Penn College class preps for service-learning trip to Dominican
Families in the Dominican Republic will receive critically important water filtration systems when 21 Pennsylvania College of Technology students and two faculty members travel there in late spring as part of the institution’s 2023 study-abroad program.
Their journey follows a 16-week Global Service Learning Experience course taught during the spring semester by Wayne R. Sheppard, assistant professor of construction management, and Rob Cooley, associate professor of anthropology/environmental science. Both will accompany the students on the June 10-19 trip, which aims to make a substantive difference in the communities they will visit while impacting the students participating.
“This semester, I have learned about the culture, history and tradition of the people we are going to help,” said Chris A. Fisher, a construction management student who will be among those making the journey. “My professors have given me the tools needed to enter a foreign place, with cultural and language differences, and hopefully be affected by the native people.”
The Middleburg resident said he has several objectives for the experience.
“First and foremost, give back to the people that are in need,” Fisher explained. “Another hope for this trip is to gain an understanding of how nice we have it here in the United States. Simple things like building codes for our homes and clean running water are not common in some places around the world.”
Those differences – as well as what brings people together – are among the topics explored in the three-credit course.
“Beginning with an overview of contemporary Dominican culture, the course provided content that connected the current socioeconomic characteristics of the nation with the legacy of colonialism, development and globalism,” Cooley said. “While it is certainly helpful to provide aid to address immediate needs like hygiene, nutrition or clothing, empowering people with the tools, technology and knowledge to help themselves for years to come creates community/population/national-level benefits.”
That is how the course connects culture, history and diversity with construction management, business and society.
“If a person is ill from contaminated drinking water, they cannot go to school or work. If they don’t complete school, that limits their work capabilities. If they can’t work, they can’t earn money. If they spend money on medical care due to contaminated water, that reduces money for housing, food, school and transportation,” Cooley added. “Helping community members ensure they have reliable, clean drinking water has the potential to break the cycle of poverty and help them lift themselves up to a better standard of living.”
The course covers many general concepts, but also encourages students to apply ideas and knowledge from their program of study. Fisher clearly understands the “immersion, investigation and introspection” referenced in the syllabus.
“When I return to Penn College in the fall,” he said, “I hope this class and trip will make me appreciate my day-to-day even more after experiencing what other people deal with.”
Throughout the semester, the students have staffed information tables at high-traffic locations across campus, calling attention to the staggering dearth of potable water in much of the world. The statistics they cite estimate that 771 million people around the globe don’t have a source of safe water, which can lead to such serious health conditions as dysentery, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and E.coli.
The class has been collecting donations to buy water filters, which are being provided at manufacturer’s cost of $25 each. The group will transport and distribute dozens of filters that, with proper maintenance, can indefinitely provide clean drinking water to families in the Caribbean nation.
To purchase a water filter, visit College Relations’ Global Experiences giving page.
Sheppard, who has traveled to the Dominican Republic several times, said the group will also be building a house, completing multiple smaller projects, and serving in various ways at a local dump, an orphanage, a special needs facility and other sites.
“Students will experience many different aspects of service and different cultures,” he said. “While these activities are great, the lifelong influence on these young people, and their compassion and community involvement, is something I am excited to see.”