Service education funding comes to U

Michelle Moriarity

A University-based resource for community service education is expanding its scope of services, thanks to a three-year contract and funding from Learn and Serve America, a national service-oriented learning organization.
Service learning is a teaching method that integrates community service and academic studies.
The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse will receive $750,000 per year for the next three years to support expansion of its research and library resources.
The clearinghouse, which is housed in the University’s Department of Work, Community and Family Education, originally catered to elementary and secondary education specialists. Because of the new funds, it now serves college students, faculty and the general public nationwide.
“We’re probably the largest resource in the country on service learning,” said clearinghouse director Rob Shumer. The University partnered with 13 other organizations nationwide, including the University of California-Los Angeles and Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University, to create a resource bank on service learning five years ago.
Researchers have explored for years the possible benefits instructors and students can reap from this innovative teaching method.
Marilyn Smith, director of Learn and Serve America, told a group of about 30 clearinghouse staff members and University officials Monday that without a central information source, they were unable to get very far.
“I did my dissertation on service learning before the clearinghouse was operational,” Smith said, “and I had to run around the library … because there was nowhere to find information on service learning.”
After five years, clearinghouse officials have collected and compiled publications, databases, online information, a nationwide listserv and a toll-free hotline. These services are now available to the public.
“We need a knowledge base to support that work,” Smith said. “I’m really delighted that we have a good one here at the (University).”
Clearinghouse information specialist Charles Cook said members of the University community can use the new information source to expand their understanding of the field and potentially create more service-oriented coursework.
“For the most part, it’s going to be integrated into the curriculum,” Cook said. “Regardless of what the course may be, we should be able to fit in a community service component.”
Some University departments have experimented with service-learning opportunities — with positive results. Kathleen Ganley, an instructor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, created and teaches a course in which students meet in a classroom once a week and perform three hours of service in the local Hispanic community each week.
“I do it mostly on my own,” Ganley said. But with support from the Spanish department, she said, she has made the course a success.