Dumlao fosters engagement as a 'way of life'
By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services
Vibrant flowers decorate Rebecca Dumlao’s office in Joyner East overlooking the Cupola at East Carolina University.
A large window provides ample light for real blooms next to her desk, and now that it’s spring, she’s looking forward to working in her home garden too.
Propped close by is a suitcase full of puppets, part of a project developed by Dumlao and Deborah Thomson in the School of Communication to take ECU students into the community as puppeteers to talk with children about healthy lifestyles.
Like her garden, Dumlao has been growing partnerships, earning her the 2013 ECU Scholarship of Engagement Award. Earlier this year, Dumlao received the 2013 Robert L. Sigmon Service Learning Award from the N.C. Campus Compact. She was the first from ECU to receive the award.
“It’s important to talk with the community about what they want,” Dumlao said. “One of the things I love about community service learning and engagement is getting students excited about working in the community. I feel good about it because it’s another way to prepare students for what they’re going to be doing after graduation.”
The puppets are just one way that Dumlao and colleagues have fostered service-learning, a teaching strategy that links community service to classroom study and reflection.
Since starting the project in 2008, the puppets have given more than 300 children a fun way to learn about serious topics such as diabetes and obesity. Dumlao has collaborated with faculty across campus - nutritionists, pediatricians, child development and family relations, theater - on scripts to address the unique needs of area children.
“It’s not just puppet shows,” Dumlao said. “We want to make a bigger difference.”
Dumlao has led service-learning efforts at ECU and beyond for more than a decade, chairing the university’s service-learning committee to support course design and faculty development, serving as editor of book reviews for trade journals, and integrating service-learning into the curriculum.
She helped create the School of Communication’s required capstone course, which includes a service-learning project. Since 2001, more than 1,600 ECU students have completed the course, contributing over 18,000 hours of service locally.
“I want my students to be able not just to understand the content of the class but to be a leader and contributor to the community,” Dumlao said. “We’re (ECU) not the whole show, but we’re a piece hopefully that’s going to make a difference in the community and with others.”
Recently, Dumlao signed a book contract to write about bringing communication scholarship into community service learning and engagement. “There’s not a lot out there about how to do it,” Dumlao said.
Dumlao has worked at ECU for 15 years. She received her bachelor’s degree in home economics and early childhood education from Penn State University, a master’s in scientific and technical communication from Oregon State and a doctorate in mass communication from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Dumlao’s mother and grandmother were teachers who incorporated community engagement into their work long before the term was coined.
“It feels good to be recognized as a leader,” Dumlao said. “This is not a short-term endeavor. For me, community engagement is a way of life.”