What Is Service Learning and How Does Century College Utilize This Learning Tool?

April 11, 2012

Service learning is a type of experiential learning that engages students in service within the community as an integrated aspect of a course.  Service learning is designed to get students into the community for active learning related to what they are studying in the classroom.  Effective service learning courses involve students in course-relevant activities in partnership with a community organization, and structure opportunities for students to reflect on their service experience to gain a better understanding of course content and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility.

Century College biology project

There are three main elements of every service learning experience.  Service learning:

  • is reciprocal, meaning the student and the community organization both benefit from the assignment.
  • provides real-life application of materials so that students retain more course curriculum and come away with an appreciation for the role we all play in civic engagement.
  • always involves opportunities for reflection.  Reflection assignments are important, allowing students to think critically about the experience both during and after their service.

At Century College, if an instructor chooses to utilize service learning in a course, it is a required assignment of the course, often replacing a textbook with real-life experience.  Students who complete a service learning assignment should engage in meaningful, hands-on, real-world activities.

Century College elementary partnership

As just one example, the service learning assignment for an Introduction to Human Services course provides an opportunity for students to serve local nonprofits.  Students are learning about the history of human service; education and training; worker roles; agencies, programs and community resources; career and job opportunities; skills, knowledge and values of the human service worker.  Through the service learning assignment, they have a minimum of 25 hours of individual hands-on experience assisting agencies with projects such as tutoring youth, completing relevant administrative office work, helping with programming at transitional housing organizations, or leading recreational activities for seniors.  Students reflect in class discussion groups and through a final writing assignment.

The following are excerpts taken from hundreds of positive Century College student reflections about the service learning experience:

  • “We learn these theories in school but until we really apply them or see them in action, they’re not real.”
  • “I think it was a great experience and service learning makes me feel like I made the right choice to go to school to become a teacher.”
  • “I wish more of my classes had service learning in them.”
  • “Because of my service learning assignment, I am more open and appreciative of volunteer work. I’ve found that it’s a lot more enjoyable to give something than to receive something.”
  • “I spoke to one of the nurses about applying to work there. She said since I have some experience with this location, my chances are high for possibly getting a job there. It was a wonderful feeling to know that I may already have some connections.”

The Service Learning Department at Century College closely collaborates with faculty members, community partners, and students by researching appropriate service learning sites, placing service learning students, and providing a clearinghouse for strong support, information, and problem solving.

Century College communication group

Each instructor and course at Century College has a designated service learning coordinator.  A presentation to the class is made early in the semester, information is distributed, and questions are answered.  Each semester, “Strategies for a Successful Service Learning Experience” materials are made available on Century’s Student Success Day.

At the same time that students are gaining academic, professional, and personal skills, local community partners receive valuable service and assistance.  We are encouraged by the frequent positive comments from our community partners.  The following are three great examples of how agencies and the overall community benefits from service learning:

Staff at one of the local nature centers has commented, “Over 100 hours were contributed by students over two seasons in planting and maintaining woodland wildflowers, ferns and grasses for a Federal Sustainable Trails Grant.  At the rate of $16 per hour as specified in the grant, the value of the student labor for just this project was $2,336.  However its long-term value is much greater in terms of re-establishing native vegetation along new trail corridors to restore habitat, stem erosion and protect water quality.”   

 

As one of our closest school partners has commented, “Elementary primary age students have shown incredible growth in the areas of reading and math given the extra one-to-one and small group help. In some classrooms, almost 100 percent of the students met their [Measures of Academic Progress] targets! That is simply amazing, and was not the case prior to the volunteer program consisting of the service learning students.  Attendance for some of the at-risk students went up as we provided these extra mentors.”

One social service nonprofit wrote, “As a result, [our] limited staff was able to raise more funds to be given to area health and human service agencies. These agencies have been dealing with major cuts in funding. Having more student volunteers was especially helpful last year, enabling us to raise over $4,000 in one evening to fight local hunger.”

Below are some statistics about Service Learning at Century College:

  • Approximately 2,000 Century students participate in service learning each year.
  • Over 15,000 Century students have participated in service learning since it began at Century College in 2000.
  • Century College students have contributed over 200,000 hours of service to the community in the last decade.
  • About 40 percent of the programs at Century require a service learning assignment.  Some Century programs require service learning to graduate.
  • Service learning hours are recorded on the students’ official transcript if they satisfy the service learning requirement and complete at least one reflection assignment for the course.
  • Students completing more than 40 hours of service learning while attending Century are recognized on the commencement program.

Considering the current economic and employment situation, service learning involvement is as important as ever in terms of contributing to our communities, as well as promoting student growth and increasing a student’s professional skills.

To learn more about how service learning can be incorporated into your work, please contact the Service Learning Department at Century College.

Kara Nakagaki, Service Learning Coordinator

Judy Lykins, Director of Service Learning

Email address – ServiceLearning@Century.edu


Working with Service-Learning Students

November 30, 2011

Service learning has become huge over the past decade in Minnesota. Many high schools and colleges are making ‘service learning’ a requirement for a student’s educational experience. Many students are looking for shorter term projects that create impact for your organization. Not only do they want to complete the requirement, but they want to make a difference in their community. If your organization is ready for them to serve, you will help to great a stream of invaluable resources.

 

Some steps that your organization can do so that service learning can become second nature includes: creating a list of opportunities that students can participate and complete in short time; being flexible with the days & hours that they can serve since many students are only available in the later afternoon, early evenings, or weekend time slots; and, able to get the student(s) through the application & orientation processes quickly so they can begin their experience.

 

Organizations can also build relationships with some of the junior high schools, senior high schools, and colleges that are close in proximity to them. Connect with the service-learning staff so that they are aware of the needs within your organization and can keep students informed on what’s available.

 

Once the service-learning requirement has been completed, make sure to complete the necessary evaluation forms for the students and thank them for the work they provided. An exit interview geared towards service-learning students is a great tool so you can ask what went well and what needs improvement so the organization can improve the experience for future service-learning students.

 

Quotes from service-learning students:

 

“I was able to experience people with disabilities on a weekly basis. I brought the guys [I volunteered with] to restaurants, Timberwolves games, Vikings games, and shopping. It was a great experience and recommends it to anyone”.

 

-Simon Gondeck, student from Benilde St-Margaret

 

I had so much fun volunteering at Hammer! At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but through this experience I learned a lot and became really close to the girls that I worked with. On our visits, we would go to movies, go shopping, do make overs, play the Wii, or do other activities that that I would never expect to do while volunteering. I had a great time! And I would definitely recommend to anyone looking [for a service learning experience] to volunteer here!

Lizzy Geiwitz, student from Benilde St-Margaret

 

Katie Bottiger

Director of Volunteer Resources

Hammer


Communication with Teen Volunteers

October 26, 2011

Communication can be a major challenge for Volunteer Administrators. In my role, I coordinate the Junior Volunteer program for students age 14-18. I have found that communicating information to these volunteers in a timely manner can be difficult. While bulletin boards are great and newsletters are invaluable, I often need to send notice of last minute issues and updates to this group of volunteers.

Traditionally, I’ve relied on phone calls and emails to reach our Junior Volunteers. However, it’s tough to catch them on their cell phones during the school day, and according to ComScore’s 2010 Digital Year in Review, email use among 12-17 year olds dropped 59% in 2010 (http://www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Presentations_Whitepapers/2011/2010_US_Digital_Year_in_Review).  So, I set out to figure out a way to text the JVs.

Prior to starting my research, I knew that I didn’t want to use my own cell phone. I also knew that I wanted the students to “opt in” to receive texts. I searched online and found a few suggestions on how to send text messages to large groups of people. Each method had positive and negative features. The most popular suggestion I found, was to set up a Google Voice number and text from that number. The downside to this option is that you must constantly update an excel spreadsheet with volunteer phone numbers and cell carriers. Also, through Google Voice, you can only send a text to 5 recipients at a time and there is a limit to the total number of texts you can send out. This could prove to be an issue if I were trying to reach the large group of JVs we have in the summer months.

The simplest suggestion, and the one I went with in the end, was to set up a Twitter account and text through Twitter. Twitter accounts are free, and the tweets that I send out appear in the JV’s text in-box as regular text messages. Once my Twitter account was set up, I advertised to the Junior Volunteers that they could sign up to receive text messages. To receive text messages, they simply text the words “follow USERNAME” to 40404. The downside to this method is that I have no way of knowing who has decided to receive texts and who has declined. However, I know that it is working because just last weekend I sent out a text saying, “we need subs for Saturday morning,” and two JVs picked up shifts!

 

For more information see the twitter blog at http://blog.twitter.com/2010/08/introducing-fast-follow-and-other-sms.html.

 

Amy Lobitz

Volunteer Coordinator

Fairview Southdale Hospital


The Road To A Youth Volunteer Program

June 1, 2011

I was hired last year as an AmeirCorps VISTA and was tasked with engaging more youth as volunteers in the Science Museum of Minnesota – no easy task. It’s been a long process of walking the exhibits, figuring out where we could even have youth and what would appeal to younger volunteers. A successful program takes into consideration its audience developmental needs and we understood that young volunteers are still in the process of developing, therefore our program, recruitment and intake process all had to reflect youth’s developmental stage.

We wanted to design a program that allowed volunteers to have fun and engage with visitors, but also had opportunities for them to learn and develop as leaders. After discarding half a dozen ideas, we settled on a summer opportunity where our youth volunteers facilitate science activities with pre-schoolers. This was definitely the best fit for the Volunteer Department and the Museum. Youth have the chance to learn many hands-on activities, work with children, develop leadership activities and meet new friends. Youth have real responsibility in executing the Museum’s mission of turning on the science and the opportunity to learn both science and life skills.

As this is only our first year, there is still much we want to accomplish in the coming years! We will take the feedback of our participants and continue implementing activities and opportunities that are appropriate for youth. Eventually we want to build a program that incorporates service and learning as a model for healthy youth development for our youth! The road is long and there are always improvements, but all programs start somewhere.

Beatriz Carrillo, Youth Engagement Coordinator

Science Museum of Minnesota