Yucatan program, for example, includes a service learning component, and many programs available through study abroad providers have optional service learning or internship components which more and more participants are selecting. The Department of State also is offering more and more internships (in DC and at overseas embassies), and I am always delighted to discuss these with interested students.” Ambassador Nagy can be contacted at tibor.nagy@ttu.edu.

About the Author

*Bob Smith is provost and senior vice president, and professor of chemistry at Texas Tech University.

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