Chicago media covers student service learning in class project

Feb 15, 2015

For North Central College students in a Group Process class, their coursework is all about service learning and real-life experiences. It’s the best way to learn teamwork and practice decision-making skills, says Amy Buxbaum, associate professor of speech communication who designed the service-learning project for the course.

Buxbaum wants to give students a realistic group experience where they make significant decisions and accomplish things they couldn’t do on their own. Since the project-based course was introduced 10 years ago, more than 500 students have raised $90,000 for nonprofit organizations.

The service-learning component reinforces the College mission—to prepare students to be informed, involved and productive citizens who contribute to their community—making it central to their experience. “A course project is a great opportunity to teach students these values, real-life skills and see tangible outcomes,” says Buxbaum.

Students work in project teams to raise funds for a charitable organization they choose. The project of one group caught the attention of Chicago reporter Craig Wall with Fox 32 News. Group members chose to raise funds for Bike Bald, a local nonprofit, and specifically a boy named Kellan (photo, left), age 3, who needs a specialized wheelchair. Born with cancer, Kellan required chemotherapy and surgery to remove a large tumor on his spine, which left him paralyzed at just 3 months, though he is cancer free now.

“His story is one we wanted to support, and his personality is so adorable and positive,” says Natasha Sandu ’17, one of five group members.

Connor McGury ’18, a board member with Bike Bald, made the connection with Wall, who came to campus with a video crew to tape students in the Group Process class. He also interviewed Kellan’s family and the executive director of Bike Bald for an evening TV newscast, which aired Feb. 19. Securing major media exposure brought attention to Kellan and encouraged group members to raise their $2,500 fundraising goal. Just hours after the program aired, funds had topped $9,000.   

Karina Reitz ’17, Daniel Rotolo ’17 and Ken McMahon ’15 also are members of the group. “We’re all from different majors: German, computer science, interactive media studies, sociology, international business,” says Rotolo. “We bring different perspectives and backgrounds, but it works with the tools we’re learning in class and getting the opportunity to practice them as a team.”
Reitz agrees: “We each have our own set of skills, strengths and personality. Starting out we didn’t know each other but we’ve grown and learned a lot.” From the beginning, the group set some ground rules for working together. “Everyone has a voice. Speak your mind. Your opinion is valued. Everyone contributes to the team,” says McGury.

Fundraising efforts have centered on a crowd-funding website, which the group created and shares on their individual Facebook pages. Group members also have raised money selling candy grams on Valentine’s Day, held raffles for gift cards and partnered with Potbelly’s Naperville restaurant, which will donate 25 percent of its sales during the dinner hour on Feb. 20.

Teaching the Group Process course during winter term is Emily Cramer, visiting assistant professor of speech communication. Other class groups are raising funds for DuPage Pads, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH USA, Our Little Brothers and Sisters), Heifer International and Ray of Hope Autism Support.

Based in Naperville and founded by a three-time cancer survivor, Bike Bald supports children and families affected by cancer by hosting weekly events that incorporate biking and cancer awareness. Visit to learn more. Click here to give to the student project.