In Design Service Learning, the Words are Equal


Collage of design projects, including t-shirts, posters and book covers

Jan Ballard emphasizes both words in service learning. The design instructor wants to see students serving the community, but also puts emphasis on them learning about the community.

Service learning engages students not only in their respective disciplines, but in the examination of their roles as future leaders. TCU faculty across disciplines partner with local leaders to design service projects that enhance learning and meet the needs of our community. In other words, it is truly a win-win.

Ballard shares about their unique service-learning endeavor.

Tell us about your service-learning endeavor and how you have incorporated it into your course? 

In my Professional Recognition classes, students earn academic credit for selecting and participating in projects. I meet with them one time during syllabus week to explain how to earn points – they can earn 100 – and present options on how to earn them. They can attend conferences and enter adjudicated competitions, and another option is to propose a design solution for a project. I proceed to show them a deck of the needs in our city. For most of them, it’s very eye-opening.

It connects students to issues they may not see, fulfilling TCU’s mission to educate global citizens, but it also raises the profile of TCU in our community and connects us with the city.

Jan Ballard

Jan Ballard

What community need is your course/initiative aiming to fill?

The organizations we serve do not have a lot of money. We are providing branding and design services that most of them could not afford and design services that would come from precious operating costs. We don’t run as a student agency. My students simply come up with a proposal that the organization can accept or not, but it is still a service to the organization and a learning experience for my students. This is also building awareness for my students. When I tell them about LVTRise and that the families living in the Las Vegas Trail area make $20,000 a year, most of them have no idea. Then I explain how helping the community center or the library appeal to kids in that community would make a big impact. Or, in communities even right here close to campus where small businesses are at risk of being gentrified, a branding refresh proposal might be what the retail proprietor needs to survive.

What kind of activities were you and your students involved in during the project?

There is a wide variety. It includes specialty advertising, marketing materials, social media campaigns, logos, T-shirts, branding proposals, mural and environmental signage, posters, app design proposals and publication design.

We have worked with Rahr to the Rescue, State of Texas Alliance for Recycling, Interclear FinTech in Ghana, TCU School of Medicine, Neeley Minority Entrepreneurs, Fort Worth Historic Southside, LVTRise, Dialexa and Banned Books Week at Mary Couts Burnett Library.

Can your share any outcomes from your project? Consider your students, the community, as well as your own experience.

There are many. Anecdotally, I can tell you that my students are learning what it’s like to work with students in other disciplines – like the medical school or the business school – and that working with someone in a client/colleague relationship is different than working with an instructor. This gives a real-world perspective. I can also tell you that they are gaining perspective from the community. For instance, for LVTRise, the students partnered with community members to illustrate a meaningful quote. In a recycling campaign, the students provided designs that any recycling program in the state of Texas could use for their efforts.

In the end, what they’re doing is problem solving. Part of being a designer is solving problems. They are learning to solve a problem while giving back.

What is next for your service learning?

I plan over the summer, but I usually try to incorporate at least one community project and one project within the school community. My goal is to build awareness in our city but also silo-bust on our campus.

For information on how to incorporate service learning into course curriculum, contact Rosangela Boyd, director of service learning and academic initiatives.