Teaching & Learning

First Service Learning Grad Will Walk in May

By: Diana Maxfield in The Utah Statesman

Issue date: 4/5/06 Section: Campus News
 
When Karen Gourley graduates in May, she'll have something on her transcript that no Utah State University student has ever had — a service-learning certificate.
 
Gourley, who will graduate with a degree in family, consumer and human development, said she has been involved in service since she was 2 or 3 years old, when her parents would take her to service projects.
 
"Service has always been a part of my life," she said.
 
This service continued into her college studies. Gourley, the service-learning student representative for the Service Center, is a transfer student from the College of Eastern Utah. She graduated from CEU with an associate's degree and a service-learning designation. Getting involved with service learning at USU only made sense, she said.
 
After graduation, she said she plans to go back to school for a master's degree and eventually would like to work as the coordinator for a service center, like the Val R. Christensen Service Center at USU, so service learning was especially applicable for her.
 
Gourley said the service-learning program is an excellent way to get involved at the university and to meet others who are interested in service. She said service learning is a great way to apply things learned in the classroom into practice.
 
"It's hands-on learning that is service," she said.
 
Robert Schmidt, the coordinator for the academic service learning program, said many universities across the nation have service-learning programs. The service-learning program at USU was initiated about three years ago by students who wanted a more hands-on approach to their learning, Schmidt said.
 
"Students question the relevance of what they are learning," he said. "Service learning ties what you are learning in class with the needs of society."
 
Employers recognize this award and look on it as a huge honor, said Belinda Schultz, the service vice president for ASUSU.
 
"Some of the top schools in the nation offer service learning," she said. "It's equivalent to [graduating with] honors and more."
 
In order to earn a service-learning certificate, students first apply for the service-learning program, filling out an application and writing an essay explaining their interest in service learning. A maximum of 25 students will be accepted into the service-learning program each year, and no more than 100 students can be enrolled in the program at once, Schultz said.
 
The program is not especially competitive now, Schultz said, but the vision is that as more students learn about the program, it will grow and become more competitive with time.
 
Once accepted to the service-learning program, students are required to take nine credits of service-learning designated classes, perform a minimum of 400 service hours, develop and complete a capstone project and present a reflective portfolio, Schultz said.
 
Students at USU perform a lot of service, Schmidt said. Many hours aren't recorded at the Service Center, but the center still has 10,000 hours of student service logged, he said.
 
The real challenge of the project is not the 400 service hours, Schultz said, but finding classes that fit the designation.
 
Schmidt said the service-learning program is currently trying to make more general education classes available as service-learning classes, to help students get involved in service-learning earlier. Schmidt said he recommends that students get into the service-learning program before their junior year.
 
Until more classes become service-learning designated courses, Gourley has helped to develop a contract system, under which a service-learning student can work out a contract with a professor and the service-learning program. This contract allows students to take any class and have it be designated as a service-learning class.
 
Basically, to make a class a service-learning class, a student would do a specified number of service hours related to the class, Schultz said.
 
Gourley said she took Adult Development and Aging as a service-learning class. For her service, she said she volunteered at the Bear River Adult Skill Center, where she took what she learned in class and applied it. This increased and reinforced her understanding of the concepts being taught in the classroom, she said.
 
As a transfer service-learning student, Gourley said she wanted the six service-learning credits she took at CEU to count toward her degree at USU. So, for her capstone project, she created a procedure for any student to transfer service-learning credits from any other university to USU.
 
The challenge for the service-learning program now, Schultz said, is growth. Administrators would like to expand the program and have more students enrolled, but at the same time, the amount of students needs to grow at the same rate as the number of classes available.
 
"We just need to get everyone on board at the same time," she said.
 
This week is the Service Center's Week of Action. A table will be set up on the TSC Patio on Wednesday [April 5] to give students information about the Service Center, including the service-learning program.
 

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