Nicole Fisk's service-learning English 102 class started out as an analysis of one of the most popular book series of recent years, "The Hunger Games," paired with a project on veteran homelessness. It has since evolved into a meaningful service project about the Syrian refugee crisis.
The class produced its own children's picture book, "I Had a Home in Syria," and is selling it online to raise money and awareness for the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis. The proceeds from the book and a class GoFundMe campaign will go toward the tuition of a displaced Syrian student studying at USC.
Fisk, who serves as associate director of First Year English, came across the story of the graduate student when her previously planned service project for her class fell through.
"We didn't start the semester with this particular service project in mind. This is the first time I've taught a First Year English class that is a designated service-learning section, so I was stumbling in the dark a bit," Fisk said. "I contacted her and asked if she would speak to our class about her country and the refugee crisis. We got to know her, and the project was born. We hope to help her with her last year of tuition and to raise awareness about Syria in the process."
First-year criminal justice student Zach Spickler, a student in the class, said everyone agreed that the topic was worth their time, and he noted that learning more about the crisis changed his opinions on refugees.
"Interestingly enough, I was somewhat opposed to helping refugees before taking this class just because that's what the status quo was," Spickler said, "but once you meet one face to face, everything changes."
The United Nations High Council on Refugees currently lists almost 5 million registered Syrian refugees.
Fisk incorporated her class's theme, analyzing "The Hunger Games" and other works by Suzanne Collins, into the project by showing how writing about war in a way young people can understand helps raise awareness.
"Some of my students insisted that a children's picture book about war wouldn't be possible," Fisk said, "but after I read Collins's book to them, they began to think that we could do an even better job."
On the whole, Spickler wants the project to help open peoples' minds and hearts to the idea of helping Syrian refugees.
"I hope this project will bring people together and aid in our ability to love others no matter their color, religion or refugee status," she said. "I think everyone needs a little bit of humanity to keep us aware and kind-hearted."