2017 Gulf-South Summit Award Winner Lindsay Chudzik, assistant professor in the University College Department of Focused Inquiry and Service-Learning Faculty Fellow, has been interested in service-learning for quite some time.
As a graduate student at VCU, Chudzik was taking Associate Professor David Coogan’s “Prison Writing” class when she got a first-hand look at incarceration.
“Right in the middle of the semester, I was pulled over for speeding one night,” she said. “The cop ran my tags wrong, and I was thrown into jail overnight. It was all sorted out, but during my time in the holding cell, I saw a lot of the injustices I'd been reading about unfolding in front of my eyes.”
Chudzik saw a woman who was going through intense withdrawal, who should have been in a treatment facility, thrown instead into the holding cell. Another woman was there for driving on a suspended license - driving to get away from an abusive boyfriend who had threatened her life.
This was a tipping point for Chudzik, who the next semester began shadowing Jamie Fueglein, assistant professor, Department of Focused Inquiry, in his service-learning courses. After graduating and teaching at another university out of state, Chudzik jumped at the chance to return to VCU to teach when a position became open - she knew that her community engagement interests would be supported at her alma mater.
Now Chudzik teaches eight sections of UNIV 200 “Inquiry and the Craft of Argument,” and all of them are designated service-learning courses. Her courses focus around two themes: the school-to-prison pipeline and feminist issues and intersectionality with a particular emphasis on access to education and healthcare.
Chudzik has developed sustained relationships with six community partners, including Carver Promise, Church Hill Activities & Tutoring (CHAT), Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR), Health Brigade, Safe Harbor and Girls for a Change. Her students mentor elementary students, develop programming and classes, help returning citizens learn new skills and apply for jobs, work in a clinic setting, assist with childcare, organize food and clothing drives and assist with data collection from participants in the “Date with Dad” program at the Richmond City Justice Center.
“My class focuses on teaching students how to effectively research and write,” Chudzik said. “Because they are watching their research unfold via their service, they connect to it far more, and it becomes more organic. They also have a built-in audience for their work, and because that audience is so much clearer, they can better understand language usage and research presentation.”
Karishma Soni, a student who took one of Chudzik’s courses, said that what stood out for her was her professor’s teaching style and personal connection to her students.
“She teaches skills that you will need for the rest of your academic career," Soni said. “She teaches the importance of empathy, communication and how to incorporate what you love into the career you choose.”
Lynn Pelco, associate vice provost of community engagement, said that in Chudzik's role as a Service-Learning Faculty Fellow, Chudzik helps to promote high quality service-learning pedagogy across campus and provides formal and informal service-learning professional development to Focused Inquiry faculty. This leadership has helped deepen service-learning engagement amongst the Focused Inquiry faculty and has significantly expanded the number of first- and second-year undergraduates at VCU who engage in service-learning. This early exposure to service-learning is particularly impactful, as data has shown that VCU students who take at least one service-learning class during their first two years graduate at higher rates than do students who don't take service-learning.
"Very few service-learning faculty members across the country have impacted their campus’ culture of community engagement as deeply as Professor Lindsay Chudzik," Pelco said. "Each year she introduces more than 200 sophomore-level students to the Richmond community and to their own ability to impact positive social change. She succeeds in teaching her students the academic content of the course and creates a safe learning space in which VCU’s diverse student body is able to transform its ways of thinking about themselves and the world."
In her contribution to the Gulf-South Summit nomination, Patty Strong, associate chair in the Department of Focused Inquiry, writes that Chudzik shows… “fearlessness in confronting some of the most important, yet difficult community issues, indeed national issues, of our time. What’s even more impressive, however, is her ability to engage her students in this important study and work in a way that is unflappable, courageous and committed.”
The Gulf-South Summit on Service-Learning & Civic Engagement annually recognizes the hard work and dedication of outstanding people and programs in the field of service-learning and civic engagement in higher education. For more information, visit gulfsouthsummit.org.
Contact Chudzik at firstname.lastname@example.org.