KOKOMO, Ind. – Sometimes a video game is more than just a mindless distraction.
That’s especially true when it’s used to prepare students for college success.
About 15 first-semester Indiana University Kokomo students learned problem solving and organizational skills by planning a video game tournament for the Carver Community Center, as part of the A101 student success seminar. It was just one of the service projects completed by new students, as a class requirement.
In total, about 350 freshmen participated, giving more than 2,000 service hours to local non-profit organizations, according to Christina Downey, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and student success.
“It teaches them in a more genuine way than if we stay in class and talk about these skills,” she said. “Service learning teaches the kinds of attitudes and mindsets they need to succeed in college. They learn persistence, problem solving, and organization, among other attributes. It’s a challenge, as they step up to the plate and take charge.”
Students picked from a variety of projects, including assisting with a college promotion program for the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library, or learning about cultural connections to cosplay costumes and leading a presentation on the topic for the SHAK Makerspace. Other volunteer options included cleaning up trash with the Wildcat Creek Guardians, walking in the Angel Walk for the Family Service Association of Howard County’s domestic violence shelter, assisting at PAL youth football games, or working in the City of Refuge Church community garden.
Computer science majors Caleb Vogl and Braxton Conley chose the video game tournament, based on their own interests.
Vogl, from Greentown, noted that students did all the work, from securing a location to setting dates, creating and getting approval for marketing materials, and running the tournament itself.
With 48 teen participants, the event was a success, he said, and also a learning experience.
“Sometimes you have to take leadership yourself, and not count on others to do it,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to show what I can do as a leader, rather than waiting for someone to tell me what to do. The experience of being in control made it 10 times better than if an adult were helping you through it.”
It was also a chance to make connections with community leaders and classmates, said Conley, from Culver.
“It was a good way to make friends,” he said. “Everything we did in that tournament was new to me. I’ve never done anything like that before. I learned a lot of new skills, and strengthened my leadership.”
Downey said service learning provides a relevant way to build skills, and a way to make friends on their new campus.
“Doing something that helps a local non-profit organization raises the stakes,” she said. “Students feel the work is more meaningful. It’s also a good way to build relationships with new classmates.”
Campus leaders appreciate the local non-profits that partnered with students on projects, she said.
“They all knew they would be working with first-year students, and were excited about it,” Downey said. “They were excited to have the ability to shape this new class of young leaders. It was a win-win for everyone.”