Getting to know social inequality

May 15, 2017

Sociology class assignment allows students to give back in a big way

Assistant Professor Emily Milne had never asked a class to volunteer before, and she admits she was apprehensive about how her sociology students might react. Having come from the University of Waterloo where she did a post-doctoral fellowship in the School of Pharmacy, Emily had witnessed students participating in work-integrated learning (WIL) and the invaluable nature of hands-on education.

When she began teaching at MacEwan University in July 2016, the idea of integrating WIL into her Social Inequality in Canada (SOCI 361) course began to bloom.

Emily_Milne_story_imageRELATED: Researcher looks at interactions between Indigenous parents and their children's teachers

“I wanted to apply that experience to sociology because I find that experiential learning is almost needed more in my courses because a lot of the questions I get from students are about what they can do with a sociology degree,” says Emily.

In Fall 2016, with guidance from the university’s Career Development and Experiential Learning department, Emily included an element in her course that she had never tried before. Her 40 students were required to volunteer seven hours of their time at a charitable organization where they would be able to apply the concepts of social inequality they learned in the course to their first-hand experience. Throughout the term, they wrote self-reflections and at the end, they had the choice of submitting a paper or giving a presentation to share what they discovered.

“ Experiential learning is almost needed more in my courses because a lot of the questions I get from students are about what they can do with a sociology degree.Emily Milne 

“I always like to try different things in my classes,” she says. “I had never included volunteering before, but I really felt it was the right thing to do for this class in particular.”

For Sulekha Shabdi, the assignment was a gift. The sociology major is planning to transfer into the Bachelor of Social Work, and volunteers hours are a prerequisite of the program.

“I volunteered a lot before, but in university, it’s hard to make time,” says Sulekha, who found a placement working with youth through the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. “So with this class it was my opportunity, no excuses, to go out there and do more.”

“It was the first time where I felt like I was actually using my knowledge and I was getting more of a real, first-hand life experience,” says Haweya Ali, sociology major, who volunteered at Boyle Street Community Services. “We can learn about poverty and we can learn about homelessness, but it’s not until you witness it and see the effects that you really begin to understand social inequality in Canada.”

Read third-year anthropology major Daliso William Mwanza’s blog about his experience at the Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore as part of SOCI 361.

“They were so passionate and excited about the assignment, and it was so meaningful because a lot of them found placements that aligned with what they were most interested in,” says Emily.

The assignment was such a success that Emily plans to continue it in her SOCI 361 courses in the Fall 2017 and Winter 2018 terms.

“My biggest takeaway is that this experience was so important for my class. It was very successful, not only in how it connected the course concepts to their experiences—that made the ideas more real for them—but also in how it impacted them,” says Emily. “Giving a little bit of a push to guide them to find places they were excited about sparked that connection better than anything else I could have done.”

Many of the students not only went above and beyond the required seven hours, but several, like Haweya and Sulekha, have decided to continue volunteering. “I’m still at the Mennonite Centre and I liked it so much that I think maybe I want to go into immigration social work,” says Sulekha. “I told Emily I have to give her a big thank-you for that.”

Where did the students volunteer?

  • Amiskwaciy Academy
  • Boyle Street Community Services
  • Centre for Autism Services Alberta
  • Culture and language schools
  • Edmonton Food Bank
  • Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers
  • Edmonton Public School District (select schools)
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Hope Mission
  • Medical and health centres in Edmonton
  • Mustard Seed
  • Retirement/seniors communities
  • Scouts Canada
  • Social services organizations
  • Young offenders centres in Edmonton

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