More students are learning education isn’t limited to the classroom.
Last year, 620 Kansas University students earned service learning certifications, up from 90 in 2005.
“It’s a wonderful resume builder that shows they are willing to go above and beyond to work in the context of their community,” said Amanda Schwegler, Center for Service Learning assistant director. “Volunteering isn’t new to many students, but pairing it with their discipline makes an impact.”
To earn the certification, students must participate in at least one class with a volunteering element, create or help with an additional volunteer project and then reflect on their experience. Most service learning classes pair volunteer opportunities with course material relevant to the student’s discipline.
For example, KU senior Blake Benton, Olathe, who is majoring in psychology and minoring in human sexuality, volunteered this year with One Colorado, an organization dedicated to promoting LGBT equality. As part of a service learning class, he worked with other activists and volunteers, which he said taught him about the issues affecting the LGBT community.
Seeing so many staff members working in different areas, Benton said, “helps open my mind to that in a potential career opportunity.”
Benton’s experience reflects the program’s goals.
“It’s another way to help students understand that they do not have to go out and work for traditional employers,” she said. “Overall, the goal of service learning is to have students become more engaged not only in their own discipline but also in helping the community and becoming civically involved.”
That’s why KU professor Milton Wendland includes service learning and service learning projects in his classes.
“What I like about service learning is it allows students to take what we learned in the classroom and to, quote unquote, connect it into the real world.”
Wendland said that the volunteer experiences also help expand the students’ perspective on the world. He used the example of a group of students that wanted to help at the women’s and homeless shelters. The group had hoped to collect canned goods for the shelter.
“Service learning is more than that,” Wendland said. Instead, he made students visit the shelters, find out what people needed, and then work to procure the supplies, such as deodorant and tampons.
“It had blown their mind,” he said. “They realized that their own class privilege was blinding them to the way that poverty affected people.”
The Service Learning Center sprouted out of a student initiative in 2005. With the help of the KU Student Senate, the center got off the ground with one part-time employee. It has now grown to five full-time employees.
Schwegler called the emphasis KU puts on service learning “unique” among large research universities.
“For service learning to be as supported as we are at a research university is not that common,” she said. “We are fortunate to have as many folks interested in service learning at our university as we do.”
Benton counts himself fortunate for his service experience and the direction it’s given him.
“I definitely learned you can take a passion for a social justice issue and turn that into a career,” he said. “I hadn’t really been exposed to that a whole lot before.”
— Staff intern Adam Strunk can be reached at 832-7146.