More than 100 business students at Colorado State University are sharing what they learn in class this semester with 1,250 Fort Collins elementary school students as part of an extensive community-service project.
Through a variety of hands-on activities, elementary school students learn the basic concepts of economics as well as how a business works and the important role business plays in today’s society.
The program, run in cooperation with Poudre School District elementary schools and Junior Achievement of Fort Collins, also provides college students opportunities to polish their presentation skills and learn the importance of giving back to the community by sharing knowledge.
Assistant professors of management Mary Tucker and Anne McCarthy incorporated a service-learning project in three spring-semester classes to expose students to the value of community involvement. The professors also plan to use the project for a research study that evaluates whether service-learning programs influence students’ intention to be involved in community service projects after graduation.
"Community-service projects are an important and valued part of the college experience," Tucker said. "We find that once the students get into the classroom and work with children, they see the benefits of the experience and want to continue it throughout their lives." The college students are divided into teams and teach five sessions in one elementary class. Junior Achievement, which has created an extensive K-12 community service program, provides course materials for each grade level and coordinates classroom visits with Poudre School District.
Activities explaining different principles of economics vary by grade level. Fourth-graders, for example, participate in interactive lessons that illustrate how natural resources are used in the economy and how businesses make decisions based on the resources available.
Students in other grade levels learn the difference between wants and needs and the different roles private sector and public sector industries play in the economy.
"College students who participate in this program walk away with greater self-confidence and a better understanding of not only what they learn in class, but how they can make a difference in the community," said Kristi Allsman, senior district manager for Junior Achievement’s Rocky Mountain region, which is based in Fort Collins. "Projects of this kind are extremely valuable to the elementary students involved. They learn the basic aspects of business and also are exposed to a new member of the community." Allsman added that the service-learning project dovetails with a new law beginning this fall that will require all Colorado elementary schools to teach economics.
The community-service project under way in the College of Business is one of many taking place in other departments on campus.
Since the university’s Service Integration Project began in 1992, more than 1,000 students each year participate in service-learning projects as part of classroom activities, said Cindy Cleary, assistant director of the Office of Community Service. Cleary oversees the service integration program.
"Today’s students are idealistic and they want the opportunity to act on behalf of that idealism in a meaningful way," Cleary said. "In addition, an increasing number of professors at Colorado State expect students to participate in a community project just as they are expected to do research or take a test. It’s a valuable part of students’ college education." McCarthy said research shows that people involved in community service projects benefit emotionally and psychologically from their experiences.
"We want the students to realize that helping others benefits them as much–if not more–than the people they help," McCarthy said.