During October, students in the DZA Senior Capstone course deepened the needfinding (discovery) phase for their year-long research projects through experiential learning both in and out of the Weber classroom. In partnership with DZA Directors Chris Chapman and Adna Muliawan and Dean of Jewish Studies Rabbi Adam Mayer, Weber’s Director of Service Learning and Community Outreach Olivia Rocamora designed a series of interdisciplinary opportunities for conversation and service learning centered around each group’s chosen topic and community. This year, the students will work with four distinct project ideas/areas of study: Canine prosthetics, STEM education for underserved populations, automated cooking, and menstrual health.
Groups first gathered for a Torah Lunch and Learn experience that challenged students to consider how their topic has been debated and interpreted by Jews for centuries. Senior Irene Sharon embraced the opportunity to study Parsha Mitzora before learning about the Period Project, saying, “The opportunity to understand menstrual health from the biblical context of ritual purity vs. impurity, then work with an organization dedicated to embracing menstrual health education and modern practices, allowed me to have a nuanced understanding of shame and dignity.”
Paired with Jewish text study was the opportunity for students to engage in service learning and meet experts devoted to their topics’ most impacted communities. When making 55 period care packages for young women through the Period Project and 100 sandwiches for The Sandwich Project, students in the menstrual health and automated cooking groups learned firsthand immediate and tangible ways to help communities while also recognizing the need to reframe the challenges related to their topic as much more complex than simply providing a product or service. Through interviews with Dr. Melissa Christopherson, lead veterinarian at Dekalb County Animal Services, and Henry Lam, founder of The Eye Believe Foundation, which feeds individuals experiencing homelessness, students in the canine prosthetics and automated cooking groups learned how inextricably connected their topics are to so many other challenges in society.
Before students can decide what they want to create to serve their area of interest, they must slow down, take a step back, and “discover” the real problems that need to be solved, such as the cultures and beliefs that perpetuate problems as well as their individual biases about their topics. “This is why I teach,” says Ms.Rocamora. “True learning means an academic environment in which humanities colleagues walk across the hall and roll up their sleeves alongside an engineering class, synthesizing design thinking through Jewish texts and service learning for the sake of the community. This is true discovery.”
Future programming includes an upcoming visit to our community partner, Los Niños Primero, to see STEM education in action and brainstorm ways to deepen this learning, as well as an upcoming workshop with spoken word poet Andre Bradford, who will teach on the importance of viewing individuals and communities through a lens of empathy.