The Charger Blog

Students Use Music to Connect with the Community

A new service-learning course offered through the University of New Haven’s Music Department brings together students and local nonprofit organizations, enabling them to make a positive difference while creating a foundation that future students can learn from and build upon.

February 26, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of service learning participants.
Left to right: Erica Haskell, Ph.D.; Michaela Reilly ’20; Pepe Vega, Connecticut Violence Intervention Program; Wallace Graham ’20.

Michaela Reilly ’20 remembers her “Child and Family Intervention Strategies” course as one of her favorites. As part of her coursework for the service-learning class, she worked closely with Clifford Beers, a children’s mental health outpatient clinic.

Before officially completing her degree in December, Reilly joined Connecticut Violence Intervention Program as a program coordinator, a position that has enabled her to collaborate with Erica Haskell, Ph.D., on her "Refugee Stories and Songs" course to help create an equally rewarding service-learning opportunity for current students.

“Now that I’m on the other side of the service-learning experience, I’ve come full circle,” said Reilly, who earned degrees in psychology and criminal justice. “My executive director wanted me to work with students, since I was recently in their position and I understand what they need.”

The class, which is being offered to students for the first time this semester as part of Dr. Haskell’s role as the University’s Oskar Schindler Humanities Foundation Endowed Professor, empowers students to use music to form relationships with and mentor the youths the organization serves. Students also have the option to work with Elena’s Light, a New Haven-based organization that serves refugee women and children.

"Giving back is important, and it is crucial for students to develop a cultural understanding."Erica Haskell

Dr. Haskell, who was named to the Schindler professorship last year, has tasked students with conducting interviews, attending community events, and producing digital podcasts.

“Giving back is important, and it is crucial for students to develop a cultural understanding,” said Dr. Haskell, an ethnomusicologist who lived and worked in a refugee camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina before joining the University’s faculty. “We learn so much from people from different backgrounds through their connection to music. Students will apply their knowledge from other classes while helping others.”

Service-learning courses, in which students spend approximately 20 hours working with local nonprofits, enable students to make a difference, create important connections, and learn about themselves and the impact they can have on their communities.

The digital podcasts produced as part of the class will be broadcasted and archived, and the work will be available to future students, who can then build upon it.

“I hope this will allow me to be helpful in the community and to make a difference,” said Alaina Degroff ’20, a liberal studies major, who is now taking the class. “I want to leave with a feeling that I did something positive.”