Thursday, May 21, 2009

Service-Learning (or what I learned on my way to the Strategic Plan)

Service-learning seeks to increase the engagement of UMKC students, faculty, and alumni, with area nonprofits, local governments, schools and neighborhoods. Service-learning is a teaching method which combines community service with academic instruction as it focuses on critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility. From the assignment of a project that addresses community needs, students learn from community members and develop leadership skills while practicing theoretical knowledge gained in class. The hyphen in service-learning is not accidental; service-learning combines an effective pedagogy for student success with UMKC’s desire to respond to and partner with Kansas City communities.

Service-learning is an important way that universities contribute to the vitality and life of cities. As such, it is explicit in UMKC’s strategic plan’s goal regarding our urban mission and implicit in the economic development goal. As a high-impact teaching methodology service-learning is also implicit in the goals regarding undergraduate student success, visual and performing arts, and diversity.

Service-learning enhances the educational experience for students by challenging them to connect what they learn with real community issues. This leads to better academic performance, stronger relationships with peers and faculty, and increased participation in campus life. These successes increase student persistence to graduation and student retention. Students value service-learning for the real-world experience, opportunities to build networks and contacts, and an increased feeling of personal success.

Through service-learning, UMKC extends its relationship with Kansas City’s communities. Nonprofits, schools, and local governments value partnering with universities because it expands their reach without substantially increasing costs. Service-learning students bring new energy, ideas, and enthusiasm, as well as specialized skills. Ultimately, service-learning is great for the civic health of communities because it helps cultivate a new generation of caring and experienced citizens, activists, and volunteers.

To capitalize on what we know about student success and alumni engagement, the Service-Learning Program at the Institute for Human Development is:

  • Building an interactive web portal, Serve 2 Learn, which provides project management support for service-learning and community service and matches community partners with UMKC faculty and students. Soft launch is Spring 2009 with a full launch in Fall 2009. Serve 2 Learn is offered in partnership with FaCET, Provost’s Office, Student Affairs, Office of Community Affairs, the Alumni Association, and Institutional Research and Assessment.
  • Seeking funding to scale up service-learning supports for faculty and students campus wide, and for community partner organizations. To date, the Service-Learning Program has submitted two Federal grants. If funded, one would bring several innovations to UMKC service-learning such as including alumni and developing a peer mentoring program. The other would build a regional consortium of colleges and universities for service-learning.

A website is being constructed to tell you more about service learning. It will be located at . Check back periodically for more information.

-Written by Alexis Petri and Julie Warm, Research Associates at the UMKC Institute for Human Development

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