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Centenary University offers HyFlex approach to community service

Pandemic sparks surge in creative new ways for students and faculty to participate in virtual and in-person service opportunities

HACKETTSTOWN, NJ (Warren County) – Community service is strong at Centenary University this fall, as students and event organizers find creative new ways to present opportunities to help others. Through virtual and in-person events, the University has offered a robust calendar of service events through specific academic courses, as well as Centenary’s clubs, organizations, and athletic teams.

This semester, the University provided students with the option of attending classes in-person, online, or in a HyFlex format combining on ground and virtual instruction through its new Centenary Choice program. Community Engagement Coordinator Rachel Danitz said service opportunities followed a similar format that respects the individual comfort levels of students while fostering a strong connection between students studying virtually and in person.

Almost 300 students participated in service projects this fall through courses, clubs, and organizations, according to Danitz, who noted that Centenary athletics teams also organized service events this semester. Of the 73 students participating through her office, 44 were first-time volunteers. In addition, 63 percent of participants volunteered virtually. “I’ve been surprised at how enthusiastic students have been for the virtual service events we’ve offered, since many have to spend so much time online for their classes,” Danitz said. “A number of fully-remote students whom I’ve never worked with have engaged in service this year. Virtual opportunities with our community partners are now available that we’ve never had before.”

While the University’s organizations offered a host of more traditional in-person service opportunities—from a Habitat for Humanity build, a river cleanup, and voter registration drives to collecting donations of food, coats, toiletries, shoes, and clothing—virtual options offered new ways to serve others. Throughout the semester, Centenary students volunteered to send thank you cards to veterans and first responders, participated in pre-Election Day text banking to get out the vote, and became more knowledgeable about voting issues through the Virtual Voter Education Challenge.

In addition, a number of Centenary professors incorporated service learning into their courses to foster stronger community connections. Students in an English course taught by Associate Professor of English Dr. Robert Battistini worked with the League of Women Voters on a community postcard campaign to encourage area residents to vote, while education students taught by Assistant Professor of Education Lexis McCoy organized virtual story times and prepared educational resources to assist teachers and parents with homeschooling during the pandemic. In addition, Assistant Professor of English Dr. Carol Barnett’s English students created a mentorship program, complete with virtual storybooks, for students at a local charter school.

While Danitz hopes that the end of the pandemic will again create more in-person opportunities for service, she does believe that the virtual component will remain important. With the University’s spring break canceled due to the pandemic, plans are already underway for Centenary students to participate in HyFlex winter service opportunities with community partners in January. During the spring semester, Assistant Professor of Biology James Monks, D.C.’s science students will also mentor and provide supplemental learning materials to science students at Hackettstown High School.

“Service brings so much meaning and depth to the college experience,” Danitz said. “The shift to virtual platforms has opened up even more opportunities for our students. This pandemic has been unlike anything we’ve ever experienced, but it’s also pushed us to innovate in ways we never dreamed possible. The beneficiaries of that creativity have been our students and community partners, whom we’re so proud to work with.”

Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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