PULSE Intertwines Coursework And Service
Published: Sunday, September 22, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 22, 2013 22:09
The Aristotle quote, “What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing,” is splayed across the PULSE information section of the Boston College website. And this quote captures the mission of PULSE poignantly.
The majority of students enrolled in PULSE take a year-long, 12-credit, core-fulfilling course in philosophy and theology called “Person and Social Responsibility.” In addition to classroom work and discussion, students are required to volunteer at a field placement in the surrounding area for 10 to 12 hours a week.
“For me I think PULSE is a unique way to learn philosophy and theology,” said Sacha Ramjit, Pulse Council member and A&S ’15. “You get to learn something that can be really abstract and conceptual and then you go to service placements and you learn how to apply those abstractions to the real world—which is what philosophy and theology really is.”
Ramjit reflected on the value in wrestling with texts such as Rousseau’s Origin of Inequality, and then actually being able to go to a homeless shelter and get a deeper understanding of what inequality really means.
The PULSE program has partnerships with over 50 agencies throughout the greater Boston area, which host BC students for the service portion of the PULSE course. Agencies vary greatly, and include institutions that expose students to difficult realities such as addiction, homelessness, domestic violence, incarceration, and special needs.
Once students have completed PULSE either their freshman or sophomore year, they have the opportunity to remain involved with the program. The PULSE Council is a group of 18 students who have previously taken PULSE and have been chosen to continue assisting the program as student leaders. Each PULSE Council member coordinates three or four placements, which involves working with students and placement supervisors.
Currently, the PULSE program is immersed in its busiest period of the year. In their office on the first floor of Stokes, PULSE Council members converse with small groups of students, preparing them for their tours.
PULSE Council members serve as a resource for students currently enrolled in PULSE, as well as for placement coordinators—aiding students in selecting and getting oriented with their placements. They act as the liaison between the supervisor, the program, and the students.
Supervisors from community partners come to campus and run information sessions that interested students will attend. Students then go on tours to the placements they are most interested in, and have informal interviews. The placement staff will then decide which students are the best fit for their agency based on the number of volunteers they can accommodate.
PULSE Council members meet with the students who serve the placements they are assigned to over the semester to talk about placement specific issues and to reflect on their service. Although reflection occurs in the classroom setting as well, these student-run informal meetings are focused on candid discussion and reflection on service.
“I learned so much from my students that worked at a placement that I had never worked at before,” Ramjit said. “We learn as much from them as they might from us. The focus is to build community among the people who serve there.”
Each council member is also required to hold three office hours a week—to be in the office, to answer phones, and to be available. Although this is a requirement, most PULSE students convene in the office on their own time as well.
“We treat the office as a kind of home base,” said Andrew Faiz, second year Council member and A&S ’14. “Part of that is because we’re always doing things, hanging out, eating lunch, and doing homework.”
In addition to the normal course, there are various PULSE electives offered. These are classes that require less commitment: 4 to 8 hours of service, and offer smaller versions of the PULSE experience—inside and outside the classroom.
There is also a philosophy class taught by the director of PULSE that is only open to PULSE Council members.
Ramjit took PULSE sophomore year and served at a residence for women who have a history of homelessness and have been diagnosed with mental illness. She described the experience as eye opening and markedly different from anything she had ever done before.
“I didn’t want to close that chapter of my education,” she said. Her PULSE professor noticed how profoundly her experience had impacted her and suggested she apply for council. “I was really excited about the chance to help other students have a really good PULSE experience. This is my way of continuing to serve—by serving PULSE students.”
For Faiz, PULSE has had a huge influence on his education. He served at an afterschool therapeutic program for kids with histories of abuse and neglect, and found his experience very rewarding. After serving at his placement, he ended up declaring a minor in education.
“Things I was exposed to while working kept me involved and helped me change my career path,” he said.
When asked about any difficulties he encountered while working as a council member, Ramjit spoke to the challenge of helping students find a placement that they feel fits them well when they may have had a strong idea of what they wanted early on, and didn’t get accepted into that placement. Ramjit, however, sees this situation as an opportunity rather than as a setback. Personally, she was not accepted into her first choice placement. Nevertheless, she noted that she ended up having an incredibly rewarding experience at the placement she did attend.
“I would have never ended up at Park Street and I had such an amazing experience there. I try to tell this story to students who are discouraged.”