Program Features

Curricular Structure. PULSE began in the Philosophy Department and is now a program of both the Philosophy and Theology Departments with additional oversight provided by an ad hoc advisory committee and the Dean of the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences. Currently, all PULSE courses are either philosophy or theology, and the faculty members who teach in the program come from these departments. At an administrative level, in addition to a program director who has faculty status and teaches both core and elective courses in the program, there is a full-time assistant director, a full-time program assistant, and a part-time graduate assistant. The mentoring and administrative work of the program is assisted by the 18 students who serve on the PULSE Council, which began in the second year of the program with students who had participated during the first year. The PULSE office has primary responsibility for developing and maintaining community partnerships and overall program implementation, thus freeing faculty from the time-consuming and disincentivizing administrative responsibilities of developing and maintaining community partnerships for service-learning courses (Holland, 2001).

At a curricular level, the primary course offered is the 12-crcdit, yearlong core-satisfying course, “Person and Social Responsibility,” which has capacity for 416 students (26 students in 16 sections). In “Person and Social Responsibility,” students are in class for four hours per week (three hours of lectures, one hour of small-group discussion) and in service for 12 hours per week (approximately eight hours of service and four hours of travel). The focus of the course is to interrogate human personhood and human happiness in relation to social responsibility, social justice, and the common good. Readings in the course are consistent with core level texts in philosophy and theology (e.g. ancient and medieval philosophy, biblical texts), complemented by contemporary social science and contemporary philosophy and theology texts (e.g. David Shipler’s The Working Poor (2005), Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy (2014), Kelly Brown Douglas’s Stand Tour Ground (2015), Iris Marion Young’s “Five Faces of Oppression” (2011) and readings in Catholic social teaching). In the Ignatian pedagogical model, assignments in the course vary from analytical papers to more reflective opportunities for students to integrate what they are learning in class and service and its impact for their lives. In the core course, student service is assigned a letter grade by the community partner supervisor and counts as one-third of the overall course grade. Additionally, in the core course, for a student to receive an A grade in the overall course, they must earn an A grade in the class.

There is also a rotation of 15 one-semester, three-credit elective courses in which students are in class for about two to three hours per week and at service for four hours per week plus travel. Topics for elective courses include immigration, healthcare, mass incarceration, writing as a form of social justice, and a deep dive into the meaning and way of Jesus. In elective courses, students receive a service grade of either pass or fail from their supervisors. For all PULSE courses, core and elective, it is stipulated on the syllabi that in order to pass the course, the student must pass the service component.

Community Partnerships. In late spring and early summer of each year, after classes have ended, the program staff make decisions about which community partner relationships may need to end or go on hiatus, and what new community organizations should be engaged in partnerships. When assessing whether or not to enter into or continue a relationship with an organization, the PULSE staff consider the criteria in Table 6.1.

On average, each year there are about four to five organizations that go on hiatus for various reasons, and each year about four to five new organizations come onboard. The PULSE office aims to have the number of service spots available to be 15% more than the actual number of expected students in order to accommodate the varieties of student schedules. Overall, when PULSE is vetting new partnerships or reviewing current ones, a key concern is whether or not the community partner can serve as a partner in education. PULSE trusts its partners to educate students and wants to build relationships that respect their experience, commitment, and expertise.

Student Characteristics. Students enrolled in PULSE courses arc primarily sophomores and higher. Although about 60 first-year students per year are enrolled in the core course, the remaining 356 core spots are filled mostly by sophomores and a few juniors (seniors are not permitted to take the core course). Elective courses are usually taken by juniors and seniors. While the gender breakdown of faculty is relatively

Becoming People for and with Others 119

Table 6.1 Criteria for Assessing Community Partnerships


Key Question (s)

Location of organization

Is it accessible by public transportation or would a van be required, and how long is the commute from campus?

Hours of service

What is the time range and do these make it possible for a majority of PULSE students to serve there?

Population served and type of service

Does this community partner deepen and diversify the service placements available to students?

What tasks would the students be doing (are the tasks clearly defined or is it more of a relationship-building setting)?

Percentage of time student would be doing direct service

Ease of communication

Is it at least 80%?

Does the community partner contact person or supervisor respond promptly to communications from the PULSE office, and when concerns arise, is there ease of communication between PLILSE and the organization?


Is it clear who the supervisors would be and would they be accessible to students?

Ability to meet PULSE Program and BC needs

Can the organization attend the annual fall town meeting?

Can the organization complete the tall and spring learning-work agreements and end-of-semester evaluations?

Can the organization adhere to the PULSE Program needs?

Is the organization understanding of BC’s academic calendar?


Does the organization seem desirous of having PULSE students?

even between women and men, about two-thirds of students in PULSE courses are women. At this time, only PULSE student surveys provide demographic data on the ethnic, racial, or nationality status and identity of students. While any BC undergraduate is welcome to take the PULSE core to satisfy the philosophy and theology core requirements, often varsity athletes are unable to do so because of their practice and competition schedules.

While there has been a significant impact on the city of Boston and neighboring communities, the impact of PULSE is observed most directly at Boston College in the lives of students. Indeed, students who have taken PULSE consistently rate it as one of their most formative learning experiences at BC. Michelle Stcrk Barrett, a former assistant director of PULSE who now serves as the director of the Donclan Office of Community-Based Learning at the College of the Holy Cross, studied PULSE for her doctoral work. Stcrk Barrett (2016) found that the vast majority of students who take PULSE grew spiritually in the areas of meaning making and ethical concern, questioning prior assumptions and beliefs through the interplay of significant challenge in service balanced with support in relationships, and effective integration of course content with the service experience.

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