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Photo courtesy Joe Danis

Service learning

Practicum a foundational experience for MSC alumnus

Joe Danis (MSC '01, IDS 3-yr) refers to his practicum as one of the most significant moments of his life.

Photo courtesy Joe Danis

Spending three months working with Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service in northern Bangladesh, Danis gained firsthand international development experience. He researched the growth and development of community-based organizations by connecting with people in rural communities.

“The outward part of it was learning about international development in that setting—to be immersed in the culture, to work with a non-governmental organization at the field level—allowed me to critically reflect on my studies in a different way,” he says.

“It was also a personal journey—reflecting on my place in the world. It helped shape me in terms of who I wanted to become.”

The importance of his practicum has inspired Danis to create service learning, or experiential learning, opportunities in the positions he’s held since completing his degree.

While working as the Director of Housing and Student Life at the University of Manitoba, Danis implemented several service learning programs. His aim was to connect students, in a non-academic context, with local and global communities different from their own.

One such program was a six-week trip to northern Bangladesh, introducing students to varied, practical aspects of international development from a localized, NGO perspective.

Another was a 10-day reading week trip that connected students with an NGO in Santa Catarina Masahuat, El Salvador so they could work together to meet a need identified by community members. Danis has maintained contact with the community and supported a stove building project as well as initiatives in the local school.

Participating in a service learning trip can have life-changing benefits, as Danis knows from personal experience.

“Outside of the obvious education benefits, it’s about shaping who you are as person. Individuals that are growing and exploring, who understand what it means to be a global citizen, are really important.”

One key aspect of the service learning experiences Danis coordinates has been critical reflection, both during the experience and afterwards.

“A critical reflection is an integral part of service learning—they’re really important to help maximize the experience for the individual.”

Danis currently works as the Vice-President of Student Affairs & Organizational Development for Campus Living Centres, where he ensures the company is aware of and responsive to trends relating to the student experience. His work with the company’s corporate social responsibility includes providing opportunities for staff to engage in community service outside of the workplace. This is just one of the ways Danis has infused his current role with the principles and values he learned at MSC.

“The biggest principle I learned from my practicum and MSC is that we have a responsibility as human beings to respond to the needs of the communities around us and contribute to those in need,” he says.

“My time at MSC brought out my desire to be a more empathetic and grounded person. Being around other individuals where those values are important has had a huge impact.”

Ellen Paulley is the Writer and Social Media Coordinator for Menno Simons College

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