A practice-based guide for creating STEM service learning courses

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Genna Miller
Minna Ng


This practice-based article describes two undergraduate service learning (SL) courses in STEM disciplines: economics and neuroscience. We share our experiences to encourage other instructors to develop their STEM SL courses. The top five majors by degree completion in order of popularity are computer science, economics, public policy, biology and engineering at our institution, Duke University, Durham, NC (Spicer 2023); four of these are STEM, yet they represent less than 20 percent of our SL courses (Whiteman 2023). This under-representation has resulted in fewer resources that are STEM SL- specific. The resources for SL in the social sciences are well established, but do not necessarily translate well to STEM SL courses.

There are many reasons to adopt SL for STEM courses. It offers students the opportunity to give back to the community and to learn in meaningful ways outside of the classroom. As described by the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U 2022a), ‘working with community partners is good preparation for citizenship, work, and life.’

We describe two basic models, the direct and indirect SL model, and how these were used in our courses. Based on our practice-based experiences, we developed four stages for our colleagues to follow when creating their STEM SL course: (1) identify course objectives; (2) build mutually beneficial partnerships; (3) design assignments; and (4) integrate reflections. Our goal was to share the course structures we developed using these stages so that others could adopt them in their STEM disciplines.

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Practice-based articles (Non-refereed)