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Service-learning program pays off for students, MCSP

For nearly five years, the Michigan Community Scholars Program (MCSP) has fused civic engagement with academics to help students connect to U-M and make a difference in their communities.

To recognize the program's success, the Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning honored MCSP March 31 with the Community Service & Social Action's Outstanding University Program Award. Wendy Woods, program associate director and Ann Arbor City Council representative, also was honored with the Community Service & Social Action's Outstanding Staff Member Award.

MCSP Director David Schoem says the program is unique because, in addition to service learning, it also emphasizes diversity and a learning community.

"The integration of these initiatives is a cutting-edge idea," Schoem says. "We are trying to create a community where there is a strong emphasis on community and a deep emphasis on learning. We are called on constantly by campuses nationwide."

Each year, the program brings together more than 150 first and second-year students—about 50 percent are students of color and international students and 50 percent white students—to live in Couzens Hall and create a premier residential learning community. Through small courses, service projects, leadership opportunities, social programs and study groups, they strive to model an ideal community full of responsibility, diversity, collaboration and caring.

Coursework with faculty from a number of schools and colleges includes first-year seminars, introductory composition courses, and service-learning courses all focusing on community. Essentially, a student's coursework is designed to complement their work in the community, which includes tutoring children, revitalizing homes or working in public health.

"The award confirms all the strong commitments of our faculty, staff, students and community partners who everyday live out their commitment of making the world a better place, giving back to the community and living up to the ideals of a diverse democracy in America," says Schoem. "That's pretty special that we received two awards."

The program's innovative mixture of three, often separate, initiatives is outlined in a book entitled, "Engaging the Whole of Service-Learning, Diversity, and Learning Communities." Four U-M faculty members, including Schoem, co-edited the book, which is filled with examples and suggestions on how to create a thoughtful community.

The other editors were Joseph Galura, director of MSCP's Project Community; Penny Pasque, a former MSCP program director; and Jeffrey Howard, associate director of service-learning at Ginsberg. The book was published by the Office of Community Service and Learning in 2004.

Galura says many times service-learning, diversity and learning communities are thought of separately. The book discusses the role of higher education in fostering cooperation.

"If you're willing to move beyond a paternalistic view of helping and keeping the system that propagates social inequalities in place, you have to understand issues of diversity, multiculturalism and privilege and how they operate," Galura says.

Most chapters are co-authored by a combination of faculty, community partners, students and staff. Some of the articles in the book are written by national experts and provide a theoretical context under the headings of "National Trends in Higher Education: Service-Learning, Diversity and Learning Communities," "Innovative Program Models that Engage the Whole," and "Integrative Course Models: Collaborations of Faculty, Students, Staff and Community Partners."

The program also seeks to ease the transition for students from high school to college and to prepare them for leadership roles. It appears to be working: The percentage of first-year students returning to U-M the following year is slightly higher for MCSP students, compared to other freshmen on campus. For example, in the fall 100 percent of MCSP's underrepresented minority students returned from the year before.

After nearly five years, the MCSP team is not resting on its laurels. Members continually are trying to improve their coursework, working on interdisciplinary pedagogy, considering new ways to bring their co-curricular experiences into the classroom, and strengthening community partnerships, says CRLT Assistant Director Crisca Bierwert.

For more information about MCSP, visit http://www.lsa.umich.edu/mcs.

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