Alexis Willis, left, and Victoria Pentecost speak to their PSY153: Human Sexuality class after completing their service learning projects in December. The course will continue the partnership with the Janelle Grum Family Crisis Center of East Texas in the fall semester.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Stephen F. Austin State University students will have the opportunity to gain real-world experience while helping people in the community as part of a service learning project offered this fall semester.

Dr. Dusty Jenkins, SFA assistant professor of psychology, is coordinating the project through the Janelle Grum Family Crisis Center of East Texas, a non-profit organization that provides crisis intervention and advocacy services intended to prevent family violence and sexual assault.

Students enrolled in Honors PSY153: Human Sexuality will have the option to work with the Family Crisis Center in a variety of roles suited to the students' interests.

Jenkins said she chose the Family Crisis Center because it deals with many topics covered in the course.

"It's important for students to be able to apply what they've learned in class to real-world experiences when possible," Jenkins said. "Students who get the chance to go into the field and learn firsthand about issues tend to take away a deeper understanding of course concepts."

Jenkins said participating in the service learning projects could help the students after graduation land jobs or admission to graduate school while providing a valuable service to the Family Crisis Center and its clients.

"The client demand is often high and having the extra help from trained students can be very helpful to the paid employees," Jenkins said. "Students often go about their work with a lot of energy and excitement and have fresh ideas and perspectives that they can add. In addition, students might opt to continue volunteering with the agency after the semester has ended. Since nonprofit agencies often heavily rely on volunteer support, working with students is a great way for agencies to potentially expand their pool of community volunteers."

Amber Watson, primary prevention coordinator for the Family Crisis Center, said the service learning projects are beneficial to all involved parties.

"These learning projects were important to the student because they allow the students to see firsthand what it means to apply their education to work experience," Watson said. "It is important to our organization to give students the opportunity to learn in a hands-on manner. The students' work is important to clients because through learning they spread awareness of domestic violence and its impact on families."

Alexis Willis, a junior from Beaumont, Texas, completed a service learning project this past fall through the Family Crisis Center as part of the class taught by Jenkins. She said she had wanted a project where she could work with the community since she first enrolled at SFA.

"I gained a sense of caring or how to care and help people," Willis said. "Initially, I went into the project thinking I'm going to help so many people, and it actually helped me as well. I believe in this project and I helped get the word out to many students and parents about the fact that we actually have a family crisis representative on campus."

Victoria Pentecost, a freshman from Porter, Texas, also worked on the project this past fall through the class. As someone new to the area, the project had an added social benefit.

"Being a freshman, I didn't have any connections or knowledge of SFA or other areas around Nacogdoches, and I felt that the service learning project would be a great way to get involved," Pentecost said, adding the experience provided her valuable skills she can use to help other people.

"I was able to learn about the resources available to the students here at SFA, as well as reach out and spread the word about what we do at the Family Crisis Center," Pentecost said. "I also was trained to become a sexual assault advocate, which taught me a lot of communication skills used in handling delicate situations such as sexual assault and other forms of intimate partner violence."

Jenkins and Watson said the success of the service learning projects during the course has created a partnership they would like to continue.

"I feel that this service learning project was a valuable experience for the students, organization and clients as well," Watson said. "I look forward to working with Dr. Jenkins and her students in the future."