Getting Serious about Service: For Many Schools, an Increased Commitment to Community Service Fits the Student Body, Curriculum, and Neighborhood

By Schachter, Ron | University Business, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Getting Serious about Service: For Many Schools, an Increased Commitment to Community Service Fits the Student Body, Curriculum, and Neighborhood


Schachter, Ron, University Business


THE SMALL AND UNDISTINGUISHED GATEWAY Plaza--with its hair salon, costume jewelry shop, Big Time Wholesale Store, and local branch of DeKalb Technical College--is just miles away from the stately grey and beige stone buildings and grassy quadrangles of Emory University in Atlanta.

Inside the DeKalb Tech building, almost 22 different foreign flags hang over a comfortable reception area near a "Welcome to Our School" poster that repeats the message in 22 languages, from Albanian to Hmong. "We're in the heart of immigrant Atlanta. Seventy percent of the immigrants coming to Georgia come here," says Michael Rich, an associate professor of political science at Emory. Rich also directs Emory's Office of University-Community Partnerships (OUCP), which coordinates undergraduate volunteers here who tutor recently arrived immigrants in the English language.

Emory students do the same at four other locations around Atlanta. Others roll up their sleeves to work with Habitat for Humanity and almost 300 local nonprofits that mentor refugee children, work with the juvenile courts, and teach conflict resolution to fourth- and fifth-graders.

But these initiatives represent just the tip of the iceberg here and at colleges and universities across the country, where community-based service programs, curricula, and research have grown to titanic proportions over the past decade.

Emory was recognized two years ago as an "Engaged Institution" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in its newly created roster of 76 schools that place a heightened emphasis on community service. The Princeton Review, famous for its guides to higher education, has published its own list of 81 Colleges with a Conscience, selected for the breadth of their community service opportunities and "service learning" courses that tie their curricula to those activities.

"There is an unapologetic push on the academic and cultural level to focus on service learning," observes Rob Frankel, The Princeton Reviews vice president of publishing. "Over the past decade, there's been an absolute shift from the curriculum offerings and extracurricular activities at colleges and universities.

Campus Compact--an organization founded at Brown more than two decades ago to encourage college students to become more active citizens--reports a 60 percent increase in service participation over the last five years, and more than $7 billion worth of volunteer work coming out of its nearly 1,100 member schools annually.

"More students are doing service because they firmly believe that collective action is the best way to get out there and accomplish something," explains Campus Compact President Maureen Curley, who says that 98 percent of Campus Compact schools now offer service learning courses, and that 86 percent have created their own community service or service learning offices.

"I come from that generation that didn't participate. Back in the 1980s and '90s, it was about the 'Me Generation,'" adds Vincent Ilustre, executive director of the Center for Public Service at Tulane University (La.). "Now there's a renaissance of wanting to be involved." And while undergrads are still attracted to causes such as protecting the environment and tutoring at-risk students, their horizon has broadened. They are making inroads into urban planning, immigrant services, and public health, to name a few.

Action in Atlanta

Emory's OUCP, which opened in 2000, has become a busy partner with Atlanta's nonprofits and city agencies, offering a gateway to them for all of Emory's schools--from nursing and public health to business and theology. The center has served as an incubator for new service initiatives and a magnet for faculty looking to connect their courses and research interests to the outside community.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"Instead of calling the switchboard and being routed to seven or eight other places, we become the front door," says Lynn Zimmerman, Emory's senior vice provost for academic programs. …

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