Empowering Communities of Disadvantaged Individuals and Locales with Advanced Support and Technologies

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 19–20, 2010

Howard University
Washington, D.C.


The Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems of Pace University is a leader in courses of service-learning in New York (Coppola, Daniels, Gannon, Hale, Hayes, Kline, Mosley, Novak & Pennachio, 2008). The faculty of the school in partnership with faculty from other institutions, such as Westchester Community College, is empowering non-profit organizations in helping disadvantaged individuals and locales. In these courses faculty have implemented different projects of support and technologies that are helping both disadvantaged individuals in improving their lives and organizational staff in improving their operations. The implementation is a product of undergraduate students engaged in the courses by the faculty in partnership with the non-profit organizations. In this presentation, faculty from both Pace University and Westchester Community College describe their service-learning courses in order to provide examples that can benefit other instructors considering expansion of projects of technology in initiatives of service-learning, as few presentations at this symposium focus on the process of service-learning and technology (Citurs, 2009).

Table 1: Program of Service-Learning at Pace University

Table 1: Program of Service-Learning at Pace University
Table 1: Program of Service-Learning at Pace University

Note: Table 1 is the program presented at the session and is not the full scope of service-learning at the Seidenberg School of the university.

These courses are customized to the needs of disadvantaged individuals and locales of non-profit organizations but are essentially generic in objectives and outcomes of the students. The students learn functions of the organizations and limitations encountered by them in helping individuals and locales. They learn the limitations and needs of the individuals in interacting in society. Through the faculty they learn the potential of technology-related projects in helping both the individuals and the organizations. From this learning they are in a position to be consultants (Kenworthy-U’Ren, 2000) to do the projects of support and technologies (Draper, 2004).

Assistive Communication Device Technology

Project Highlights:

While enrolled in the Assistive Communication Device Technology course, Seidenberg students customize “My Story” plans for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities at AHRC New York City. Each student in the course is engaged as a consultant, if not a mentor, to an individual with disabilities to develop person-centered plans that express the dreams and hopes of the individuals for interacting with others in society. The plans are integrated by the organizational staff and the students into text-to-speech tools with which individuals with disabilities in speech might present themselves. The students might further program the speech tools to specific requests of the individuals and the staff. The results of the course are that the individuals with disabilities have programmable tools with which they can interact more effectively with others, and the students have had a relationship with individuals less fortunate than themselves.

Hardware and Networking Technologies

Project Highlights:

The focus of Hardware and Networking Technology is for Seidenberg students to help in improving equipment and network technologies at multiple non-profit organizations. Each student in the course is engaged as a consultant and a member of a team that helps organizational staff in installing laboratories for networks and in maintaining peripherals and utilities at the sites. The students might prototype specific systems and technologies at the sites. The students refurbish the sites by soliciting technologies from funding grants or other sources for equipment. The results of the course is that, despite funding limitations of their own, the non-profit organizations have improved in-house systems and technologies, and the students have had the satisfaction of serving the organizational staff.

Intergenerational Computing

Project Highlights:

The Intergenerational Computing Technology course is focused on freshmen to senior undergraduate students of the Seidenberg School and the Lienhard School of Nursing at Pace, and those of Westchester Community College. Its goal is to improve the lives of older individuals living in assisted living, independent living, and nursing organizations. Each student is engaged as a mentor to an older individual and teaches that individual about front-end Internet technologies, such as e-mailing, searching and video chatting on the Web. Students learn about the physical impairments affecting older individuals through simulations prior to meeting the individuals at the residences, so that they understand the limitations of older individuals in integrating Internet tools. The older individuals learn practical skills of Internet tools through the students. One student wrote of her experience, “the smile that [my older individual] brings on my face with her one liner e-mails [is] priceless. Her e-mail makes me feel that the [project] … is making a difference in her life.” The results of this course are that older individuals at the sites have simple skills in Internet technologies, and could even serve as trainers to improve the Internet skills of their peers. The students begin to comprehend the challenges of aging, and to advocate for older individuals in society, something which they might not have considered doing before joining this course.

Lego Robotic Technology

Project Highlights:

The focus of Lego Robotic Technology is for undergraduate students to teach elements of Lego robotic technology to deaf middle-school students. Each university student is engaged in engineering features of new robotic tools. These students establish clubs in Westchester County for the deaf students for exploring further functionality of the tools. University students also help middle-school instructors in integrating robotic tools into courses at the New York State Deaf School. The course results in deaf students learning new skills that enhance their potential to major in science and technology at the university level. For the university students, this course results in increased sensitivity to disadvantaged individuals of society.

Web Design for Non-Profit Organizations

Project Highlights:

The focus of this course is on undergraduate students improving the public Web sites of Greenburgh Central 7 schools, also in Westchester County. Schools are frequently limited in upgrading their Web sites due to a lack of funding resources. Students are competitively engaged as members of teams in proposing innovative, undated versions of the sites, and integrating supporting technologies of the Web. The student teams present their prototype versions to the schools, in order for the staff to select the best-of-class operational versions for posting on the Web. This course results in the schools having highly presentable Web sites without expending monetary resources and in the students having the satisfaction of helping the schools while developing important skills.

Courses of Service-Learning and Technology: Program Summary

Each of the courses in our service-learning program fulfills a core knowledge requirement of Pace University in a three-credit semester of fourteen weeks. Faculty members frequently have conducted the courses at the non-profit organization sites, which are conveniently near to the university. Students write journal entries on their projects at the organizations and reflect on them in reports done for faculty at the end of the semester. Since 2003, over one thousand students have completed courses in the full program of the Seidenberg School. The program described here has been recognized by national Jefferson Awards for Public Service and numerous other awards, such as Verizon Foundation Thinkfinity Awards.

Lessons Learned

Based on the experiences on these service-learningprojects, the faculty of Pace University and Westchester Community College provide the following lessons learned that might be beneficial for best practices of success:

  • Collaboration between the managers of a non-profit organization and the faculty of a university on service-learning projects enables durable partnerships, as evident on the projects presented here;
  • Customization of the pedagogy of a course of service-learning to the needs defined by organizational staff (Sandy & Holland, 2006) enables a maximization of possibilities (McCallister, 2008) to support the non-profit organization, as especially evident on the Hardware and Networking Technology, Intergenerational Computing Technology, and Logo Robotic Technology projects;
  • Helping to change undergraduate students’ perceptions of disadvantaged or disabled individuals as a first day activity in service-learning courses enables improved partnering of these individuals and the students, as especially evident in the affliction simulations that take place before the Intergenerational Computing Technology project. As one student told us, “I learned not to be frightened of [disadvantaged individuals] because they are like you and me;”
  • Establishment of student teams in the pursuance of results enables formation of non-skilled and skilled students in technology and heightened interest in service-learning and solutions of technology, as evident on the Hardware and Networking, Intergenerational Computing, Lego Robotic Technologies, and the Web Design for Non-Profit Organizations projects;
  • Experimentation with technology-related projects enables improved interest on behalf of the students in practical service and solutions of technology, as especially evident on the Lego Robotic Technology and Web Design for Non-Profit Organizations projects;
  • Faculty functioning as mentors and not “sages on the stage” enables more engagement on the part of the students with technology-related problems and solutions, as suggested by the presented projects;
  • Focusing on the interactions of disadvantaged individuals, organizational staff and students in the process of service enables more meaningful outcomes of service (Wade, 1997) than exclusively focusing on the outputs of technology. The people are more important than the technology (Lawler, 2011, 6); this principle was highlighted by the Assistive Communication Device, Intergenerational Computing, and Lego Robotic Technologies projects;
  • Funding grants for service-learning and technology projects often available through the resources of a university can enable twenty-first-century, technology-based solutions that otherwise might not be feasible in a financially limited non-profit organization, as especially noted on the Assistive Communication Device, Hardware and Networking, and Intergenerational Computing Technologies projects;
  • Partnerships between a school of information systems and other schools of a university, if not other colleges and universities, enables holistic solutions of non-technology and technology not feasible in one school, as especially noted on the Intergenerational Computing Technology project; and
  • Strategic pursuit of projects and resultant technology-based solutions enables further projects and continued partnerships in the following semesters (Lawler, 2011, 14), as noted on the presented projects.

The lessons learned by our faculty insure productive programs of service-learning. Practices of success might be further learned by instructors if they initiate liaison in departments of outreach in a university (Prentice, 2004). Resource support by the Center for Community Action and Research of the Dyson College of Arts and Science and the Center for Technology, Learning and Teaching of Pace University was instrumental in the program success.


The service-learning courses of the faculty at the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems at Pace University and at Westchester Community College clearly benefit disadvantaged individuals and locales of non-profit organizations in New York. These projects are demonstratively improving the lives of the individuals and the operations of the organizations. The faculty has observed positive responses from the undergraduate students who have participated in these projects. The lessons learned through these practices offer potential programs of personal productivity, self-improvement, and social sensitivity (Kolb, 1984). The presenters hope that this presentation will be helpful to instructors at other universities as they include new technology-related projects in their service-learning programs.


Citurs, A. (2009). An integrative pre-capstone course approach to service-learning-creating win, win, win information systems-liberal arts. In D. Colton (Ed.), Proceedings of the Information Systems Education Conference (4354). Washington, D.C.: Educators Special Interest Group (EDSIG).

Coppola, J.F., Daniels, C., Gannon, S-F., Hale, N-L., Hayes, D., Kline, R., Mosley, P., Novak, H., & Pennachio, L. (2008). Civic engagement through computing technology. In M.J. LaBare (Ed.), First-year civic engagement: Sound foundations for college, citizenship and democracy. (pp. 76-78). New York, NY: Columbia, New York Times Knowledge Network.

Draper, A.J. (2004). Integrating project-based service-learning into an advanced environmental chemistry course. Journal of Chemical Education. 81(2): 221-224.

Kenworthy-U’Ren, A.L. (2000). Management students as consultants: A strategy of service-learning in management education, working for the common good. In P. Godfrey & E. Grasso (Eds.), Concepts and models for service-learning in management. (pp. 55-68). Washington, D.C.: American Association for Higher Education.

Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Lawler, J. (2011). Critical success factors for partnering with nonprofit organizations on digital technology service-learning projects: A case study. In M. Bowdon and R. Carpenter (Eds.), Higher education, emerging technologies, and community partnerships: Concepts, models, and applications. Hershey, Pennsylvania: IGI Global.

McCallister, L.A. (2008). Lessons learned while developing a community-based learning initiative. National Service-Learning Clearinghouse.

Prentice, M. (2004). Twenty-first century learning: How institutionalized is service-learning? The Journal for Civic Commitment.

Sandy, M. & Holland, B.A. (2006). Different worlds and common ground: Community partner perspectives on campus-community partnerships. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 13 (1).

Wade, R.C. (1997). Community service-learning: A guide to including service in the public school curriculum. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

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Spring 2011: Engaging Students in the Community and the World