At science night at Como Community Center, children jab, poke and gouge marshmallows of assorted sizes with giant toothpicks, creating an array of spindly towers – and it’s all part of a service-learning project for a new class focused on empathy.
Several university students instruct the children on building strategies after passing out supplies, including tablets for drawing blueprints.
The students are enrolled in a new Honors Colloquium class called the Nature of Society: Empathy, which is taught by Wendy Williams, visiting instructor in the John V. Roach Honors College. The course explores the concept of empathy and considers whether or not it is something that can be taught.
“What we like about science night is the way they break it down for us,” 11-year-old Diavion Baldwin said.
Ten-year-old Jamyah Solomon said she agreed with Baldwin.
“And how they are nice, and how they help us and how we get to draw,” Diamond Williams said.
The grinning trio said they consider themselves to be family, although they are not related. Baldwin, Solomon and Williams were among more than a dozen kids who attended the Center’s first science night event.
Tara Kennedy, an aide at the Como Community Center, said math and reading programs are already in place at the facility, and she hopes the Tuesday night science projects will help boost school test scores.
“It’s a great idea,” she said. “It’s a major part of school, especially for the older ones.”
Besides science night, students in the Nature of Society: Empathy course are also working with the Center to plan a fundraising event and a marketing campaign, class member and sophomore strategic communication major Madison Oberg said.
“Como is a community that is less than 15 minutes from campus but feels like a different world,” she said. “There is very little awareness of the great work that is being done there already to provide the best opportunities possible to their children.”
Williams said she hopes the projects will be sustainable by community members when the semester ends.
Graham McMillan, class member and senior political science major, said he is helping plan an art booth for Como students during Christmas in the Stockyards. McMillan said he has realized since taking the course that empathy seems easier when put into practice.
He is not alone in this belief.
Lauren Corbet, class member and sophomore math major, said she initially thought scheduling service-learning time at the center would be a burden, but has instead found the opposite to be true.
“I get to go, and I get to be with these kids,” she said. “It’s one hour out of the week that I’m not thinking about the million other things I have to do.”