Center for Service Learning leads the way with student involvement

Students volunteering at the Community Table. Photo by the Center for Service Learning

A part of what defines WCU as an engaging and prospering institution is how it values a community effort. One way they present this through service learning.

The Center for Service Learning (CSL) is a program here on campus that integrates everyday values as a person in society into education. Service learning acquires what students learn in a classroom and applies it to community service-like projects.

The CSL caters to just about every student on campus regarding the service learning opportunities. However, the CSL does point out to students that the experience is different from community service. A lot of what makes the experience service learning rather than community service is that it is connected academic coursework.

Engage, develop and support are just a few of what the center pushes to achieve in their mission statement.

The Center for Service Learning’s mission focuses on the development, promotion, and measurement of programs and initiatives that engage all partners in the mutually reciprocal process of community development, with the intention of fostering a sustainable campus culture and the personal habit of community engagement in our students.

To find out more about the center’s mission, values and vision, click here.

As a junior, WCU student Emma Albrecht encourages other students to get involved.

“I think it’s awesome! I have to do it (service learning) for one of the classes I’m taking this semester and I have done it on my own before as well,” said Albrecht. “It’s important to recognize that the community plays an important role in education.”

Albrecht provided a helping hand in feeding homeless veterans at the VA Military Medical Center in Asheville. She described her experience as enlightening and humbling.

“I enjoyed being able to help and see how I got to affect the people who had been on the street most of the day. They were so happy to be able to get a homemade meal,” said Albrecht

The variety of service learning opportunities that the center provides exceeds expectations. Associate Director for the CSL, Jennifer Cooper, said groups, such as the Community Table, the Cullowhee Community Garden, and the Catman2 shelter are among some of the better filled activities that the center organizes.

One of the concerns focused around service learning is that there are students who volunteer only to fulfill a requirement.

“We certainly meet some students who wouldn’t do service if they didn’t have a requirement through a class, club or sport, but there are also plenty of students who come to us because they’re excited about getting involved and helping the community,” said Cooper. “I would be thrilled if everyone wanted to volunteer out of a sense of altruism, but realistically, sometimes people need an incentive to get started.”

The center organizes around 20 or more service learning events a month, some of which are repeated throughout the month or in future ones. If not for class requirements, some students would simply not know where to find information about service learning.

A junior at WCU, Cody Dockery, reflected on his time so far in college and the opportunities the school has provided. He said that schedule differences between work and school have kept him from pursuing any service learning opportunities.

“As a student, I feel like some service learning hours add to our overall learning experience. Classes that incorporate that into their courses help mold our character as much as our minds,”  said Dockery.

Dockery stated that while he has not yet had time to participate through the CSL, he aspires to help before he graduates.

“Particularly for students who are very busy, volunteering might seem like one more obligation, until they actually participate in a project – sometimes people need a nudge to encourage them to try something new,” said Cooper.

While other students may experience similar difficulties, the CSL ensures that there is still a great interest in volunteering on campus.

The CSL has seen an increase in both the offerings/participants and the number of students pursuing the Lily Community Engagement Award, an indicator of sustained service.

A survey that was administered in 2014 by the National Assessment of Service and Community Engagement (NASCE) stated that approximately 56 percent of WCU students report engaging in service learning in some form or fashion. The CSL looks to re-administer this survey during the 2018 fall semester.

Director of the Center for Service Learning, Lane Perry. Photo by WCU

Director of the CSL, Lane Perry, said in an email message, “We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of service learning offerings over the past five years (from roughly 10 to over 80). While some of these service learning experiences are the 100 (intro) level course, a majority are at the 300-400 (upper) level course and frame service as a positive approach to engaging with the community and as a high impact learning experience.”

According to Perry and the CSL, the number of hours students spent on service learning/co-curricular activities in 2016-2017 was 11,378. The number of students accounting for those hours was 2,966.

The CSL recognizes other relevant issues associated with their goal to engage more students, such as transportation and professional staff support. While members of the CSL are currently working on a proposal that addresses these issues, Perry suggests another idea.

“Another thing we could do to assist with achieving our goal would be to offer weekly or bi-weekly service experiences to the same site,” said Perry. “This would offer more sustainable engagement for students and community partners.”

While volunteering is often portrayed as something we must do to look good in society, there are more elements to it. Service learning infiltrates ideas of giving back and responsiveness into students’ lives. In addition to individual efforts, the institution prides themselves on fostering campus culture and improving habits of engagement and involvement.

To visit the CSL’s website, click here. To learn more about the Lily Community Engagement Award, click here.