At ECC, one instructor’s final exam isn’t really “final”
College students are all about finals … preparing for them, living through them, and then either celebrating or bemoaning the results once grades are posted. A final exam or final project usually marks the end of a semester, and the end of a course. But last week at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, students in Wendy Valentine’s Human Growth & Development course experienced a final that wasn’t really final. In some ways, it was just the beginning …
Students in the class were each given an envelope (containing somewhere between $1.50 and $20) and a set of instructions. They were instructed to use what was in the envelope to affect someone’s life and/or an aspect of their development. They had to decide on a project before opening the envelopes, and they could not contribute additional money of their own. They could, however, choose to work alone or in small groups pooling their resources, but that decision had to be made before the envelopes were opened. Class members ended up in five teams, with 5-6 members per team.
Instructor Wendy Valentine explains, “They were told that how they used the money, who they used it for, and how they accounted for it was completely their decision. I would not dictate how the final projects were completed as long as they followed the few rules I set out. They spent some time in class and some outside of class working on the projects, and gave group presentations during finals week.”
The “final projects” included some great beginnings:
- Group One established a Little Free Library book exchange program at Rock Run Elementary for kids ages 5-13. They built a free-standing unit, solicited gently-used book donations, registered the station with LittleFreeLibrary.org, and one ECC student agreed to be the steward of the project for the next three years. Any child may borrow or keep a book from the library as long as he or she donates a book in its place.
- Group Two piggybacked on a Leadership Class project to solicit donations and package meals for hungry people in Hardin County. They donated their money to the cause, and with others raised a total of $1,400. That money purchased enough food for 6,000 meals, which were packaged by the students on the ECC campus last month.
- Group Three donated their money to a Microloan program whereby no-interest loans are given to small businesses in Third World countries. The recipient of their loan money, a woman named Loam in Cambodia, used the funds to purchase fertilizer and pay employees for her rice crop company. She will repay the loan when she can, and the money will be “recycled” to another deserving loan applicant.
- Group Four purchased toiletries and small Christmas gifts/decorations for the Friendship Club, a Hardin County group with physical and/or cognitive disabilities, many of whom are also low-income. The students met and visited with Friendship Club members at their Thanksgiving dinner, then presented them with the gifts.
- Group Five went to the local Casey’s and randomly chose people to receive $10 gas cards. They recorded video which captured the stunned and grateful reactions of the recipients … each of whom immediately pumped $10 worth of gas into their cars. It was clear that the recipients were surprised to find young college students committing this “random act of kindness.”
The ECC students summarized their experiences with words and phrases like “felt good,” “humbled,” “pay it forward,” and “made a real difference.” Valentine was overwhelmed by the impact of the projects, saying, “I am so extremely proud of this group of students. They were good stewards of what they were given, and they appeared to be very affected by the project. A few in the room (myself included) needed a tissue after everything was said and done!”
So what was the impetus for the unique Human Growth & Development class final project? It stands to reason that such a special project was born of special circumstances. Valentine’s father, Mel Valentine, died in September. To honor her parents’ service-oriented lifestyle and values, she and her mother decided to use some of his undesignated memorial money to fund the class projects.
“I explained to my students that money is many times irrelevant when it comes to making positive change or affecting others, but I did provide them with a small stipend for their projects,” says Valentine. “This group of students was extremely supportive and gracious with the changes I made to the class schedule early in the semester so I was able to be with my father in his last days, and in the days following when he was laid to rest.”
“My father was very supportive of my teaching as he knew my love for learning and for teaching others,” she continued. “He shared in my excitement and the joy that I have in my job and in my exceptional students. Without a doubt, he would be pleased with what they have done.”
Regardless of their individual grades, it was surely that endorsement from Valentine and her mother during their final project presentations that meant the most to these students this semester.