Beyond Curriculum: Service-Learning in Colleges

Posted by Jan Boroff

Lounging on the beach. Soaking up the sun. These pastimes are generally what pop into college students’ heads when they hear the words “spring break.” For a handful of students from Huntington University, a liberal arts institution in Indiana, this past spring break looked a whole lot different.

Thirteen Huntington students and staff crammed themselves and their luggage into a van that headed north to Benton Harbor, Michigan, where they spent their break serving others. In a subdivision of houses built by Habitat for Humanity, the students painted, nailed metal roofing installed hurricane sheeting, mulched and picked up trash.

Others are skipping out on the beach scene too. Over 61 million Americans participated in volunteer work between September 2007 and September 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly 22 percent of people ages 16 to 24 volunteered within the US in the past year.

Ivy League schools emphasize the importance of service by creating courses that help students get involved in their communities. Marc Santora of the New York Times wrote an article highlighting the “service learning” concept implemented at Columbia University. Engineering students at Columbia earn credit for their part in designing items such as swings for people who use wheelchairs and an environmentally sustainable greenhouse at a high school in Harlem, Santora said.

College students don’t always turn to organizations when reaching out to others. Abe Janson, a junior elementary and intermediate education major at Huntington University, started a dinner with a group of his friends to meet new people. What started out as a simple get-to-know-you gathering evolved into something greater. As soccer players, Janson and his group of friend felt “kind of disconnected from everybody.”

To expand their group of friends, the boys decided to cook food their fellow students. “The cool thing was the first week we were going to do it, we went to the grocery store to find groceries, and I met a guy that I know from Huntington, and he just asked us what we were doing,” Janson said. “I said, ‘Well, some of my friends and I just decided we were going to buy a bunch of food for people and try to cook for them.’ He said, ‘Oh dude, that’s awesome. Let me buy your groceries.’” With their first groceries bought at no expense to them, the boys of AJ’s Dinner, named after Abe and his friend James Holliday, got cooking. They accepted donations which went toward buying groceries for the next get-together.

Junior Taylor Zeman, one of the guys involved with the dinner, had a different idea for the donations. In a magazine, Zeman had seen an advertisement for Rice Bowls, a nonprofit organization that collects money to feed orphans around the globe. Zeman sent away for the bowls and distributed them among students at the next night the dinner was held. “We were definitely hoping to make an impact,” Janson said. The boys at AJ’s Diner raised more $315 for the charity.

College volunteers don’t only make an impact on those who reap the rewards of their labor, but also on those they serve with. Huntington University’s director of volunteer services, Grace McBrayer, led the trip to Benton Harbor. “You know students would serve eight or 12 hours, and then pick up your plate and wash it for you,” McBrayer said. “They had every right to go lay down and be tired and cranky, but they chose to stay involved, and they chose to stay engaged.”

Habitat for Humanity
Rice Bowls

No comments:

Post a Comment