The spirit of student volunteerism
rides a 30-year cycle of intensity so suggests research by some
of the nations leading scholars of higher education. All indications
are that were upon the crest of that particular wave right now,
but with a critical difference this time around faculty are a
key part of the experience, facilitating service to the community, and
integrating it with classroom work to an unprecedented degree.
Its called Service-Learning in academic circles, and
while the University of Vermont has long been blessed bymany committed,
creative, and effective faculty practitioners of this art, it promises
to grow as a hallmark of our undergraduate experience with the recent
establishment of our Office of Community-University Partnerships and
Service-Learning. Were fortunate to have a pair of highly experiencedservice-learning
veterans in Professor Lynne Bond and Courtney Lamontagne leading the
office in the director and associate director roles.
Theres no question that the opportunity to work for the benefit
of an immediate community appeals very strongly to the generation that
makes up our current undergraduates and prospective students. Its
equally true that the needs in our community are many, and the work
of our students and faculty can be a force for positive change. For
a public university, especially a land-grant university, such direct
action in the community that supports us is a perfect fit with our mission.
At the University of Vermont, in particular, the methods and goals of
service-learning have a special resonance given that experiential educations
chief apostle is one of Vermonts proudest products, John Dewey.
It is very much in the grain of the University of Vermont to promote
this kind of activity.
As Professor Dewey would attest, the benefits of service-learning flow
both ways. Our primary mission is education of our students, and service-learning
is a powerful tool toward this end. National data show that students
acquire more knowledge and skills and retain them more effectively in
courses that combine service-learning activities with rigorous syllabi.
True integration is the key to effective service-learning as faculty
create courses in which there is an almost rhythmic alternation of classroom
learning oriented around methodology, theory, ideas, and abstraction
with hands-on experience through service engagement, which is then brought
back to the classroom, providing opportunities for reflection and deepening
of the theoretical understanding. There is no discipline in which service-learning
cannot be a very significant way of enhancing student experience in
Its been a bit more than 30 years since I was an undergraduate
in a university classroom. Though we were near the top of the cycle
of student community involvement then, Im afraid my undergrad
years pre-dated the emergence of service-learning as we know it today.
But Rachel and I both participated in a social psychology research project
that placed us in the middle of deeply impoverished communities in Nova
Scotia. The personal growth of that experience remains a vivid part
of both of our educations, something that Im sure many alumni
can relate to in their own individual ways. Such memories are testimony
to the powerful chemistry that happens when classroom meets community.