The power to inspire, change the world, move students outside their comfort zone

woman painting a wall
Teaching may be in the genes of Dr. Amy Darnell, assistant professor of speech communication. She grew up in Lebanon, Ohio, with a home economics teacher mom and a shop teacher dad and was so inspired she attended the same college as did her parents, Morehead State (Ky.) University.

"I just got inspiration from both ends of the spectrum," she says. Darnell helped establish Columbia College's communication major in 2006. Now she is inspiring her students to use their classroom communications skills in the community -- and in the process, maybe change the world.

On the first day of her Understanding Human Communication class, taught in 2009, she announced that she expected the students to perform community service. What exactly that would consist of she left to them.

I can't think of a better way to understand human communication than to do service work," she says, adding that almost all her students knew what they wanted to do within a few weeks. "It's amazing how quickly they decided what they wanted to do."

These projects, which all occurred in and around Columbia, Mo., included:
  • Cougar Cab, a ride service for inebriated Columbia College students. One student drove, the other acted as scout, navigator and backup. These two students advertised Cougar Cab with flyers that included the students' cell phone numbers.
  • A poker run of 86 miles to benefit Make a Wish Foundation. In a poker run, increasingly popular with motorcycle enthusiasts, motorcyclists drive to destinations at which they are given a card. The best poker hand wins a small pot of money. It’s a great way to raise money and an excuse for bikers to take them out for a spin.
  • Through Centro Latino, tutoring, sponsoring field trips and showing movies to underprivileged Latino kids. One such film was Stand and Deliver, which dramatizes the work of Jaime Escalante, a dedicated high school mathematics teacher portrayed by Edward James Olmos. Olmos was the college's most recent Schiffman Ethics in Society lecturer.
  • Wii can help, a fundraiser that netted $2,000 for Wii games for sick and convalescent children at Children's Hospital. Phil Todd, project leader, is a morning show producer on 93.9 FM The Eagle, and advertised the campaign on the air and with flyers at local businesses. "I'm just thrilled we could do this," says Todd. "It's amazing how far this project went."
  • Painting and renovating the outside break area of Central Missouri Subcontracting Enterprises, a vocational workshop. The director was so impressed with the spirit and work of the students that he wrote Darnell:

      I would like to take this opportunity to extend our most sincere thanks to the students who came out to the workshop and updated our outside break area. The new picnic tables and the painting they did on the outside wall gave the area a completely different look. Our employees really enjoy sitting outside now … We no longer have to worry about one of our employees accidentally cutting themselves on a rusty nail protruding from the old tables, and the area itself is so much brighter and safer. This idea of inspiring students to work on civic projects such as this is wonderful.
Darnell, who recently graduated with a PhD in speech communication from Southern Illinois University, says she is trying to get Columbia College students out of their comfort zone and into the wider world.

"I think that to an unfortunate degree, college students are becoming more inward," she says. "They tend to focus on themselves, not on those around them. I think they are really doing themselves a disservice. I say to them, 'You do not live alone, you live in a community. Your college experience doesn’t stop when you cross Rogers Street.' " And maybe, she says, the experience was positive enough that the students want to try it again.

In that, Darnell has already succeeded. Todd, the leader of the Wii group, says he learned a lot about community involvement and the media's role in it, and says, "I would really like to keep it [the Wii project] going, maybe expand it regionally. I'd like to do this for every hospital in mid-Missouri. All it took was a couple of kids getting together to make it happen."

That's changing the world.


Megan Driskill said...

Professor Darnell is an amazing teacher and mentor. The lessons I learned from her far expanded the boarders of the class room. From this exemplary teacher I learned how to appreciate art and use it as a creative outlet to impact the world. During my time at CC Dr. Darnell not only taught me a passion for performances but she also encouraged me to use performance to impact the world. This professor has always gone above and beyond for her students. She was a solid pillar of knowledge and support when I directed my first main stage performance my senior year of college only a short year ago. This phenomenal educator is greatly to thank for helping me become the successful, inspired person I am today. I wish all professors were as passionate and commented as her.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Darnell is such an asset to Columbia College. She is an educator that has such a way with her students that they can not leave her classroom without being changed for the better. Thank you Dr. Darnell for all of the good you have brought to this university.