The National Youth Leadership Council has named Dr. Barbara Witteman, professor of education, the recipient of the 2018 Alec Dickson Servant Leader Award.
The award is given to leaders who have been an inspiration in the field of service-learning and through their own example have motivated others to take up lives of service.
Witteman started her own service-learning journey volunteering at Bonanzaville, a pioneer village in West Fargo, before she’d even heard of service-learning. The educator in Witteman could see the treasure trove the museum had and the ways it could bring history alive for elementary students, but it wasn’t being used as well as it could be. She knew with just a bit of “packaging” that teachers would be sold on the idea.
“My social studies class and I went there, selected artifacts that could be connected to the textbooks being used by three area elementary schools, and wrote lesson plans connecting these primary sources to the content,” Witteman says.
Then they added the plans to trunks that included artifacts from the museum that were available for checkout by area educators. Concordia’s director of student leadership and service at the time, Chelle Lyons Hanson ’84, heard about the project and handed Witteman a new term for her work: service-learning.
A constant supporter of service projects for students of all ages, Witteman teaches a service-learning course and is always careful to gauge the community need and the students’ ability to deliver before launching into a project. She might be best known in the Fargo-Moorhead area for birthdays and beans, two ongoing and extremely successful projects for creating a take-home birthday celebration in a bag and the repackaging of beans.
Focusing on hunger issues in the area, Witteman collaborated with Bryan Boll ’96, who grows beans on his farm near Crookston, Minn. Boll donates the beans in bulk to Witteman’s class and the college students, with help from elementary students, package and label the beans for the local food pantry while working to educate the youth about the region’s need for food. The Birthday Bag project is also for food insecure families and is administered through the Emergency Food Pantry.
“Last year, the Emergency Food Pantry had 8,948 food insecure families go through their doors. Families are asked if they have a child celebrating a birthday and, if they do, the family is given a cake, can of frosting and a homemade card that they can give to their child,” Witteman says. “Simply stated, every child deserves a cake.”
In March, Witteman will take her service-learning class on the road with her to the National Service-Learning Conference where she will receive her award and the students will present various service projects and have attendees complete them at the conference.
“It will be exciting to go to the national convention and see everyone with a passion for service-learning,” says Katie Johnston ’20, an elementary education major and one of Witteman’s service-learning students. “Barb makes it easy to do these projects. She’s so organized, passionate and has so many connections.”
And while Witteman brushes off the praise, she does take pride in seeing teachers who came through her class implementing service-learning because she believes it brings such purpose and meaning to lives. She knows that we need to live for each other and help those who are in need.
“To borrow a phrase from St. Teresa of Calcutta,” she says. “‘Do small things with great love.’”