All Hands On Deck


In the Fall, I'll be in a campus-community partnership to help homeless students. While this is a required course, are these valuable for the community?

Your question about taking part in a campus-community initiative is one that many students are asking, as more and more universities are engaging in these types of programs. The community benefits from these collaborations on several levels. As public resources are shrinking, community-based organizations are increasingly looking for more institutional partnerships in order to address social concerns. Don't overlook this as an educational course, because you are one of the prime beneficiaries of this partnership, in ways you will discover.

Service learning differs from volunteering in that it provides reciprocal benefits to the student and community, and students can use their experiences to test theories and knowledge they have learned in class.

There are a number of ways to incorporate service learning and community engagement via different models and approaches. Direct-service activities require personal contact with people in need, and it can be the most rewarding for students as they get immediate positive feedback. Indirect services on the other hand, channel resources into a problem rather than working directly with people.

Project-based, student service learning often involves larger groups such as a whole class collectively working on a particular project or issue in partnership with an organization. This model develops teamwork and organizational skills and also involves more direct supervision from instructors. Community-based research is a partnership of students, faculty and community partners collaboratively engaging in research to solve a pressing community or social problem.

Colleges offer a variety of different partnership projects depending on the needs of local community. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency encourages projects where colleges provide technical assistance to small, underserved local communities at no cost to them. The community benefits from the provision of innovation and technology from students at local colleges. The students get the benefit of applying what they have learned in class to real world situations. Practical experience and course credits can be earned simultaneously.

A number of projects deal with environmental and geographical issues such as the preservation of local nature reserves, cultivation of organic foods, or cleaning up of contaminated areas. Planning and researching town and urban issues can be part of community partnerships as can the development of engineering or agricultural projects to assist local populations.

The Brooklyn College Community Partnership, for example, works with over 1,500 students from 7 high school and college campuses to develop hands-on creative projects and weekend arts and technology workshops. Students are assigned to work in neighborhoods planting gardens, repairing storm-damaged home roofing, painting murals, etc. Universities are an imperative institutional base for helping community-focused economic progress and civically engaged development. Some colleges have become internationally recognized for their work and leading academics have extolled the strategic focus of higher education resources.

In answer to your question, not only are these partnerships valuable service to the local community, they are equally beneficial to you.

Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it - Marian Wright Edelman.

(Suzanne Hite is a former publications editor serving the technology services sector).


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