Recent graduate Halima Abdi explains the significance of her service learning to Development Officer Emily Paulson.

Emily Paulson image

By Emily Paulson

The Department of English has been rewarded for its amazing work in service learning and public engagement with an Engaged Department Grant from the University's Office of Public Engagement. The grants were awarded to only seven departments across the entire University system. Because the department already has a stellar service learning program integrated into the curriculum, the grant provides an opportunity to improve and expand its engagement activities.

But what about the students who enroll in these programs? How are they being rewarded? When I heard from students in Eric Daigre's ENGL3505/3506 service learning class about the community service hours they chose to take on--in addition to the writing intensive component of the course--I was not expecting to hear that the experience itself was their reward.

Halima Abdi (BA 2009) is one of these students. After the first class meeting of Daigre's year-long Community Learning Internships, she thought, "On top of reading all these books, I have to spend hours each week tutoring? That is way too much." But Halima then remembered her nephews, whose parents are still learning English; they receive little parental assistance with their homework. "If I can help more students like them," she decided, "it is worth it." Over the year, she ended up volunteering nearly 100 hours and teaching 20 students through a Sumner Library program which helps students read, write, and communicate better, students like herself a decade ago.

When Halima moved to the United States and entered elementary school, she had been living in a refugee camp and had no experience with education. "I didn't speak any English," she says. "Words were just sounds to me. Kids made fun of me in school; they thought I was stupid." She proved them wrong, establishing a habit of determined studying which she continued through college, where she logged 13 hour weekend stints at the library.
Halima Abdi image
While Halima (pictured at right) applied to other Minnesota colleges, a University of Minnesota orientation sold her on the Twin Cities campus, and scholarships helped her attend. Last spring, she graduated with a double major in English and Communications, the first in her family to earn a college degree. She plans to attend law school; meanwhile she's writing a memoir. "I am so glad I came here," she says. "I have learned how to be independent. I have learned how to think better."

Halima is one of many students who have made the choice to take on additional community work while gaining valuable experience. We are looking for awards of $2,500-5,000 to immediately support English students participating in the public engagement and service learning programs. Hard work deserves reward, and these students are working both diligently and enthusiastically to the benefit of all of us.

Halima talks further about her background and her future. If you would like to support an English student involved in service learning or other areas of English in the Public Sphere, please contact me at 612-626-5141 or



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This page contains a single entry by cla published on September 24, 2009 8:32 AM.

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