Learning Interpersonal Communication through Service

hailey-adkissonFor most of us, stepping outside of our comfort zone can be, well, a bit uncomfortable. Students in Hailey Adkisson’s Interpersonal Communications class were asked to leap outside theirs, with a goal to develop interpersonal communication skills through volunteerism.  

Sixty students in three Comm218 classes completed 347.5 hours of volunteer service at local non-profits during fall term, part of a “service-learning” component developed by Adkisson.

Students volunteered at soup kitchens in Albany and Corvallis, at the Veterans’ Home in Lebanon, the Corvallis Multicultural Literacy Center, the ARC of Benton County, the Grace Center Adult Day Care facility in Corvallis, and at the Albany Boys and Girls Club. Since this was an interpersonal communication class, Adkisson wanted her students to interact directly with clients of the nonprofits and not be behind the scenes.

The data Adkisson gathered showed that although students were uncomfortable and nervous in the beginning, their volunteer experience helped them gain confidence about communicating outside of their comfort zone.  

Adkisson’s Service-Learning project was chosen for a Faculty Innovator award through LBCC’s Learning Innovation Center. The center supports faculty in their efforts to bring innovative teaching practices to the classroom for improved student success.

This particular project involved more than just changing a day of class curriculum; Adkisson had to rework the entire term, said Jessica Winans, Learning Innovation Center coordinator. “From the initial work of connecting with the non-profits to designing a creative final assessment, Hailey's project was a success for her and her students,” said Winans.

For the students, interacting with populations that had different interpersonal behaviors really challenged their communication skills, said Adkisson. At the veterans’ home, for example, students often worked with veterans who had memory care issues or who were non-verbal. Since they did not have the same interactive capabilities, the student really had to develop their skills to engage with them.

“The students had different motivations for picking which non-profit agency to work with,” said Adkisson. “For students going into the medical field, the Grace Center was a good fit, because some of the clients have memory care or mobility issues. It turned into a kind of internship experience for those students, and reinforced their career choice.”

Working with clients at the Multicultural Literacy Center for whom English is not their first language was also a challenge. “They really had to think about what they could do personally to communicate with the clients,” said Adkisson. “The students went in thinking that people are so different, but when they sat down and had a conversation they found they had a lot in common and could really learn from each other.”

For one student, the experience of volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club inspired him to change his major. He even landed a part-time job at the club, said Adkisson.

The students used journals to track their perceptions prior to volunteering and how those perceptions changed through the term. Using their journal entries, the students created "visual storytelling" presentations on their experience for their final class project. They had to connect at least four concepts or theories from interpersonal communication to their experience.

At the end of the term, Adkisson surveyed the nonprofits to make sure they received what they needed from the students. All of the agencies appreciated having the LBCC student volunteers, and are interested in participating again. “Ideally, this will be a regular thing in my interpersonal classes,” said Adkisson.

Adkisson will present the data gathered from her service-learning communication class to faculty who may be interested in integrating service learning into their coursework.

Video: Comm218 students Rebekah Suing and XuMei Cabatic volunteered at Stone Soup in Corvallis for their class assignment. Suing is studying art and psychology, and Cabatic is in general studies.

 Hailey Adkisson earned her BS from James Madison University and MA in Speech Communication from North Dakota State University. She served two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA, which sparked her passion to give back to and advocate alongside underserved populations. Prior to joining LBCC, Hailey spent seven years working in student affairs where she taught public speaking and social justice-based leadership courses.

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About Linn-Benton Community College: More than 18,000 students rely on Linn-Benton Community College each year for higher education including career technical education, transfer degree programs, professional development, corporate training, small business development, community education classes and more. Serving the mid-Willamette Valley with six locations including its main campus in Albany, LBCC partners with multiple business and industries to enrich the community and support economic growth. LBCC students choose from more than 80 programs and go on to be tomorrow’s innovators, leaders, skilled workers and community builders.

Story by Lori Fluge-Brunker, LBCC Institutional Advancement