Students and faculty at the College of the Muscogee Nation (CMN, Okmulgee, OK) created a service learning project last school year that linked students with community elders, and they hope the project will provide a model for future projects.
Project Management, with a focus on service learning, is a form of experiential learning within the Tribal Services Degree plan of study at CMN. Students enrolled in this course plan, implement, and participate in a tribal community service project to develop a better understanding of the Project Management function. This course is intended for students in their final semester before receiving their associate’s degrees. The Project Management course culminates with students developing a portfolio of their service learning experience that addresses local needs, documents civic responsibility, and highlights their achievements.
During the 2010-11 academic year, three Project Management students conducted their service learning with patrons of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Elderly Nutrition Program at the Elderly Housing Center in Okmulgee, OK.
During the fall semester, students Lisa Fowler and Tony Martin (both Muscogee) visited the Elderly Nutrition Program during lunch to introduce themselves and inform the elders about their upcoming project. The students then met in the classroom and developed a brief assessment survey to determine who was interested in the project, types of services they were interested in, and when they would be available to participate. The students returned and administered that survey during another lunch.
By analyzing the survey data, Fowler and Martin learned that a majority of the patrons were interested in receiving Internet and technology training in the afternoon from 2:00 to 3:00. Students then made preparations to conduct an Internet and technology training class at the housing center.
With help from Elderly Housing Manager Ivalene Tottress of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, they installed a wireless Internet signal at the Elderly Housing Center and coordinated with the Muscogee Nation IT department to make the Elderly Housing Center an Internet hotspot.
Students also began preparing lessons, including “turning on a laptop computer,” “connecting to the Internet,” and “surfing the web.” They also reviewed possible questions and scenarios in preparation for the first training session. Laptops used for the training came from the CMN library, the students, and the course instructor.
In mid-October, students began their first training session, which included five participants. (The remaining sessions consistently had at least three participants). The elders brought questions and had good attitudes about learning the technology.
Throughout the training sessions, the students helped the elders check email, search family histories, create Word and Excel documents, search hobby sites (such as woodworking, creative writing, and gardening), and purchase items online. The participants were eager to continue with the training sessions and were also appreciative of the students’ patience, knowledge, and time. The students ended the semester with a submission of portfolio items, which included a journal of activities, weekly log of time spent, and a summary paper.
During the Spring 2011 semester, Project Management student Christi Yates (Muscogee) learned about the project and continued the training sessions, beginning in February and ending in mid-April.
Despite inclement weather during the early part of the semester—which may have affected attendance—one faithful participant kept Yates occupied for the one-hour training sessions.
Eventually, more participants were able to attend, and many of the elders became proficient online shoppers and web surfers. Yates ended the eight- month project by having the Elderly Center participants complete an evaluation of the training sessions. Finally, she analyzed the data and reported the findings in her portfolio.
This Project Management course is designed to provide the students with experience in project design, management, communication, and accountability while also providing a service to the community. The elder community was a natural choice for CMN students because of its residents’ cultural connections. Culturally, elders have been an integral part of educating Native people through language, traditions, and experiences. The course proved to be an educational experience—and it created a link between CMN and an elder community.
The connection between the students and the elders also provided opportunities to discuss many topics. Many of the elders were interested in researching family histories and genealogies and reminisced about stories of the past. Web searches for hobbies also evoked stories of their former pastime activities. In conjunction with the educational experience gained by both parties involved, a social bond was created that will hopefully gain strength as more Project Management classes continue to serve the elder communities.
Future Project Management courses may be designed to research and apply for grants to provide the Elderly Housing Center with permanent computers to be used at the convenience of the patrons. Future courses may also create a more in-depth survey to inquire about other services needed. Whatever the future may hold for this course and the elder community, the course will be conducted with the greatest amount of respect to the community. The projects are designed to be aligned with the overall plan of study in the Tribal Services Program and are reviewed, approved, and supported by CMN administration. Community service is vital to the growth and development of CMN as an institution committed to molding future tribal leaders.
The College of the Muscogee Nation appreciates the Elderly Nutrition Center patrons, Elderly Housing manager, and Project Management students and faculty for all working together to contribute to the education of Muscogee people.
Monte Randall (Muscogee) is from Talladega Tribal Town and is a member of the Deer Clan. He is the dean of Student Affairs at the College of the Muscogee Nation.