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President's Perspective
Service Works

At the University of Vermont, we are in so many ways the heirs of John Dewey, the great educational philosopher, Vermonter, and UVM alumnus. Dewey saw education as inseparable from action; it isn't preparation for life, he believed, it is a “process of living.”

That kind of thinking is woven into our University's very fabric. We are deeply committed to our social mission and to developing our students intellectually and civically. So we support our students as they serve - and learn - in the community. Our students spend more than 100,000 hours a year in volunteer service, and tens of thousands more learning by doing in internships and experiential learning programs. These might include a biology major working at a lab bench with a professor on a cancer study, perhaps, or an engineering student working in research and development with Burton Snowboards.

Lost sometimes in that huge tally of hours is how individually meaningful every single one of those hours can be. Take a young social work student, assigned to help meet a family of Bantu refugees from Somalia on an icy February evening. No one in the family spoke English, and the family and the student communicated with them through gestures. Over time, the family and student learned to communicate and became close. “You figure out what works and what doesn't,” the student says.

At UVM, service works. We were recently selected by the Princeton Review and the national non-profit group Campus Compact as one of the nation's leading universities for social engagement. We will soon be featured in the book Colleges with a Conscience: 81 Great Schools with Outstanding Community Involvement. The efforts of two of our alumni, Jody Williams and John McGill, were recognized with two Nobel Peace Prizes over the last ten years.

For the future's leaders, we are rapidly expanding our successful service-learning efforts. By correlating real-world experience with classroom activities, service-learning enhances the way students acquire and retain knowledge and skills. In addition to this effort, UVM strives to provide undergraduates with a wide range of experiential learning experiences - environmental students working closely with professors and community leaders to find solutions to stormwater pollution, for example. This close connection of classroom and field experience is a powerful educational practice.

We want our graduates to be leaders in their communities, in the organizations in which they work, and across their professions. Highly honed communication skills are essential to this. Writing matters in all fields. Getting ideas across powerfully contributes to one's being a leader in chemistry, in food science, in philosophy, or mechanical engineering. So we are working to develop our ability to teach this through writing-intensive courses within students' field of focus.

The goal, always, is to graduate students who are connected and committed to their communities, expert problem solvers, both able and eager to carry the UVM ethos into the world and make a difference. Supporting them in this process is our work and our privilege, hour by hour, student by student.

President Fogel's message was originally aired, in an abbreviated form, as a commentary on Vermont Public Radio in May 2005.