Motto of service should reach classroom

What’s in a motto? It’s not very often that people really think about it. The word “motto” is Italian for “pledge,” and usually sums up the fundamental motivation and purpose of a group or institution. Tech’s motto is “Progress and Service,” a phrase that has been associated with the Institute for many years. The motto represents a pledge by all members of the campus community to work towards these ideals.

It’s a fitting time to think about our motto, especially since the entire campus is involved in the strategic vision planning process. When envisioning what our school will be like in 25 years, it is equally important to think about Tech’s core values.

Tech has made many progressive steps in terms of the type of classes and coursework offered. The classroom experience is one of the most important components of a college education. One of the most unique things about the classroom experience at Tech is the focus on not only learning the material, but also applying it to real-world situations. This model is most often seen in senior design or capstone courses, where students are challenged to integrate the things they have learned and use them practically.

In that sense Tech has made some good progress in furthering experiential rather than theoretical learning; however, in line with the second half of the Institute’s motto, there is an opportunity to add a component of service to a Tech education.

A goal of the university should not be simply producing highly qualified graduates, but rather producing graduates who have the power to make an impact on the community, nation, and world. Service and learning do not have to be separate entities. By integrating service and learning, Tech has the potential to become an agent of change and progress for society. I know it sounds idealistic, but it is possible for students to have a positive impact when armed with knowledge and know how to use it.

Take the “Computing for Good” program in the College of Computing, for example. The program is an upper level CS course that focuses on using cutting-edge computing techniques to solve problems ranging from public health to politics. Another exceptional example of experiential-based service learning at Tech is the “Semester in the City” seminar offered in the School of Public Policy, which brings students out of the classroom and into English Avenue to work on projects that center around the revitalization of the area.

These types of classes combine education and social activism to create a unique learning experience for students. The main thing that sets these classes apart from others is that at the end of the semester, there are concrete results that affect not only the students in these classes, but also the communities that they work with.

This is definitely the right direction for the classroom experience at Tech. Integrating service into an experiential-based learning model kills two birds with one stone. Students learn how to apply concepts and are more engaged and invested in their work. On top of that, society stands to benefit from the work that students do.

Moreover, the city of Atlanta provides an excellent locale for advancing a experiential service-based curriculum. There are many problems that face the city that Tech students could potentially tackle, such as poverty, urban sprawl and crime. Tech has an opportunity to give back by harnessing the power of education and using it to improve the city. However, the potential for impact is not limited geographically to the city of Atlanta. There have been service-based classes and projects done by Tech students that have reached all corners of the world.

There are some things that can’t be learned in lecture. It’s hard to teach students how to generate positive change unless they can experience it first-hand. Hands-on learning integrated with service would add a refreshing and relevant component to the curriculum, making Tech students even more prepared for the future. This is something that’s already being done on a small scale in select majors and programs, but making service learning an experience that all Tech students can participate in could have a profound impact on the Institute, both internally and externally.

We, as members of the Tech community, take pride in being able to use knowledge and technology to make progress. Now is the time, more than ever, for us to consider how Tech can be of service by beginning to solve some of the world’s toughest problems.