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Service, Learning and Community

Guest Author - D. Lynn Byrne, Ph.D.

Service-learning, or the idea that students should--as a part of their academic plan--contribute volunteer time and efforts in support of the community in which they are living and learning, is an old idea that's gaining renewed support (check out the history of service learning).

The idea that colleges are living, breathing, contributing participants in the community in which they are located has at its very foundation the concept of equity and social justice. Some of the positive features associated with service-learning are that it provides students with:
  • experience in an academic or future career field
  • the future possibility of internships, part-time jobs and full-time jobs
  • increased understanding of the topics covered in the classroom
  • opportunities for exploration of values, attitudes, and beliefs about the world
  • opportunities for students to utilize their untapped or under-utilized skills
  • opportunities to enhance leadership skill development
  • opportunities to fully develop and integrate personal and professional goals
  • the chance to demonstrate to potential employers and academic institutions a diversity of interests and skills
  • a better understanding of community issues
  • ways to connect with the broader community
  • opportunities to build self-confidence and improve self-concept
  • the opportunity to develop an ability to handle change and the flexibility to take on new roles and
  • the chance to develop a network of contacts and support people.
Students also comment that service-learning programs and projects provide them with an outlet to act on their personal beliefs about equity, social change and social justice. Service-learning is reported as an invaluable personal growth experience. Through their volunteer committments, students gain a greater understanding of economic, political, and cultural structures in society and how these structure effect and impact individual lives, families, and communities.

But, service-learning programs and projects may also have a negative impact. Students attending colleges and universities where such programs and projects are integrated fully into the curriculum (i.e. community "service" is mandated for either a grade or credit) may attach no personal value whatsoever to these programs and projects except for that associated with the grade or credit received for completion. Students whose service is conscripted may feel put-upon; thus where the idea is to encourage students to give back to the community because they care about or value their community, students may instead develop the idea that the community is somehow "using" them to get things done that no one else wants to do.

If you are interested in increasing your connections with the greater community in which you live and learn, visit the service-learning office on your college or university campus. If your campus isn't currently part of the service-learning trend, check out the National Service Learning Clearinghouse, a project of Learn and Serve America, for ideas, information, and resources for incorporating service into your academic plan.

Want to read more about this topic? Take a look at Service Learning: From Classroom To Community To Career by Marie Watkins and Linda Braun (2005). Its a great resource for students and educators alike!

Until next time!

Lynn Byrne

Preparing for college admissions? Trying to find direction? Need a little help with the planning? Check out my college planning series:
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Content copyright © 2014 by D. Lynn Byrne, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.
This content was written by D. Lynn Byrne, Ph.D.. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.

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