By Reagan Foster
Posted on: December 10, 2018
University 101 instructor Tom Syfert was raised understanding the importance and reward of community service. He has been involved in service most of his life and believes his students can benefit from serving others during their first semester. In fact, he thinks it is so important that he organizes a service project for his University 101 class each fall semester. “Students learn a lot in college, but if [they] can learn the importance of serving others, then that could be a lot better than [their] degree…I want my students to learn to live a life of service.”
In the eight years Tom has taught University 101, his classes have served the community through Home Works, a nonprofit organization that provides home-repair services to low-income homeowners. Most of the homeowners cannot afford to have the repairs done on their own.
When identifying service opportunities for his classes, Tom chooses sites close to campus and repair projects where his students can perform the required work on their own. In the past, his University 101 students have replaced roofs; built a wheelchair access ramp; demolished, renovated, and rebuilt decks; and painted the exterior and trim of houses. This fall, his class worked two different weekends to paint the outside of two homes.
“We have a lot of privileged students [at USC], and when these students go into these depressed neighborhoods, their eyes are opened. They are not used to seeing these types of situations.”
- Tom Syfert, University 101 Instructor
Tom prepares his students for the service experience by talking about privilege, asking them to consider what people have given them over the years, and emphasizing how important it is to give back to the community in which you live. “We have a lot of privileged students [at USC], and when these students go into these depressed neighborhoods, their eyes are opened. They are not used to seeing these types of situations.”
The students in Tom’s classes find their service experience to be both meaningful and fun. “The students eat it up and some get to work with power tools for the first time, which they enjoy.” Students usually spend time with the homeowners they are helping and this is often the students’ favorite part of the experience. Most homeowners are widows and elderly people who do not get to interact with others often; they love having the opportunity to spend time with the students. Meagan Jacobin, a student in Tom’s fall 2018 University 101 class said, “Before arriving [at] the house, I was excited knowing that my University 101 class would be bonding over something so fun. It definitely is an eye opener and makes you feel grateful for what you have.” Another student, Gabby Carrara added, “We felt like we were improving the community and that we were truly making a difference.”
“I was excited knowing that my University 101 class would be bonding over something so fun. It definitely is an eye opener and makes you feel grateful for what you have.”
-Meagan Jacobin, University 101 Student
Tom has found that participating in community service reduces his students’ fears about going into neighborhoods they might otherwise avoid. “I believe that it’s important for students to be put in an environment where they are uncomfortable.” The homeowners at the service sites are always gracious and appreciate the students’ help, and this truly changes student’s perspectives about the people who live in the neighborhoods where they are serving. The class has to work together to overcome their insecurities.
After their experience, many students are excited and encouraged to participate in other service opportunities outside of University 101. For example, Tom talked about a time when he served with Home Works during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service and ran into two of his former students who were also serving. He had no idea they would be there but was thrilled to see them giving back to the community on a day they had off from school.
Tom also shared that the service experience tends to bring the students in his University 101 class closer together and positively impacts the community and environment within the classroom for the remainder of the fall semester. His students, including Meagan Jacobin, see that, too. “It took a lot of teamwork, [but now we] feel closer to our teacher and the rest of our classmates.”