Interdisciplinary Studies department volunteer opportunities

Every semester, Interdisciplinary Studies students develop a personal project that clear a path to their future career. SNC offers an innovative interdisciplinary class called Service Learning where students dig deeper and become involved in unique volunteer opportunities.

Over the past four years, faculty members, Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies, Katie Zanto, and Director of ODAL, Rosie Hackett, have collaborated and worked hard in shaping this discipline. They continually watch the program grow every year and adapt to the needs of the student’s unique project.

By engaging in the direction of Interdisciplinary Studies, students have the opportunity to focus on two majors instead of one. Through this learning process, students develop their knowledge from different perspectives and make decisions in creative ways. Students enrolled in Service Learning will create a project by themselves that contribute to the community that aids to their academic growth, as well as expand their personal level of competence.

Students complete 60 hours of volunteer work along with additional time spent on the project itself; focusing mostly on personal reflections. Ultimately, their work will define their future portfolio during their Senior Portfolio class.

“It’s similar to a small internship, but with more structure and more professional guidance,” said Zanto.

Most often, students’ enroll in Service Learning during their junior or senior year, and they must submit a proposal the semester before. Students meet with Zanto and discuss which organization they want to contribute to and why. The proposal is primarily used for a focus on what the student imagines they’ll gain from the experience and how their knowledge will aid to the specific organization.

When Zanto was asked what Service Learning meant to her she emphasized that it is more than just giving someone a service opportunity.

“It’s more than volunteering to pick up trash or work in a soup kitchen. It’s a chance for students to both contribute to the community and also to enhance their own learning, and that’s how it becomes an academic activity,” said Zanto.

SNC has designed this one-of-a-kind class to blend a student’s academic with making a difference in the community. The project is purely driven by the student. They determine their own syllabus on how they want to help improve both the community and themselves using their discipline.

“My Service Learning gave me a chance to take what I am learning, Sustainability and Education, and use my personal love of good food,” said Senior Emily Pannkuk.


Before Pannkuk attended SNC she wasn’t familiar with the term service learning. She was quickly introduced to it through her advisor Katie Zanto and thinks this program is unique to the school.

Now, in her own words she describes service learning as a, “meaningful community service project that you can directly tie into your academic studies and personal interests.”

Pannkuk is an Interdisciplinary Studies in Sustainability major. She volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe in Kings Beach. Working with the club chef, Christin Wilcox and her culinary arts class, ‘Chop Shop,’ she contributed by teaching a nutritional lesson. She also helped in the kitchen with events like the free Thanksgiving dinner, which served over 600 people in the community.

“I really encourage other students who are going to do service learning to work with The Boys and Girls Club on a project,” said Pannkuk. “They were really open to ideas and appreciate the help.”

After completing the project, Pannkuk is even more inspired to pursue her career interest in becoming an after school educator rather than a traditional classroom teacher. She enjoyed helping the kids explore new interests and wants to continue working in the same environment.

When asked what her dream job would be if anything in the world, she replied, “Robin Hood. So I could steal from the rich and give to the poor.”

Another great example of students pushing themselves to the limit is seniors, Nick Cahill and Trevor Jackson, founders of Mhmm.

Jackson, a Entrepreneurship and Digital Arts major and Cahill a Management and Digital Arts major, used their media film background and experience to collaborate and create a personal and touching short film about SNC junior Yami Gutierrez.

From the beginning of their project, Cahill and Jackson knew they wanted their service learning project to involve a new media film. After reaching out to Zanto and gathering ideas, they decided to focus on the non-profit organization of ARC, Adventure Risk Challenge.

Their first approach was to produce a film about the program, however after toiling around with their options, this quickly changed.

“We wanted to be able to market a non-profit organization in a way that doesn’t feel forced,” said Jackson. “Our goal was to have more of an impact and lasting impression on our viewers.”

They enhanced her life story through the perspective of moving imagery.

After much dedication and hard work, they completed an expressive film about how ARC personally affected Gutierrez’s life.

“It was the most extensive story we’ve ever told in our years of filming,” said Jackson.

President Lynn Gillette was so impressed by their film that it’s going to be released in fall of 2013 to promote ARC in dinner donation parties and community fundraising.

Unlike service learning programs at other colleges, SNC thrives in maximizing a student’s initiative and learning process by creating something their truly passionate about.

In recent years, Zanto has created other service learning opportunities for students that aren’t in the Interdisciplinary Studies major. She created a one unit ‘pilot’ class that’s known as Educational Issues: Service Learning. Students give 15 hours of volunteer work through-out the semester and are then placed as tutors or teacher’s aids at Incline Elementary School.

“It’s an exciting pilot and a new model that more classes could take on,” Zanto said. “There are lots of opportunities that come up once you get involved and I’d love to see that pilot model committed in other classes.”

The class wasn’t offered this spring but will be available for students to enroll in for fall semester of 2013.

Zanto’s passion for her students and the community has shaped the Interdisciplinary Studies department, successfully making it the largest major now offered at SNC.