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Saint Vincent College Faculty Blog

Serving others while on sabbatical

Posted by Jim Kellam on Mon, Jan 26, 2015 @ 16:01 PM

Is this really my 5th blog post? Already? Maybe this sabbatical of mine is going to go even faster than I thought.

That’s certainly true of this past week. Where did the time go? I spent less time in the office and more doing personal things with family and friends. The work on campus I did include another couple of letters of recommendation, purchasing a book and some software for my research, planning the bioethics seminar I am coordinating next month, and making sure my junior and senior research students are being attended to while I am absent. I also read some scientific articles about animal home ranges, and unsuccessfully searched for a data file I need to finish my home range analysis manuscript.

All of these are possible topics for a blog post. But today, I want to talk about community service--because that was what occupied a lot of my time this week. 

All professors at Saint Vincent College are expected to do some form of community service. When I applied for tenure last year, my portfolio had to include a section on “service to the community.” Likewise, the semi-annual self-evaluations all faculty submit to our respective department chairs are supposed to include discussion of how we help others in the broader community. How we go about fulfilling this expectation is up to the individual faculty member. For me, community service has included giving seminars for community groups, working with scout troops, doing programs at Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve and holding several leadership positions in my church.

The church work is a little hard for me to justify as community service, because this is work I would be doing anyway. Perhaps the “best” community service would get me out of my comfort zone and help me learn new skills and make new friends. I could feed the homeless or do manual labor. Nevertheless, helping out in ways I have already helped before is still service, and I gain experience by remaining in my comfort zone, too. That experience will certainly help the organization benefitting from my work, in this case, my church.

I served my church in numerous ways this week. I am in the choir and we rehearse on Thursday nights. That’s a normal commitment that doesn’t have to do with my sabbatical. But then, on Friday night, I spent the night at my church, serving as one of the adult leaders for our youth group. We were having a lock-in, which began at 7pm on Friday and lasted through the night until 8:30am the following morning.

We did a little bit of educational activity and prayer, but most of the night was just playing games, having conversations, eating junk food (see photo), and just “being there” for the youth. At some point the conversations devolved into trivia like how many restrooms are located in our church. Answer: 17, and the youth went on a hunt to find the more obscure ones. Eventually, around 4 a.m., I found a dark corner and fell asleep, and the kids and other leaders did the same.

assorted snack foods

My role as a church youth group leader is not new. But during the past couple years, I have had to pull back from that responsibility as my workload and time commitment to St. Vincent grew. Now that tenure is done and I have a sabbatical, I feel less busy and freer to serve the church in this way.

Additionally, I have agreed to serve as a Ruling Elder in my church, which means there will be monthly committee work to do. In fact, I had my first meeting in that role on Saturday morning, from 9 a.m.-12 p.m., immediately following the youth lock-in. I am proud of myself for not falling asleep during the meeting, but who knows what I agreed to do while I was groggy? I was also rather busy on Sunday, so when Monday came around, I slept late and took a nap, too. I was quite tired from the lack of sleep over the weekend. Then, I had another church meeting on Tuesday from 1- 4 p.m.

To sum up, I spent a lot of time this past week serving my church, and not a lot on the science I want to conduct during my sabbatical. However, I don’t feel bad about the lack of office work I did this week. Doing community service is important, and while it is not specifically mentioned in my sabbatical documents, it seems to be a reasonable thing to do with my time.

In fact, I can envision a sabbatical in which a faculty member would spend his or her entire semester doing community service. Such work would be equally valuable as what I am (supposed to be) doing. It would have an immediate external benefit to the agency or community receiving the work. It would benefit the faculty member in both tangible and intangible (maybe even spiritual) ways, and it would benefit the college because the faculty member would return with a fresh perspective on life, society, and new personal relationships that could only promote a faculty member’s ability to be expressive, be creative, be sensitive, and teach from a deeper well.

Topics: community service, Sabbatical, Jim Kellam

About the Authors

Michelle Gil-Montero is an associate professor of English and director of creative writing at Saint Vincent College. She runs the visiting writers series on campus, oversees the student literary magazine, and serves as guru to aspiring poets on campus. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2007, and she has been on the Saint Vincent faculty since that year. She is an active poet and literary translator from Spanish. She is spending part of the 2016-17 school year travelling to Argentina on a Howard Foundation fellowship and Fulbright grant. 

Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January 2008. Dr. Smetanka has taught courses in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry and Geology as well as interdisciplinary seminars. He has published scientific research articles in physics and astrophysics journals, numerous conference proceedings and also works in science education reform and the interaction between science, technology and theology.

Jim Kellam is an associate professor of biology at Saint Vincent College and our resident ornithologist. He received his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 2003, and is taking this semester as a sabbatical. What does that mean? He'll explain in his blog posts.

Dr. Michael J. Urick is Graduate Director of the Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence program, and Associate Professor of Management and Operational Excellence at the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics, and Government. Dr. Urick teaches courses related to organizational behavior, human resources, culture, leadership, diversity, conflict, supply chain, operations and research methods. Professionally, Urick serves on the board of the Institute for Supply Management (Pittsburgh) and belongs to the Society for Human Resource Management and APICS. For fun, Urick enjoys music and, since 1998, has led and performed with Neon Swing X-perience, a jazz band that has released multiple albums and toured portions of the US. He enjoys watching movies, is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and also likes to fence.

David Safin, C'00, has been a lecturer in the communication department since the Fall of 2003, and has served in a variety of administrative roles since the summer of 2004. Currently, he teaches multimedia in the communication department as an assistant professor. 

Dr. Michael Krom received his Doctorate in philosophy at Emory University in 2007 and is currently the chair of the philosophy department at Saint Vincent. He has authored a book on religion and politics and continues to publish works in Catholic moral and political thought. Dr. Krom also directs the Faith and Reason summer program every summer. 

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