The University Record, March 15, 1993

University has strong base of community service programs

By Jane R. Elgass

The concept of community service as a learning experience that is built into the college curriculum is a frequent theme of discussions in higher education today, spurred on by the initiatives that have been presented by the Clinton administration.

The University already has strong programs in this area and hopes to build on their strengths and possibly move in new directions, says Jeffrey P.F. Howard, student services associate and member of the Task Force on Community Service Learning.

Two programs provide the base from which student community service experiences are launched—Project COMMUNITY and Project SERVE.

Project COMMUNITY has been active for approximately 30 years and offers students academic credit for service activities.

“These experiences help students develop a sense of civic and social responsibility,” Howard notes, adding that there is a wide choice of programs in which students can participate.

“They cover the entire range of social service agencies and institutions,” Howard explains. “Many of them focus on youth who need attention, such as tutoring and mentoring programs. Others are set in health care facilities, such as a Teen Moms program and providing companionship for patients at University Hospitals.

Students also are involved in programs within the criminal justice system, for both adults and juveniles. Some students, Howard notes, are teaching creative writing. At the federal corrections facility in Milan, where there is a high Native American population, students are involved in a program that focuses on Native American issues, including film screenings and discussion.

Other opportunities include work in chemical dependency agencies, working with the homeless, and participating in literacy programs.

Project SERVE, established under a Presidential Initiatives grant in 1988, offers community service opportunities, but not for credit. It has two general programming efforts—serving as an information clearinghouse and providing specific community service programs, “some of them the most exciting on campus,” says Howard.

These include:

—Alternative Spring Break Program. Now in its third year, the program sent 63 students to seven sites nationwide during the recent term break. All go through orientation prior to departure and participate in what Howard terms an “immersion program.”

—Into the Streets. This annual program, supported by Kellogg Foundation funding, gives people a taste of service activities, sort of a sampler. “A lot of us believe that if students have a chance to experience service activities, find out how good and enriching they are, they will come back to participate.”

—SERVE Week. Special recognition is accorded students who have provided outstanding service, and samplings of service activities are again available.

Two more programs—STEPP and SERVE WORK—have recently been launched, both supported by outside grants.

STEPP—Student Education Peer Program—was started by a group of students who approached Murray-Wright High School in Detroit about forming a partnership, sort of an adopt-a-school program, Howard explains.

The grant supporting SERVE WORK will enable Howard’s office to gather a library of resource materials from across the country for students who are interested in a career or doing extensive volunteer work in the non-profit sector.

“The students can use SERVE WORK to find an area of interest, and then work with Career Planning and Placement to sharpen job hunting skills.” Howard says.

How do students find out about community service opportunities? Through a combination of activities, Howard says.

These include a volunteer fair on the Diag in the fall—40 agencies participated last year, a “strong network” with the Housing Division, and by word-of-mouth. In addition, Howard says that “more and more students have had volunteer experiences in high school. In Maryland, community service is a high school graduation requirement.”

Howard’s office also is gearing up to encourage more faculty to incorporate community service activities in their courses. A grant from the Commission on National and Community Service, created under President George Bush, will support publication of a case book.

Sixteen faculty members representing some 12 disciplines who already use service activities in their courses will provide case studies. The foreword will be written by Wilbert J. McKeachie, professor emeritus of psychology and research scientist emeritus, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching.

“The book is intended for a faculty readership,” Howard explains, “to provide a model and encourage them to move in this direction. It’s about learning as much as it is about service, how to tap into the community service experience.

“Many faculty members are receptive to the idea of incorporating service into their courses, but don’t know how,” Howard explains. “The case book will help remedy that problem. In addition, many think it involves a lot of work. Much of that work can be handled by our office. We helped develop sites for community service activities for [Prof. Gregory B.] Markus’s political science course.” (See story on page 9).

He also notes that “many faculty members are doing this on their own, one of the values of the decentralized system we have here.”

Howard says that approximately 4,400–4,500 students are involved in community service activities, “with only about half of them through our office.” The others participate in programs of student organizations that have service as a mission or component, through the residence halls, through courses not administered by Project COMMUNITY, and through fraternities and sororities, which Howard says “are getting more involved in service as opposed to raising money for special projects.”