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Saturday, Nov 01, 2014

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New initiative aims to bring service learning to the classroom


What started as a desire to add more service opportunities to the Ohio University student experience has taken on life in the form of a new center on the Athens Campus. The Center for Campus and Community Engagement (CCCE) is aimed at supporting students, faculty and community members interested in adopting community-based engagement practices for the betterment of students and the community.

Thanks to support from the Konneker Fund and the 1804 Fund and great collaboration among multiple units, the CCCE is off to a good start. The CCCE is the result of a partnership among:

  •  University College

  •  The College of Health Sciences and Professions

  •  The College of Arts and Sciences

  •  The Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs

  •  The Office of the Provost

  •  The Division of Student Affairs

University College Dean David Descutner explains that discussions about the CCCE began in fall of last year when College of Health Sciences and Professions Dean Randy Leite and CHSP Director of Community Engagement Kevin Davis approached him, expressing an interest in offering opportunities for all students to engage in service learning. Davis, who is serving as director of the CCCE, had been working with community agencies and recognized a need for a more organized method of connecting students with service projects.

"A lot of community-based organizations don't know whom to contact when it comes to using students to help community-based agencies," Davis said.

Dialogue began about how such a center would function. Other colleges became involved, recognizing the rich opportunities that the CCCE would offer their students. Soon, the partnering colleges and offices pledged their support, both academic and financial, to ensure that the CCCE was able to go from idea to initiative.

"We have yet to speak with anyone about this initiative who does not see the value in having such a center," said Descutner. He explained that rather than house the CCCE within one specific college, Leite and Davis encouraged making it a University-wide operation that would benefit all colleges and Student Affairs. CCCE will be co-led by University College and Student Affairs, both of which are units known for university-wide programs.

"Kevin Davis has been indispensable in getting this initiative off the ground," Descutner said. Davis applied for a Konneker Fund grant and an 1804 grant to launch the CCCE. The funds from the two grants make up close to a third of the CCCE's two-year operating budget. The partners are covering the remaining costs with their pledges of support.

Community service opportunities for students are already made available through the Campus Involvement Center, which is overseen by the Division of Student Affairs. Davis explains it is the difference between service learning and community service that sets the two centers apart, but also allows them to work cooperatively.

"We involved Student Affairs right from the start. What we kept coming back to was that the Campus Involvement Center is more focused on one-time, short-term engagement/service opportunities," Davis said. "So if a student wants to go out and help clean up a river bed, or a student wants to spend a day with Habitat for Humanity, those are the kinds of opportunities that the Campus Involvement Center has provided very well for years."

The CCCE would partner with the academic colleges and focus on long-term, sustained community outreach efforts. Such efforts would be incorporated in class syllabi and ideally would play a key role in a program's curriculum. Service learning, as Davis notes, equally supports student learning and the organizations where students provide service, and requires what the research calls "classroom-based critical reflection" on the part of the students.

The initiative is still in its early stages, but already a governing council with representation from faculty, staff, and the community has been established, a strategic plan is being crafted, and the quest to find a permanent space to house the CCCE is underway.

"Right here, for now, in my office, this is the headquarters, you could say," laughed Davis.

Since faculty members will play an integral role in expanding service learning at Ohio University by incorporating service learning into their courses, CCCE leaders will ask for faculty feedback through a focus group next month made up of instructors and professors who currently use service learning in their courses. In the spring, the CCCE will offer workshops to faculty interested in service learning that will be funded through another 1804 grant written by Lisa Kamody, who works with the Learning Communities Program and is a member of the CCCE governing council.  

"We want to acquaint faculty with what it takes to incorporate service learning into their courses and provide follow up support, and our hope is they in turn will become advocates for service learning and the CCCE," Descutner said.

At the heart of the initiative, Davis said, is the CCCE's commitment to provide transformational learning opportunities for our students and thereby directly support the University's vision statement, which is to be the nation's best transformative learning community where students realize their promise, faculty advance knowledge, staff achieves excellence, and alumni become global leaders.  

For more information about next month's faculty focus group, contact Kevin Davis at davisk4@ohio.edu.