Building a Service-Learning Culture

By:    Date: 01-27-2016

BY STEPHEN BLACK

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UA student Gabby Smith teaches creative writing to a sixth grader at Westlawn Middle School.

Service learning is a natural fit for higher education and a practice that creates tremendous benefits for all involved: students learn hands-on skills, meaningful ways to give back to their community and a deepened sense of societal obligation; nonprofit organizations utilize students’ knowledge and manpower; and faculty and educational institutions provide exceptional learning opportunities for students while connecting with surrounding communities.

As an experience that combines organized service activities with academic study and thoughtful reflection, service learning enhances students’ comprehension of course content while fostering a sense of civic responsibility. Community service activities, carried out in conjunction with course work, encourage students to move beyond acts of charity and temporary solutions to a deeper analysis of systemic challenges in the world around them.

Building a culture of service learning takes time, support from an institution’s administration and organized effort. At The University of Alabama, the Faculty Fellows in Service Learning Program – operated by the Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility – plays a vital role in making service learning a hallmark of students’ education.

Since 2007, 88 faculty members have graduated from the yearlong program, with each developing or enhancing at least one service-learning course. During the 2014-15 academic year, 170 UA faculty members – representing almost every academic discipline – offered service-learning courses in collaboration with more than 350 community partners.

Most college and university faculty members are interested in giving students a chance to learn through service, but they need instruction, tools and resources to bring their ideas to fruition. The Faculty Fellows in Service Learning Program provides this assistance through a series of workshops and individual support. Approximately 10 faculty members from a range of disciplines participate in the program each year.

In addition to learning about various aspects of service learning such as curriculum, reflection, implementation and assessment, Fellows also share ideas and experiences and stay in touch after their fellowship year.

“It’s like a service-learning support group where you know everyone is as passionate about it as you are,” says Teri Henley, coordinator of the program and an advertising and public relations instructor.

Read more about the Faculty Fellows in Service Learning Program on page 80.

Service learning develops students’ ability and desire to take responsibility for the larger community. It shows them how to continue making positive contributions long after college, using their unique skill sets. We believe institutions of higher learning should play this critical role in preparing the next generation to serve as effective, engaged and ethical citizens.

This publication highlights just a sampling of the many outstanding initiatives arising from service learning at The University of Alabama. From improving sanitation in remote villages of Peru (page 76) and developing low-cost energy sources for impoverished areas (page 38) to delivering health and education services to preschoolers (page 10) and helping disadvantaged community members gain in-demand job skills (page 18), service-learning experiences move students beyond the classroom as they apply their knowledge to solving real-world problems and begin to shape the future of our state, country and world.

Stephen BlackStephen F. Black, Director
Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility
A Division of Academic Affairs