Two West Virginia University faculty members, Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism Assistant Professor Dr. Rita Colistra and Center for Women’s Studies Senior Lecturer Brian Jara, are striving to teach students the value of giving back to the community and provide students with professional work experience through their service or S Designated courses.

Colistra has given many students professional journalism experience by working with clients throughout the state and on campus. She provides students with practical experience in strategic communications, campaign development, planning and implementation, while also seeking out organizations in need and giving back to the community.

“It’s not just taking exams, listening to lectures and completing assignments. This is real work and students reap the benefits,” she said.

Colistra has contributed to the development of the “Buy Local” Initiative, which began in Ritchie County and has recently expanded to Fairmont. Colistra’s course is also planning campaigns for the WVU Center for Civic Engagement and “The House That WVU Built.”

Colistra’s favorite aspect of instructing a service-learning course is “the moment when it’s not just a class anymore, and students start truly caring about their clients.”

S Designated Courses, as noted by the “S” in the section number on the course catalog, offer benefits that are vast and skills that can be applied to any future career.

Instead of requiring students to turn off cell phones during class, Jara encourages students to explore and use technology for a greater good.

Through Jara’s Student “Apptivism” project, students design and create their own apps, which assist women and children dealing with domestic abuse or those in violent relationships.

“Students’ ideas could actually become real apps in a short amount of time,” Jara said. “Technology doesn’t limit the class to local communities but allows us to expand. The course also helps students figure out what is the next step for their careers.”
S Designated courses like Colistra’s and Jara’s allow students to build professional portfolios, boost resumes, stand out to employers and positively impact communities.

These courses are not only limited to journalism and women’s studies majors, but are also available to various areas of study and interest.

The WVU Center for Civic Engagement offers a wide-range of faculty development and support initiatives to help faculty members incorporate service into their curriculum.

According to Jara, the most rewarding aspect of teaching a service-learning course is when students see the impact of their assignments.

“Assignments have a legacy beyond that semester and affect someone’s life,” he said.

For more information about S Designated Courses, visit



CONTACT: Julie Hildenbrand, Center for Civic Engagement Awareness Campaign

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