Innovations in Service Learning Garner Curt DeBerg Service Award

Enthusiastic mentor: Curt DeBerg (photo DA)
Curt DeBerg, Accounting and Management Information Systems, has been awarded the 1998-99 Outstanding Service Award. Deberg, at CSU, Chico since 1991, has played major roles in both the reengineering of the first two principles of accounting classes and the development of the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) organization on campus.

All who know DeBerg know what an enthusiastic, committed, and relentless supporter of SIFE he is. As the faculty sponsor of the group, he has guided it to state and national distinction and mentored countless individual students.

In the fall of 1993, Al Konuwa, Butte College, adopted the CSU, Chico "rookie" SIFE organization, and drafted DeBerg as its adviser. DeBerg then recruited Richard Davis, professor of finance and marketing, and together they became officially known as Sam Walton Fellows. This distinction provided them with a small stipend to organize a team, draft a constitution, identify community projects and recruit students. (DeBerg and Davis both give their stipends to SIFE to further outreach activities.)

"We learned how business students can serve communities by applying classroom theory. By doing so, they also learn leadership, communication, and interpersonal skills that make them tomorrow's leaders," said DeBerg. The service learning philosophy of SIFE fit well into the work he was doing, envisioning a new way of teaching principles of accounting.

DeBerg played a lead role in obtaining two grants from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) to innovate introductory accounting at CSU, Chico. The changes that he and others made included a shift in approach: both looking at accounting as "the language of business," a means for helping businesses make decisions, and developing a service learning component.

The new class design called for the teaching of material by emphasizing small group work, which allows for more creative problem-solving and collaborative learning. The new approach also emphasized technology and integrative learning. Starting in the fall of '99, this approach was adapted on an experimental basis to a mega-section as part of a Learning Productivity Grant that DeBerg authored. Not surprisingly, he also teaches the "jumbo" section. "I believe that effective implementation of technology can really bring students closer to the faculty than was possible before listservs, web pages, and e-mail, but it takes a lot more work on the part of faculty. Hopefully, my work will show that we can truly do more with less."

DeBerg's work with SIFE reinforces his curriculum innovation and vice versa. It has influenced his research and writing—he has recently published journal articles that provide empirical support for action-based learning. His curriculum has become more integrated. In fact, he would call his work the "Scholarship of Integration," a term coined by Ernest Boyer, the late president of the Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching. DeBerg defines integration as "seeing relationship where others see none." It is one of the intellectual skills he tries to foster in his students.

The SIFE project for which DeBerg is most proud is a high school entrepreneurial project. SIFE members work with area high school students who learn how to start small businesses. College students become teachers who teach students not much younger than themselves. In so doing, they see what an important impact they can have on others, something many of them have never had the chance of doing.

Since their beginning, the SIFE group has adopted thirty other colleges and universities and traveled to two-thirds of them to offer organizational assistance. Recent trips include Boston, New York City, Atlanta, Denver, Hawaii, Iowa, and Wisconsin. The team has won several major awards, establishing them as one of the leading SIFE teams in the country. This summer DeBerg and four of his student leaders team are headed to Norway to make a presentation at an international conference on educational innovations in business.

DeBerg has traveled extensively with the students which has allowed him to model commitment and contribution to the group. "The students see that I will do anything for the team in the name of community—I take the cot if I lose the coin toss!" The students, in turn, according to DeBerg, have done far more than he ever imagined.

DeBerg received his Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma and taught at Arizona State before coming to Chico. He is pleased to receive the Outstanding Service award and said, "To the extent that it brings recognition to the students and helps promote this new way of learning, it is good."


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