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Fogel Announces New Office to Facilitate Service-Learning and Community Partnerships

By the view staff Article published September 26, 2003

When Edward Zlotkowski asks people to name significant experiences that helped shape their lives, he gets answers that he finds disturbingly absent of any mention of their collegiate academic experience.

Zlotkowski, a professor of English at Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts, and one of the nation’s preeminent scholars on service-learning, has been attempting to change that by helping start service-learning programs at colleges and universities that actively engage students in their respective fields and communities. He spoke recently to deans, department chairs, and faculty at a series of workshops co-sponsored by UVM and the Vermont Campus Compact.

Zlotkowski was asked to come to Vermont by President Daniel Mark Fogel, who announced the formation of the Office for Community-University Partnerships and Service-Learning on Sept. 25, saying that increasing the number of service-learning courses offered at the university is one of his top priorities.

“Professor Zlotkowksi brings both a deep understanding of service learning, based on first-hand experience, and a passion for the results it can achieve that I hope will prove useful to faculty and academic leadership at UVM, and across the state,” Fogel said.

The new office will have three functions, according to Fogel: to help faculty develop skills in service-learning pedagogy; to help them cultivate community-university partnerships to support service-learning, community-based research, and related activities; and to help UVM define and implement policy and strategies to facilitate community-university partnerships and service-learning.

“A growing body of research shows that students learn material more deeply and with enhanced retention when they are actively engaged in an experiential setting,” Fogel said. “That’s an essential element of service-learning. In addition, the reflection that occurs in the classroom in service-learning courses helps students understand more deeply the people they are serving and the societal problems they are addressing.

"In short, we are speaking of service-learning that ties real-world experiences to very rigorous classroom curricula. That leads to the kind of personal growth we see as a hallmark of the student experience at UVM.”

Both Fogel and Zlotkowski stressed the importance of understanding the true definition of service learning, which is not to be confused with pure community service.

The American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) defines service-learning as a “method under which students learn and develop through thoughtfully-organized service that: is conducted in and meets the needs of a community and is coordinated with an institution of higher education, 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.”

The concept of service-learning is not new at UVM as an increasing number of faculty have taught service-learning courses in recent years. In the past four years, for example, the university has provided 29 faculty members with small grants to meet as a group and develop a service-learning component in their teaching.

Psychology professor Lynne Bond, who has taught a variety of service-learning courses at UVM and was a national finalist for the prestigious Ehrlich Award for Service Learning in 2003, will serve as director of the new office.

“Many faculty are supportive of service-learning once they understand how effective it can be in helping them achieve their teaching goals,” she said. “But they are challenged logistically to find a way to get students out into the community. That’s where our office can help.”

Through past service-learning initiatives, the office already maintains a large database of community contacts with whom faculty could partner, which Bond says will be greatly expanded. The office will also assist faculty in adapting existing courses, or in creating new ones, incorporating a service-learning approach.

In addition to Bond, the new office will be staffed by Associate Director Courtney Lamontagne, currently coordinator of the UVM/Burlington Community Outreach Partnership Center, and Senior Faculty Fellow, Chris Koliba, assistant professor of Community Development and Applied Economics and co-director of the Master's of Public Administration.