Service Learning Recognition


Anna Adams, chair
Michael Carbone
Lynda Garow Grossman
Val Lane
Jeff Pooley
Erika Sutherland
Lora Taub

Proposal for Community Based Learning* Certificate for Muhlenberg graduates:

Service learning and other forms of student community involvement have become important components of the curricula of colleges and universities across the country during the last decades. Inspired by John Dewey's philosophy of the importance of experiential learning, instructors have sought ways to educate for civic responsibility through community involvement. Because of Muhlenberg's mission statement “to prepare students for lives of leadership and service,” because of its reputation in the community as a dependable service partner, and because of its growing service learning programming, Muhlenberg can offer a unique opportunity to students who want to pursue careers connected to public service.

Our committee has informally surveyed programs across the country to see how other institutions incorporate, or not, community-based learning into their curricula. Most of the schools comparable to Muhlenberg offer service learning courses and most of those courses are so designated in the catalog if not on the student transcript. Ithaca College, Ursinus, Bucknell, Drew, Skidmore, and Lehigh offer courses, but do not have a service learning program or offer a certificate to graduates. Dickinson College's Bonner Leaders Program is one of 50 in the country which “seeks to transform students, campuses, communities and the world through promoting community service and leadership.” Service courses at Dickinson are designated on the transcript. Franklin and Marshall offers a Benjamin Franklin Citizenship Certificate to students who take a given number of service learning courses, take a citizenship seminar, and participate in 100 hours of community service. (See attachment for other college and university programs).

We hope with this proposal to formalize and sustain already existing practice. During any given year at Muhlenberg approximately 16 service learning courses are offered. Approximately 80 students participate in formal, extended service projects such as Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, Hospice, Hospital Elder Life Program, IMPACT (trains students to work one on one with adjudicated youth), in an HIV/STD program in which students are trained by the state to volunteer at a clinic and with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program that are not part of course work. The number of students participating in these programs grows annually as does the number of Muhlenberg community partners. In 2003, Muhlenberg's Community Outreach Office was recognized by the Allentown Human Relations Commission for its outstanding work. In 2005, the office received the Casa Guadalupe Community Partner award. The high quality of work performed by our students has led various Community organizations to seek Muhlenberg's help with projects. Because many of our students participate in community service and have aspirations to community-based careers, we believe that Muhlenberg should formalize its commitment to community­-based learning. We do not believe that all students should be required to perform service, nor that all faculty should be required to offer service learning courses, but we do believe that Muhlenberg can offer a unique program to a small, but growing number of students who would be attracted to the college because of this opportunity.

We offer a two step proposal for faculty consideration.

1. The formation of a Community-based Learning Committee to oversee the formal designation of service learning courses and the listing of such courses in the catalog. In addition this committee would work with the Office of Community Outreach and students to design their service projects. We have debated about the proper structure for this committee and have considered several possibilities: a newly elected standing committee; an appointed committee; a committee of interested volunteers much like the Writing Committee. We look to the APC for guidance in this matter. We envision that this committee would be housed in the Faculty Center for Teaching.
2. A formal program which would consist of one ½ course on public engagement; three service learning courses; and 100 hours of committed, trained, ongoing, reflective community work which could include appropriate internships, field work and independent studies; a capstone experience which would involve a public presentation to an appropriate audience such as other students, faculty, community members, board members. Students who successfully complete this program would be given an official certificate at graduation.

*Service learning refers to academic courses that incorporate a service component. Service learning is a method in which students learn and develop through organized service that is conducted in and meets the needs of a community and is coordinated with an institution of higher learning and with the community; helps foster civic responsibility; is integrated into and enhances the academic curriculum of the students enrolled; and includes structured time for students to reflect on the service experience. (American Association for Higher Education). Community-based learning is a broader term which covers service learning courses and community work.