One Psychology Student’s Desire to Help Others

Siva Sarinas, Gigi's Playhouse volunteer

Siva Sarinas (second from left) at Gigi’s Playhouse.


As a junior, Siva Sarinas took PSYC 381 (Children and Families) with Roosevelt adjunct psychology professor Barbara Ackles, who required her students to work in the field as part of the course.

Sarinas, who had never worked closely with children before, spent 20 hours a week during the fall 2015 course tutoring children with Down syndrome at Gigi’s Playhouse in Hoffman Estate, Illinois.

The experience opened Sarinas’ eyes to the good she could do and the joy she has since found by helping disadvantaged children all over the world.

“I try to give all of my students practical experience outside the classroom in what it’s like to work helping children and families in need,” said Ackles, one of many Roosevelt professors who offer a service-learning component as part of their coursework.

At Gigi’s, Sarinas was an instructor for the Teen Tastic fitness program. She also regularly tutored two teenage girls, ages 14 and 16, teaching them to recognize and sound out words. During this experience, the Roosevelt student found her calling when one of the girls began reading from the book they were looking at together.

“Learning opportunities outside the classroom are cited nationally as the experience that students are most likely to remember about college after they graduate.”

– Katrina Coakley, Associate Provost for Student Success

“I started crying and my student saw how happy I was. She asked me if she could read what she had learned to her parents,” said Sarinas, who was so moved that she decided to stay on as a volunteer at Gigi’s — even after her Roosevelt course was over.

Recognizing the impact that learning experiences outside the classroom can have in students’ lives, Roosevelt’s Office of the Provost — in conjunction with faculty, staff and students — is currently developing a new general education curriculum with enhanced opportunities for service, internships, research and even study abroad as part of regular coursework. The new curriculum is set to begin in fall 2018.

“Learning opportunities outside the classroom are cited nationally as the experience that students are most likely to remember about college after they graduate,” said Katrina Coakley, associate provost for student success at Roosevelt.

After a year of volunteering on her own at Gigi’s, Sarinas went to Bali through the Green Lion’s health care program in summer 2016 to teach health care essentials to children from impoverished areas of the country. During the six-week program, she taught preschool to fifth graders everything from the importance of hygiene and nutrition to basic English skills.

Siva Sarinas with class in Bali

Sarinas (back row, center) in Bali.


“These children were so eager to learn,” Sarinas said. “Even though many of them had to come from miles and miles away, they would come early for their lesson. It was another moving experience for me.”

Prior to attending Roosevelt, the 31-year-old Sarinas worked as a physician’s assistant. At Roosevelt she started a Natural Sciences Club, encouraging student members to volunteer doing community cleanup in Chicago’s Garfield Park and working with animals at the PAWS animal shelter in Chicago.

“From the beginning, I could see that Siva had a desire to help others,” said Brent Barker, an assistant professor of physics and a faculty advisor for the Natural Sciences Club. “I’m not surprised that she’s taken what she’s learned and applied it in so many ways to help others.”

While her interest in science remains strong, Sarinas has discovered — thanks to a field experience that was part of her coursework — that her first passion is working with children. After graduation in May 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she hopes to once again join the Green Lion Program, this time working with needy children in India or Africa.

After recently taking PSYC 368 (Child Abuse and Family Violence) last semester with Ackles — a course that took her to the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center where she worked with wards of the state — Sarinas also hopes to one day work in courthouses in Washington, D.C. with victims of domestic violence.

“Siva’s journey is in keeping with the spirit of what we’re trying to do with learning at Roosevelt University,” said Coakley. “Her story is an example of the transformative path that experiential learning can provide for our students. She is a role model for how experiential learning can help a student find his or her path in life.”

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