December 23, 2011

Dallas becomes a living laboratory for students in Dedman College courses like “Latino/Latina Religions,” which blends classroom instruction with service in the community.

“I think students learn better when they can apply theories and historical frameworks that we discuss and read about in class to real-world situations,” says Jill DeTemple, assistant professor of religious studies, who teaches the course. “They take a sense of ownership of course materials, and because they are working for a community organization, they are working for more than the grade.”

In fall 2010 students spent hours sifting through the archives of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral in East Dallas. Their mission was to document the rich past and explore the evolving present of the multiethnic congregation. Students uncovered some surprises – Jack Benage, a senior accounting major, unearthed the academic record of former first lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson, a graduate of St. Mary’s College for Women, which was housed at the site until 1930. They also examined how a surge in Latino parishioners is changing the congregation.

At the end of the semester, the students presented a 57-page history of the cathedral and its programs to the congregation in English and Spanish.

“Students didn’t just read about a subject, they produced knowledge based on their experiences with archival materials and interviews,” DeTemple explains. “This gives them a window into how academic materials are produced, and why they are useful for the wider community.”