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  • What is Service Learning or Community Engagement?

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  • Benefits of Community Engagement

Models of Community Engagement Teaching

Ways to integrate community engagement into an existing course.

Community engagement pedagogies, often called “service learning,” are ones that combine learning goals and community service in ways that can enhance both student growth and the common good.  In the words of the National Service Learning Clearinghouse , it is “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.”  Or, to quote Vanderbilt University’s Janet S. Eyler (winner of the 2003 Thomas Ehrlich Faculty Award for Service Learning) and Dwight E. Giles, Jr., it is

“a form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students. . . seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves. In the process, students link personal and social development with academic and cognitive development. . . experience enhances understanding; understanding leads to more effective action.”

Typically, community engagement is incorporated into a course or series of courses by way of a project that has both learning and community action goals.  This project is designed via collaboration between faculty and community partners, such as non-governmental organizations or government agencies.  The project asks students to apply course content to community-based activities.  This gives students experiential opportunities to learn in real world contexts and develop skills of community engagement, while affording community partners opportunities to address significant needs. Vanderbilt University’s Sharon Shields has argued that service learning is “one of the most significant teaching methodologies gaining momentum on many campuses.” Indeed, when done well, teaching through community engagement benefits students, faculty, communities, and institutions of higher education. Below are some of the benefits that education researchers and practitioners have associated with community engaged teaching.

Student Benefits of Community Engagement

Learning outcomes.

  • Positive impact on students’ academic learning
  • Improves students’ ability to apply what they have learned in “the real world”
  • Positive impact on academic outcomes such as demonstrated complexity of understanding, problem analysis, problem-solving, critical thinking, and cognitive development
  • Improved ability to understand complexity and ambiguity

Personal Outcomes

  • Greater sense of personal efficacy, personal identity, spiritual growth, and moral development
  • Greater interpersonal development, particularly the ability to work well with others, and build leadership and communication skills

Social Outcomes

  • Reduced stereotypes and greater inter-cultural understanding
  • Improved social responsibility and citizenship skills
  • Greater involvement in community service after graduation

Career Development

  • Connections with professionals and community members for learning and career opportunities
  • Greater academic learning, leadership skills, and personal efficacy can lead to greater opportunity

Relationship with the Institution

  • Stronger relationships with faculty
  • Greater satisfaction with college
  • Improved graduation rates

Faculty Benefits of Community Engagement

  • Satisfaction with the quality of student learning
  • New avenues for research and publication via new relationships between faculty and community
  • Providing networking opportunities with engaged faculty in other disciplines or institutions
  • A stronger commitment to one’s research

College and University Benefits of Community Engagement

  • Improved institutional commitment to the curriculum
  • Improved student retention
  • Enhanced community relations

Community Benefits of Community Engagement

  • Satisfaction with student participation
  • Valuable human resources needed to achieve community goals
  • New energy, enthusiasm and perspectives applied to community work
  • Enhanced community-university relations


Discipline-based model.

In this model, students are expected to have a presence in the community throughout the semester and reflect on their experiences regularly.  In these reflections, they use course content as a basis for their analysis and understanding of the key theoretical, methodological and applied issues at hand.


Problem-based model.

Students relate to the community much as “consultants” working for a “client.” Students work with community members to understand a particular community problem or need.  This model presumes that the students have or will develop capacities with which to help communities solve a problem.  For example: architecture students might design a park; business students might develop a web site; botany students might identify non-native plants and suggest eradication methods.

Capstone Course

Capstone course model.

These courses are generally designed for majors and minors in a given discipline and are offered almost exclusively to students in their final year. Capstone courses ask students to draw upon the knowledge they have obtained throughout their course work and combine it with relevant service work in the community. The goal of capstone courses is usually either exploring a new topic or synthesizing students’ understanding of their discipline.

Service Internship

Service internship model.

This approach asks students to work as many as 10 to 20 hours a week in a community setting. As in traditional internships, students are charged with producing a body of work that is of value to the community or site. However, unlike traditional internships, service internships have on-going faculty-guided reflection to challenge the students to analyze their new experiences using discipline-based theories.  Service internships focus on reciprocity: the idea that the community and the student benefit equally from the experience.

Undergrad Community-Based Action Research

Action research model.

Community-based action research is similar to an independent study option for the student who is highly experienced in community work.  This approach can be effective with small classes or groups of students.  In this model, students work closely with faculty members to learn research methodology while serving as advocates for communities.  This model assumes that students are or can be trained to be competent in time management and can negotiate diverse communities.

Directed Study Extra Credit

Directed study additional/extra credit model.

Students can register for up to three additional/extra credits in a course by making special arrangements with the instructor to complete an added community-based project.  The course instructor serves as the advisor for the directed study option.  Such arrangements require departmental approval and formal student registration.

There are many ways to integrate community engagement into an existing course, depending on the learning goals, the size of the class, the academic preparation of the students, and the community partnership or project type. Below are some general tips to consider as you begin:

  • One-time group service projects: Some course objectives can be met when the entire class is involved in a one-time service project. Arrangements for service projects can be made prior to the semester and included in the syllabus. This model affords the opportunity for faculty and peer interaction because a common service experience is shared. One-time projects have different learning outcomes than ongoing service activities.
  • Option within a course: Many faculty begin community engagement with a pilot project. In this design, students have the option to become involved in the community-based project.  A portion of the normal coursework is substituted by the community-based component.  For example, a traditional research paper or group project can be replaced with an experiential research paper or personal journal that documents learning from the service experience.
  • Required within a course: In this case, all students are involved in service as an integrated aspect of the course. This expectation must be clearly stated at the first class meeting, on the syllabus, with a clear rationale provided to students as to why the service component is required. Exceptions can be arranged on an individual basis or students can transfer to another class. If all students are involved in service, it is easier to design coursework (i.e., class discussions, writing assignments, exam questions) that integrates the service experience with course objectives. Class sessions can involve agency personnel and site visits. Faculty report that it is easier to build community partnerships if a consistent number of students are involved each semester.
  • Action research projects: This type of class involves students in research within the community. The results of the research are communicated to the agency so that it can be used to address community needs. Action research and participatory action research take a significant amount of time to build relationships of trust in the community and identify common research agendas; however, community research projects can support the ongoing research of faculty. Extending this type of research beyond the confines of a semester may be best for all involved.
  • Disciplinary capstone projects: Community engagement is an excellent way to build upon students’ cumulative knowledge in a specific discipline and to demonstrate the integration of that knowledge with real life issues. Upper class students can explore ways their disciplinary expertise and competencies translate into addressing community needs. Other community-based classes within the department can prepare the student for this more extensive community-based class.
  • Multiple course projects :  Community engagement projects with one or more partners may span different courses in the same semester or multiple courses over a year or longer.  These projects must be broad enough to meet the learning goals of multiple courses over time, and because of this they may have a cumulative impact on both student learning and community development that is robust.  Such projects may be particularly suited to course clusters or learning communities within or across disciplines, or course sequences, say, within a major, that build student capacity towards advanced learning and community action goals.

Other CFT Guides About Community Engagement Pedagogies

  • A Word on Nomenclature
  • Best Practices in Community Engaged Teaching
  • Community Engaged Teaching Step by Step
  • Challenges and Opportunities of Community Engaged Teaching
  • Additional Resources

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What is Service-Learning?

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When searching for definitions of service-learning in the literature or on the web, you will find hundreds of definitions. However, most definitions include many of the same components.

A brief, simple definition of service-learning: “Service, combined with learning, adds value to each and transforms both.” (Honnet & Poulsen, 1989, p.1)

SOURCE'S Preferred Definition of Service-Learning

From Community-Campus Partnership for Health (CCPH): Service-learning is a structured learning experience that combines community service with preparation and reflection. Students engaged in service-learning provide community service in response to community-identified concerns and learn about the context in which service is provided, the connection between their service and their academic coursework, and their roles as citizens.

Service-learning differs from traditional clinical education in the health professions in that:

  • Service-learning strives to achieve a balance between service and learning objectives - in service-learning, partners must negotiate the differences in their needs and ex-pectations.
  • Service-learning places an emphasis on addressing community concerns and broad determinants of health
  • In service-learning, there is the integral involvement of community partners - service-learning involves a principle-centered partnership between communities and health professions schools.
  • Service-learning emphasizes reciprocal learning - In service-learning, traditional definitions of "faculty," "teacher" and "learner" are intentionally blurred. We all learn from each other.
  • Service-learning emphasizes reflective practice - In service-learning, reflection facilitates the connection between practice and theory and fosters critical thinking.
  • Service-learning places an emphasis on developing citizenship skills and achieving social change - many factors influence health and quality of life. The provision of health services is not often the most important factor. In service-learning, students place their roles as health professionals and citizens in a larger societal context.

(Citation: Seifer SD. (1998). Service-learning: Community-campus partnerships for health professions education. Academic Medicine, 73(3):273-277.)

Important Elements of Service-Learning

From the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse:

  • A form of experiential education
  • Addresses human and community issues and needs
  • Learning occurs through active participation in  thoughtfully organized service
  • Includes  structured reflection  linking experience to learning
  • Coordinated in true collaboration with the community
  • Links to curriculum and/or co-curriculum but must include structured time for reflection
  • Leads to acquisition of new skills, knowledge, leadership and a sense of caring and social responsibility

Types of Service-Learning

Co-curricular service-learning.

Students engage in thoughtfully planned service that meets a community-identified need.  Meaningful, structured reflection on the needs of the community, service and its impact on personal values is an important aspect of cultivating an effective service-learning experience.

Academic Service-Learning

Anchored in a specific course, faculty and students work to meet a community need and advance their understanding of course content.  Structured reflection is integrated into the curriculum to foster connections between their service, the curriculum of the class, and its impact on their personal values and community engagement.

What Service-Learning is Not

  • An add-on to an existing curriculum
  • An episodic volunteer program
  • Logging a set number of community service hours in order to graduate
  • Compensatory service assigned as a form of punishment by the courts or by school administrators
  • Only for high school or college students
  • One-sided: benefiting only students or only the community

Community-Campus Partnerships for Health

Service Learning. Honnet, E.P., & Poulsen, S. (1989).  Principles of good practice in combining service and learning.  Wingspread Special Report. 

Racine WI:  The Johnson Foundation.National Service-Learning Clearinghouse.

Service-Learning Is…

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Home » Blog » What Is Service Learning?

What Is Service Learning?


What is service learning? An educational system combining theory in the classroom with real-world community service.

Service Learning is an educational approach where a student learns theories in the classroom and at the same time volunteers with an agency (usually a non-profit or social service group) and engages in reflection activities to deepen their understanding of what is being taught.

It is a cycle of theories, practices, and reflection tools to broaden knowledge and critical thinking skills for social change.

You might commonly hear it related to terms such as civic engagement, community development, advocacy, philanthropy, social change, volunteerism, community service and experiential learning.

As a result of service learning, students learn more about the community and themselves while fulfilling a need in the community and meeting classroom or degree requirements.

Students in any discipline can participate. The courses are usually most directly tied to social science courses (for example: political science, sociology, environmental studies and psychology) and pre-professional courses (for example: education, social work and business).

What Are Some Examples of Service Learning Projects?

Service Learning involves almost any helping activity. We generally refer to direct service to individuals, indirect service to people, and advocacy work.

  • Direct service includes tutoring, serving meals, working with patients, helping a refugee family, walking foster dogs, or participating in events at a nursing home. Many psychology and education courses incorporate direct service.
  • Indirect service is doing something behind the scenes to help, such as organizing a fundraising event, working in a resale shop, stocking a food pantry, collecting donations or planting trees to help the environment. Fields such as environmental studies and sociology tend to offer more indirect service opportunities.
  • Advocacy can take the form of students writing letters to government officials, demonstrating in a picket line or educating others about possible policy changes. Political science and criminal justice classes often feature more advocacy work.

Why is Service Learning Important?

For starters, service learning is important because it connects student learning in the classroom with real-world experiences in the community. Students who participate in it are more deeply engaged in their local communities, gain practical skills, develop their career and personal interests, and are usually more engaged citizens.

At a societal level, it is important for people to be involved and aware of their communities so they can assist each other and be more conscientious individuals. Creating opportunities for young people increases their involvement.

Finally, it instills the habit of performing a service for others. Students who engage early on often continue service work for the rest of their lives.

How Do I Find Opportunities Near Me?

Most colleges and universities maintain partnerships with community groups, governmental agencies and service organizations. Making use of their resources is a great way to get started.

At Elmhurst University, the service learning webpage lists more than 60 community partners in need of student volunteers. Students who wish to count this work as service learning can speak to staff about classes or independent study options so they can also engage in theoretical learning and reflection activities.

How Do I Benefit as a Student?

Through service learning, students:

  • Learn more about their relationship with the communities they engage with
  • Learn more about their capacity for serving others
  • Refine their decision-making abilities and acquire other career-related skills
  • Better understand the meaning of responsible citizenship
  • Grow in their awareness of cultural differences

Explore Elmhurst University

The Elmhurst University Service Learning program matches students who feel a responsibility to serve the community with opportunities to help. Visit our Community Partners page to learn more, and follow us on Instagram or Facebook .

Want to learn more? Request information today!

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18 Service Learning Examples

service learning examples and definition, explained below

Service learning is a type of experiential learning activity where students apply academic concepts to practical situations that involve addressing community needs. The last component of this definition (addressing community needs) is key.

This component is what distinguishes service learning from other pedagogical approaches such as performance-based or project-based learning.

Service Learning Definition

Definitions of service learning usually emphasize a combination of academic outcomes, benefit to the community, and developing a sense of civic responsibility.

One of the key service learning theorists is Robert Bringle. Here are two definitions he provides (with colleagues):

  • “students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility.” (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996, p. 222)
  • “Service learning classes engage students in service activities that simultaneously pursue two goals: (a) benefit to community stakeholders (e.g., agency, clients, neighborhood 4 residents) and (b) academic learning outcomes.” (Bringle, Phillips, & Hudson, 2004, p. 5)

For a newer definition, we can turn to Capella-Peris and colleagues:

  • “to a teaching methodology that seeks to develop academic competencies and increase reflection while providing a community service to meet social needs.” (Capella-Peris, Gil-Gómez & Chiva-Bartoll, 2020, p. 102)

Service Learning Examples

  • Voter registration: Students in a political science class volunteer to help with voter registration targeting the elderly that also involves conducting interviews and surveys assessing their needs and opinions regarding various political issues.
  • Books in schools: Students pair up with local charities and churches to run a campaign to improve the school library’s book offerings.
  • Rural community service: Nursing majors hold health fairs in rural areas to disseminate information regarding healthy habits and perform basic health checks for attendees.
  • Recycling programs: Mechanical engineering students use recyclable materials to construct playgrounds in inner cities and analyze the physics of each piece of equipment.
  • Migrant support: IT majors teach courses to immigrants on web design and e-commerce as part of group projects assessing the functionality of various web design software programs.
  • Supporting budding businesses: Business majors work with local small businesses on strategic planning, marketing, and hiring practices to improve revenue. The students create portfolios documenting their experiences.
  • Websites for businesses: A group of digital marketing students are asked to connect with local businesses to help them to develop a web presence and consistent brand image.
  • Addressing local tax changes: An accounting class works with local businesses to help them implement standard accounting principles and understand the local tax code.  
  • Working with local children: Anthropology students conduct a participant observation study in local orphanages as helpers to document the children’s narratives and produce short films.
  • Missionary work: A faith-based university sends its students to a third-world country to help single mothers apply for micro-finance loans and start their own businesses. Students create video documentaries that detail each stage in the service-learning process.
  • Upskilling locals: Communication majors conduct a pre- post-design study on the effectiveness of training the unemployed on interview techniques and presentation skills.
  • Charity work: Students in an International Studies course work in teams to write and submit a grant for the charitable cause of their choosing.   
  • Local waterway management: Biology students study local waterways and identify strategies to improve the biodiversity in the area.
  • Urban farming: Students develop an urban farm on the rooftops of local buildings in order to supply fresh food to local impoverished families.
  • Local town hall: Students from an event management course organize a local town hall for political candidates to meet with locals and address their concerns.
  • Bike to work day: To encourage green transit, students start a bike to work campaign, culminating in one day where an additional 1000 people use the local bikeways to get to work.
  • Animal housing: Students run a campaign to support pet adoption by not only encouraging adoption, but implementing regular support for the new owners so the animals transition to a happy new life.
  • Traffic management: Students from an advanced math course conduct a study of the traffic light pattern at a particularly busy bottleneck and find a way to improve the pattern to minimize congestion. They bring the report to the local council to consider.

Real-Life Service Learning Case Studies

1. urban farming.

Poor nutrition and food insecurity in many countries is a situation that can be addressed in a variety of ways. According to a report by the BBC , the UN estimates that approximately 900 million tons of food is wasted every year. 

There are a multitude of factors at work which create this catastrophe. However, there are also many solutions. For example, students in a university agriculture course could work with local communities to design and implement urban farms.

These farms could be located on abandoned lots, rooftops, or in smaller areas around households that could fit a vertical garden. There are more places than you can possibly imagine to grow food in urban areas .

It’s one thing to read about how to install a vertical garden, but it is a completely different learning experience to actually put one on a wall and make it work.

2. Put Some Blue in Your Green School

High school students in an AP Environmental Science course help schools use their water resources more efficiently. They work to raise awareness regarding the importance of water conservation and demonstrate water management practices.

First, the students analyze the water use practices of their own school. They conduct detailed measurements and create the necessary graphs that will allow a pre- post-program comparison.

Then they enact behavioral and structural changes that allow their school to conserve water more efficiently. Once the program has demonstrated results, it can be applied to other schools in the community or even at the state level.  

To learn more about this program, click here .

3. Discarded Books Library

Students in an education course collaborate with local garbage collectors to create a library for the poor. The students learned about this type of project on the news and decided to pursue a similar endeavor.

They find a permanent location in the inner city to create the library. The local government agrees to fund the daily operation of the library, paying for electricity and basic upkeep of the facility.

As part of their course requirements, each student volunteers to work in the library a certain number of hours per month and conduct literacy classes for local children.

The classes are video recorded and then shared in class for analysis and discussion regarding the teaching techniques learned in class.

4. Environmental Service Learning

Undergraduate students in introductory science courses at Indiana University and Purdue University engage in a service-learning program involving environmental stewardship.

What is environmental stewardship ? It basically means students do things to help restore land or improve the ecology of a specific area. For example: restoring wetland and floodplain ecosystems, native plant installation, invasive exotic plant species eradication, or hill slope stabilization.

Work days are in partnership with local community members. As the webpage about this program explains, this service-learning:

“… provides the students with an opportunity to directly experience many of the topics discussed in their courses as well as to observe how communities can work together to solve environmental problems.”

It is more than just volunteerism because the work is performed in the context of classroom study and directly connected to 9 learning goals in the course.

5. Growing Voters by CIRCLE

We all know what a circle is, but this acronym stands for something wholly more substantial: Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement by Tufts University.

The Growing Voters report presents a research-based framework for how institutions can facilitate the development of the next generation of voters in the U.S.

It provides actionable recommendations for educators, community leaders and policy makers on ways to:

“…close voting gaps, expand the electorate, and support a more equitable and representative American democracy” .

This is a perfect example of how students and higher education can engage in learning-based endeavors that also serve a greater public good.

Service-learning is all about taking students out of the classroom and into the real world to address a need in society. It strives to achieve more than just providing assistance in a community because students must perform the service in the context of their academic studies.

This can involve writing papers that detail the experience in the field and tying those experiences to classroom concepts. Or, students may choose to produce a mini-documentary that can be shared on social media and possibly inspire others to action.

The possibilities are endless, from increasing voter registration numbers to repairing the ecology of nearby wetlands. These types of endeavors are being enacted by universities around the world, instilling a sense of responsibility in students that may impact their way of thinking long into the future. That is of course, the goal.

Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (1996). Implementing service learning in higher education.  The Journal of Higher Education ,  67 (2), 221-239.

Bringle, R. G., Phillips, M. A., & Hudson, M. (2004). The measure of service learning.  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association .

Capella-Peris, C., Gil-Gómez, J., & Chiva-Bartoll, Ò. (2020). Innovative analysis of service-learning effects in physical education: A mixed-methods approach.  Journal of Teaching in Physical Education ,  39 (1), 102-110.

Furco, A. (2002). Is service-learning really better than community service? A study of high school service. In A. Furco & S. H. Billig (Eds.), Advances in service-learning research: Vol.1. Service-learning: The essence of the pedagogy (pp. 23–50). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishers.

Furco, A. and Billig, S.H., (2002) Service-Learning: The Essence of the Pedagogy . Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Toole, J., & Toole, P. (1995). Reflection as a tool for turning service experiences into learning experiences. Evaluation/Reflection, 63 .


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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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Does Service Learning Really Help?

paragraph on service learning

By Stephanie Strom

  • Dec. 29, 2009

BETTY MEDINA LICHTENSTEIN used to dread the beginning of the school year, when students from colleges and universities around Holyoke, Mass., would descend on her tiny community organization, Enlace de Familias.

“Suddenly, droves of students were walking through my door, interrupting my day and asking, ‘What can I do here?’ ” she says. “A whole other crowd would send résumé after résumé after résumé expecting me to call them back. Still other ones would come in and say, ‘How about some research on X?’ in August and then show up in late October saying their thesis really needed to be about Y.

“It was total havoc.”

This year, Ms. Medina Lichtenstein feels better about service learning. For their information technology capstone course at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, two students created a Web site and database management system that allow Ms. Medina Lichtenstein to complete in one day an annual report that used to take a week. Another two students embarked on an assessment of Enlace’s information technology system with the aim of making it better.

Working with the students required just a few hours of Ms. Medina Lichtenstein’s time. For the students, says Carol Soules, their professor, “it was a great practical experience, but a whole other aspect of it is that it helped them to see what the digital divide means in real life.”

Ms. Medina Lichtenstein’s experiences illustrate the good and the bad of service learning, loosely defined as community service that supplements and enhances what students learn in a classroom.

Volunteers, as any nonprofit leader will tell you (off the record, for fear of looking a gift horse . . .), can be as much a curse as a blessing, especially to an organization that lacks the administrative structure and money to train and supervise students. Some organizations pay a coordinator to direct volunteers, but most consider that a luxury they cannot afford.

“It’s not unusual for the task of supervising students to fall to someone who already has plenty of responsibilities,” says Elizabeth A. Tryon, the community learning coordinator at the Morgridge Center for Public Service at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “If service learning is not well coordinated by the academic institution, it can place a lot of burden on the community partner.”

A positive experience usually requires a considerable investment of time and planning on the part of academic institutions and faculty. Ideally, service learning enriches a particular course of study, and students have the opportunity to reflect in the classroom on their experiences. In reality, service learning often seems unconnected to any curriculum — painting park benches, for example. At its most basic, it can be hard to distinguish from plain vanilla community service.

“The best service learning really involves a process something like old-fashioned matchmaking,” says Andrea Dolan-Potter, whose former job as assistant director of the East Madison Community Center in Wisconsin exposed her to service learning.

This town/gown divide is explored in “The Unheard Voices: Community Organizations and Service Learning,” published last summer by Temple University Press and mostly written by students at the University of Wisconsin who, as part of a research seminar, interviewed staff members of 64 nonprofit organizations.

Some community leaders spoke ofstudent volunteers having too little time to get much meaningful experience or to justify a significant investment of time to train them. Others told of students arriving on their doorsteps with little guidance or preparation from their professors and expecting to change the world in 20 hours over a single semester. Some felt that their clients were guinea pigs for students doing research, without any return for them.

“Academic institutions are focused on making sure their students learn from the service-learning experience, but they aren’t always paying similar attention to the interests of the organizations that provide that experience, much less the clients they serve,” says Randy Stoecker, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, who edited the book with Ms. Tryon.

Arriving as the Obama administration is making volunteerism and other forms of civic engagement a cornerstone of its higher-education agenda, the book raises questions about how much benefit results from student efforts. That’s something that Karen Sánchez-Eppler, a professor at Amherst College, has wondered about. Two decades ago, Ms. Sánchez-Eppler made community service part of her syllabus for “Reading, Writing and Teaching,” a required English course. Every semester, some of her students spend 20 hours assisting teachers at Holyoke High School in Holyoke, Mass. They help struggling students, supervise a student group putting out a poetry magazine and conduct writing workshops. Last year, 25 teachers applied for eight tutors from the class.

“That program has been useful to individual kids there and supporting and invigorating for the teachers,” Ms. Sánchez-Eppler says, “but it really has had little to no institutional impact. During the 20 years of this course, the school has continued to have high dropout rates, low test scores, high teen pregnancy rates.”

Holyoke High has far less lofty expectations.“A program of her size would have minimal impact,” David Dupont, the principal, says. “However, just the fact that her students are benefiting along with ours to any degree is worth having it at Holyoke High School.”

THE horse got a little before the cart,” says Ms. Soules, who in addition to teaching directs service learning at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “The concept of service learning really took off before the infrastructure was in place to support it,” she says.

Last academic year, more than 3,000 students at her campus engaged in service learning under the tutelage of 67 professors teaching 105 courses. Ms. Soules would prefer that all of those experiences occur in small courses spanning a year, so that students have time to immerse themselves, but she knows that is not possible. “We have all different levels of service learning,” she says. “When it takes place in an introductory course with a hundred students who are spending two hours a week, sometimes they do end up answering phones, filing, sweeping the floors and sorting clothes.”

“But,” she adds, “it gives them exposure to different communities, which is valuable, and in fact those are the things many nonprofits need done.”

It was in the mid-1980s that service learning took off, with the establishment of organizations like Campus Compact and Youth Service America, whose mission is to spur national service efforts among youth. Today, most colleges and universities incorporate service learning in their curriculums, and some departments require at least one course; in 2008, Tulane made a service-­learning course part of the required core curriculum.

No one knows how many students participate in service learning nationwide, but 1.2 million students and 22,000 community organizations are involved in programs with grants from the Corporation for National and Community Service, a government agency that is perhaps the largest financer of programs.

Elson B. Nash, the acting director of the agency’s Learn and Serve America program, says its grants are aimed at encouraging a better experience for academic institutions and their nonprofit partners. “The relationships are key because everyone — the students, faculty and community organization — needs to be involved in developing the expectations for the service learning experience,” Mr. Nash says. “They need to talk about what it’s going to address, how the students are going to be involved, how it connects to the classroom experience, how it meets the nonprofit’s needs and, most importantly, how it is going to be evaluated.”

More and more universities are establishing offices to oversee programs and otherwise formalize what has until recently been an ad hoc experiment in civic engagement. “It’s a very fragile relationship, that between the academic institution and the community organization,” says Lanese Aggrey, director of academic service learning at the University of Texas, Austin. “We need to stop looking at it as a one-dimensional thing and start building a real partnership.”

When she arrived to take up her post at the University of Texas a year and a half ago, only three courses were listed as having service learning. “What I found was, we really are the land of orange tape,” she says, referring to the school colors. Professors wanting to add service learning had to get approval from four different officials. Instead, the professors incorporated service learning informally, which made it harder for the university to track and assess programs.

After eliminating three of the four hurdles, the university quickly accumulated 45 courses that included service learning; in three of them students travel abroad. The goal is 100 such classes.

The university asks participating students and nonprofit groups to sign a contract that spells out dates and hours of service, what service will be provided, and a commitment by the nonprofit to evaluate the student at the conclusion of service. “It’s a good way to solidify expectations on both sides,” Dr. Aggrey says. “It helps the community partner understand that its needs may only be met to a certain extent, because students have limited time and other obligations, and it helps students understand they can’t just blow off their service-learning commitments to go have pizza and beer.”

CONSIDER what went into planning and executing Anne Witt’s service learning experience in the summer of 2007. Now a junior at the University of Notre Dame, Ms. Witt worked as a counselor at a camp run by Gwen’s Girls, which provides a range of services to at-risk girls in the Pittsburgh area.

The process of placing her began six months earlier when, under Notre Dame’s Urban Plunge program, students made the rounds of social service agencies in Pittsburgh to see if they might find summer service. One student interested in medicine went to work for a health clinic; another considering a legal career got a position at an immigration office.

Ms. Witt chose Gwen’s Girls. “I’m a political science major, so law school was what was on my radar,” she says. “But after working with Gwen’s Girls, I realize there are so many problems with education in Pittsburgh, and that’s made me more interested in teaching.” One girl, for instance, thought Jamaica was a state and Africa was just south of the United States. “These girls lived 20 minutes away from my home,” Ms. Witt says, “but the disparity between what I got out of my education and what they had was huge.”

Each week, Ms. Witt had relevant reading to do and papers to write. When she got back to school in the fall, she and other students in the program got together to discuss their experiences and the social issues involved.

The Notre Dame Club of Pittsburgh, an alumni group,hosted a breakfast for students doing service learning and the organizations they were working with. The club also awarded Ms. Witt a $2,000 scholarship to compensate for a summer without income.A staff member from Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns, which oversees the Urban Plunge program, dropped in, too, to see what the students were doing. “These people are so interested in supporting these kids and making sure they really get something out of this experience,” says Lynn Knezevich, executive director of Gwen’s Girls.

The organization also benefited. It got a volunteer camp counselor who ended up going back as a paid counselor this summer.

But just as important to Ms. Knezevich was the opportunity to expose her students to a broader world. “You’re not necessarily learning this for your class credits,” she says. “You may be doing this to learn about different and diverse population, which may not have anything to do with what your major is but will educate you as a person.”

An article last Sunday about service learning misstated the surname of a co-author of the book “The Unheard Voices: Community Organizations and Service Learning.” She is Elizabeth A. Tryon, not Tyron.

How we handle corrections

Stephanie Strom covers nonprofit groups and philanthropy for The Times.

Education Corner

Service Learning: A Complete Guide

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Many new ways of learning have been developed over the last few years. However, of all those, service learning is among the most intriguing. Service learning is a form of learning that occurs when students learn through experience. However, service learning should not be confused with hands on learning or active learning .

Although it does include elements of those types of learning, service learning is distinguished by the fact that it is conducted during service in the community while still helping students to learn.

At its core, service learning is about getting students out of the classroom and into the community. There, a student can learn about a subject not only from teachers, but from people who have experience working in areas as diverse as park maintenance to small business growth.

These kinds of experiences are beneficial because they get students engaged wither real world figures who can connect their learning to practice. At the same time, students give back to their communities in real ways that can be beneficial.

Six Qualities of Service Learning

There are six qualities to service learning that characterize it. These include the following:

  • Integrative Learning
  • Reflective Learning
  • Contextualized Learning
  • Strength-based Learning
  • Reciprocal Learning
  • Lifelong Learning

The integrative aspect of service learning refers to the fact that learning cannot only occur in the classroom. Instead, learning also occurs when integrated into the real world. Service learning works on this basis by integrating classroom objectives into the community.

Under the guidance of instructors as well as other community leaders, students learn as they serve in the public. This approach makes students not only learners, but also positive members of the community and success is gauged not only when the student meets academic goals, but also as they succeed as members of the community.

The reflective elements of service learning is characterized by the fact that learners learn best when they have a chance to reflect on what they have done. In service learning, there is a great emphasis on learners critically reflecting upon their experience out in the community. This allows learners to identify not only what they learned, but also the value they gained as community members. They have to review their beliefs and values and challenge preexisting assumptions and judgments on the basis of their new experiences serving the community.

The third aspect of service learning is the contextualized aspect of learning. This means that service learning offers a unique chance to learn by contextualizing within the context of the larger community, which has not typically been an element of education. By placing learning out in the public, it helps to connect classroom learned knowledge to actual practice.

Students can actually see how their work plays out in the real world and impacts the surrounding community. Book knowledge does not communicate the fact that, in practice, much of what a person learned is impacted by unforeseen events. When a person puts into practice their learning, they quickly realize that the real world is full of events that can impact outcomes.

The strength-based aspect of service learning is a reference to the fact that in every community, there are certain strengths and resources. Community members themselves are a resource who serve as co-educators to students. In any given society, each individual brings their own set of strengths to the building of the community.

In service based learning, students are encouraged to draw on the strengths of many different types of community members. This approach helps students to learn the value of partnering with others in helping achieve community goals.

The reciprocal aspect of service based learning acknowledges the fact that all members of a community benefit when people make contributions into that community. Students invest their time, talent, and intellect to helping the community. In return, they receive the wisdom and experience of community members as well as come to a better understanding of the materials they’ve learned.

All of society is a give and take, with each member contributing. Students come to a better understanding of this fact as they engage with the pubic.

Finally, one of the greatest lessons that service based learning communicates is the fact that learning is lifelong. Knowledge is retained for longer because it is actually put into practice in a real world context. This context also has the benefit of being meaningful, since it involves engaging with other members of the community and creating positive outcomes for all members.

Students become more aware of the important role they can play while at the same time reinforcing their learning. As a result, not only is learning retained for longer, but students also learn the important role they can play in the community over their lifetimes as well.

Examples of Service Learning

It’s easy to conceive of the idea of learning while working in the community, but examples can help reinforce what service learning can look like. There are many ways that students can become engaged in the community, such as adopting a highway, cleaning up a local park, or working on a Habitat for Humanity building site. Each of these experiences can be used as an educational experience so long as a teacher plans in advance to use the experience to educate.

To go into these examples a little bit more in-depth, students working in a park can plant trees or grass. They might also do this in a wetlands parts of their community. Through this planting process, not only do students help to improve the environment, but they also learn more about biodiversity, plat life cycles, and environmental degradation.

Yet another example of service learning can be found when students help other students prepare chemistry demonstrations. In this example, more advanced students can help design age appropriate chemistry demonstrations. This can be part of a science fair, for example. In doing so, students help younger students to learn and grow as scientists themselves. At the same time, the teaching students can reinforce their own knowledge of STEM content and learn how to creatively approach scientific topics.

A third example of service learning is a particularly creative approach to service learning. In this example, English writing students volunteer time at a homeless shelter, serving food and socializing with guests.

Following the experience, students can then write an essay arguing their perspective on homelessness, social safety nets, and wealth in the country. This approach to service learning helps those who are less fortunate while giving students a very real topic on which to write.

Even a class like accounting classes can make room for service learning. Accounting students can develop presentations on business credit and deliver those presentations to members of the community or those clients attending local, small business incubators. This kind of approach to service learning helps students solidify their own knowledge of the business environment, accounting, and financial processes. At the same time, the student also contributes to local small businesses and, perhaps, helps them contribute to job creation in the community.

As one final example, students in a marketing class could be asked to devise a marketing strategy meant to popularize a local housing organization. In this example, students can get to know the brand better, identify ways of making the brand more widely known, and develop strategies that area based around both traditional and social media. This strategy helps not only to improve the marketing skills of these students but helps connect them to a local organization committed to benefiting those without affordable housing. This is a particularly timely topic in communities where the cost of living has become an increasingly sharp point of debate.

The Service Learning Unit

Critical to making service learning an actual learning experience is the importance of developing a well thought out lesson. Fortunately, educator Heather Wolpert-Gawron lists a simple four step process that can help teachers to effectively teach using a service learning model. This approach is largely distinct from the actual service learning experience and occurs largely in the classroom, before and after the community experience.

The first of these steps is the pre-reflection phase. During this phase, students must think about the ways in which they can help their communities. If the teacher has a specific organization in mind that they want to partner with, then students can begin by thinking about how their work with that organization will benefit others.

The second step to learning includes research. Students should research materials related to the organization they will be helping with, such as statistics related to homelessness, pollution, or other issues that are important to the community.

The third stage of the service learning unit, the presentation, involves presenting these findings. Presentation can take on many forms. It can occur after the class has participated with an organization or before. Presentations made after the event can include materials and media taken from the service learning experience. Some presentations may need to occur before the event and justify, using research and evidence, why the class should be working with an organization. This should all be presented using images, graphs, and other multimedia elements that help illustrate the urgency of the problem.

Finally, after the lesson has been completed and the event finished, students should have a time to reflect. They should think back upon their experiences and consider what they’ve learned about the subject, how their own views have changed, and how they intend to address the topic in the future.

The Benefits of Service Learning

One of the most frequently cited problems that educators have with service learning is their concern regarding whether students will really benefit from this approach. However, research seems to indicate that this approach to learning is helpful to students. In one study, 80% of students indicated that they found their service learning projects to be very beneficial. They felt that, because of their experience, they became better communicators and became more aware of needs that the surrounding community faced.

A second study suggested that students who participated in these kinds of community projects saw their grade point average rise. These students felt more engaged with their materials are were more interested in their course content.

Service learning is beneficial because, with a little creative thinking, teachers can find ways of aligning it with student learning outcomes. However, it’s also beneficial for a number of other reasons. It helps increase student engagement while improving communication skills, and important soft skill that students will need in the workplace.

More highly engaged students are also students who generally perform better in school. Not only are they academically more successful, but they also tend to persist to graduation and have better attendance rates. Beyond all of these school based benefits, service learning also has the potential to benefit society in the long term.

Students who more frequently connect with the community and are more highly aware of community issues will carry those lessons on with them into adulthood and make them more aware of the importance of addressing community issues.

Case Study in Service Learning

To truly see how service learning occurs, you don’t have to look farther than “ Of the Student, by the Student “, a program hosted by the Journey National Heritage Area. In one example of service learning, students were taken to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

These students analyzed primary source documents from the park then took place in the creation of six mini-documentaries which told the history of the park and struggles of slavery leading to the John Brown Raid at Harpers Ferry. These students put together real, viable mini-documentaries on the basis of what they learned while also sharpening their critical thinking skills and critical reading skills at the same time. Students had to evaluate sources and make judgments about which document to include.

Yet another case study in service learning, “ A Forest for Every Classroom ,” was hosted by the National Park Service. In this program, teachers partnered with various organizations committed to the environment. “A Forest for Every Classroom” helped teachers better instruct students regarding the conservation of public lands by taking students to real locations. During their time, students came toa better understanding of the natural resources in their community and the importance of preserving those resources.

It’s clear from the existing case studies that service learning is naturally best suited for classrooms that can align their lessons with on location learning in areas that are of value for the community. However, with some creative thinking, even classes that don’t seem naturally oriented toward service learning, such as math classrooms, can be adjusted to accommodate some service learning lessons throughout the year.

Even including one or two such lessons during the school year may help to promote higher engagement and excitement among students, leading to better outcomes for those students in the long-term.

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What Is Service-Learning, and What Does It Add?

Posted on September 7, 2018 by mebetz

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Over the next few months, the CITL’s Service-Learning Program will be sharing a series of posts on the Foundations of Service-Learning. For more posts, click here .

Service-learning (SL) begins with John Dewey’s understanding of higher education: Universities are tasked with helping students become active, knowledgeable citizens. SL enables students to discuss issues in their community and begin doing the work of building a more equitable society.

SL is a course structure that uses community-based service to reinforce learning outcomes while also helping students learn the skills to engage in civic life. To support these outcomes, Furco (1996) argued service and learning course goals must support each other and be equally valued. Unlike volunteering and internships, the community partner plays a central role in guiding the partnership—and in educating students.

Yes, service is a core piece of the SL class. But opportunities to critically engage with and discuss service, positioning it in line with the theory and concepts from class are integral to successful SL experiences. Reflection in a variety of forms—from discussion to essays, both graded and not–give students an opportunity to practice critical thinking and link the learning at their service site to their learning in the classroom. (Reflection will be discussed more as this series progresses.) This is one way in which service moves beyond the town-gown and become members of their community, receiving as much as they give.

Another way SL students move from what we refer to as “service at” the community to “service with” the community is by practicing the principle of reciprocity in course design and partnership maintenance. Students learn to see their community as a source of knowledge and expertise as their faculty models this behavior. When helping faculty and community partners think through reciprocity, we start with two questions: Is the service meeting a community-identified need that support the agency’s mission? Does the service clearly support learning outcomes and themes from the course? Both of these topics will be covered more fully in future Foundations of Service-Learning series posts. Next up, we’ll talk more about how service-learning and community engagement happen at IU-Bloomington.

Know a colleague who might benefit from this information? The CITL encourages you to share this information with your friends and colleagues. Interested in learning more about service-learning? Contact Michael Valliant ([email protected]) for a one-on-one consultation, or join in our informal coffee hours. The first fall coffee hour will be held on September 28 .

Additional Readings:

  • Furco, A. (1996). Service-learning: A balanced approach to experiential education. In Expanding boundaries: Serving and learning. Washington, DC: Corporation for National Service, p. 2-7.
  • Kendall, J. C. (1990). Combining service and learning: An introduction. In Combining service and learning: A resource book for community and public service. Raleigh, NC: National Society for Internships and Experiential Education, p. 1-33.

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An overview of infusing service-learning in medical education

To identify and review existing empirical research about service-learning and medical education and then to develop a framework for infusing service-learning in Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine curricula.

We selected literature on service-learning and medical education. Articles were screened with a protocol for inclusion or exclusion at two separate stages. At stage one, articles were screened according to their titles, abstracts, and keywords. The second stage involved a full-text review. Finally, a thematic analysis using focused and selective coding was conducted.

Eighteen studies were analyzed spanning the years 1998 to 2012. The results from our analysis informed the development of a four-stage service-learning framework: 1) planning and preparation, 2) action, 3) reflection and demonstration, and 4) assessment and celebration.


The presented service-learning framework can be used to develop curricula for the infusion of service-learning in medical school. Service-learning curricula in medical education have the potential to provide myriad benefits to faculty, students, community members, and university-community partnerships.


Medical schools are challenged to better prepare future physicians to address the increasing and complicated healthcare needs of racially and culturally diverse societies. 1 – 3 As medical students transition into medical practitioners, they will encounter a growing number of patients whose health problems are the result of their environments. Impoverished communities, for example, encounter social, economic, and cultural factors that affect their health. These factors include, but are not limited to, infant mortality, asthma, obesity, mental health, drug/alcohol addictions, functional health and injuries, and children’s readiness to learn in school. 4 In these cases, medical students must be prepared to mitigate the effects of environmental multiplicities on the health of members of a society.Correspondingly, medical school faculty must be prepared with instructional tools, strategies, and pedagogical know-how for helping future physicians understand and address the health problems encountered by members of communities in need. Unfortunately, medical school instructors’ pedagogies have changed little over time; instructor-centered, direct instruction via lectures remains the dominant pedagogy in medical education. 5 These instructor-centered lectures reduce students to mere recipients of knowledge, which often results in student boredom and a passivity toward learning new information. 6 Pedagogies of engagement, like service-learning, empower students by providing them with an environment of authentic experiences that encourages critical thinking, problem-solving, and the application of knowledge. 6 , 7 Further, experiential learning modalities contextualize knowledge beyond esoteric concepts and specialized skills learned in the classroom or laboratory. Service-learning’s central components include: “Active participation, thoughtfully organized experiences, focus on community needs and school/community coordination, academic curriculum integration, structured time for reflection, opportunities for application of skills and knowledge, extended learning opportunities, and development of a sense of caring for others”. 8 Service-learning’s focus on community makes it applicable for preparing medical students to work in communities of need. The roots of service-learning can be traced to John Dewey. 9 Dewey focused on preventing the tendency of the student to acquire stores of knowledge useless in new situations. He noted that education of social value could not take place in the abstract (e.g., classroom, clinic). Rather, Dewey suggested that “educative [experiences] must lead out into an expanding world”. 9 , 10 The community is an educative laboratory for the application of knowledge. 10 Students can discover relationships among ideas for themselves, rather than being passive recipients of prescriptive information.Dewey’s philosophy of experience appears suited as a key pedagogical element that underpins instructional change in medical education. Medical students must understand the effects of the environment on patient wellbeing. And, medical schools can provide opportunities for students to expand their knowledge into the community through service-learning. The purpose of this study was to identify existing empirical literature on service-learning and medical education. Then, we aimed to develop an overview framework for infusing service-learning in Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine curricula.

Search strategy

A literature search was conducted for this study, and thus, no formal ethical approval was required from our university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). First, a literature search of databases available internally through our university library were queried for the English language keywords and Boolean combinations (use of “ ” denotes the search for exact terms): “medical education” AND “service learning”; “medical education” AND “service-learning”; “medical school” AND “service-learning”; “medical school” AND “service learning”; “medical students” AND “service learning”; “medical students” AND “service-learning.” These databases were EBSCOHost, ProQuest, ERIC, JSTOR, Education Source, and dissertation/thesis abstract search engines. Then, external databases were searched: National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, Google Scholar, MEDLINE, and PubMed. Full-text PDFs of articles were saved.

Inclusion and exclusion process

A screening protocol for the review of the articles was developed. Articles were subjected to a two-stage inclusion and exclusion screening. The first stage of the screening process required the review of each article’s title, abstract, and keywords. The inclusion criteria included empirical studies pertaining to medical students working toward a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree who engaged in service-learning. Articles reporting community service alone and/or service-learning in other health services (e.g., nursing, physician assistants, dentistry, pharmacy, occupational and physical therapy) were excluded because these topics exceeded the inclusion criteria parameters. Then we applied the inclusion and exclusion criteria to the full text each article at stage two of the screening process.

Data abstraction and analysis

A thematic analysis was employed in order to inductively translate textual data into recurring themes for meaningful analysis. Our coding occurred at two levels. First, we used focused coding to develop categories and connections between central concepts. 11 Each time a theme was identified, the text of each article was re-read. The themes included: course type, service required, participants, objectives, methods/interventions, student assessments, and results/outcomes. Then, we used selective coding for the development of subcategories related to each of the major themes identified. For example, the theme, course type, included: required, elective, and selected courses. We then synthesized the themes and subthemes together into an overview framework for infusing service-learning into medical education.

Sixty-three studies were identified using the search strategy of Boolean keyword combinations. After stage one of the inclusion and exclusion screening (i.e., review of each study’s title, abstract, and keywords), a total of 16 studies was excluded. Stage two included the full-text screening of the 47 remaining articles. After stage two, a total of 29 additional studies was excluded. The selective-sample of articles qualifying for final analysis included 18 studies spanning the years from 1998 to 2012. The inter-rater agreement for each independently reviewed full-text article was 100%. Table 1 presents summarized data from the studies that qualified for the final review. 12 – 29 Based on the review of the articles and the thematic analysis, an overview of four stages was developed for infusing service-learning in medical education. This overview was composed of the following stages: 1) planning and preparation (four subcategories); 2) action (two subcategories); 3) reflection and demonstration (one subcategory); and, 4) assessment and celebration (four subcategories).

Planning and preparation

Differentiate between service-learning and community service.

Service-learning encompasses a reciprocal interaction between service to the community and learning tied to specific course objectives. Conversely, service is often used in the form of episodic community-service or volunteering activities (e.g., logging community service hours to graduate; compensatory service assigned by the courts; or benefiting only students or community). One-sided activities, although beneficial in many respects, may actually detract from the potential educational benefits of service-learning when integrated into the medical education curriculum; this is especially the case when service-learning is an “add-on” to the curriculum.

Decide when and where to infuse service-learning into curriculum

The potential years and courses in which to infuse service-learning into the medical education curriculum depends on the course goals and objectives to be achieved. Course goals and objectives may include:

  • Society includes a focus on the social interests of larger society and local communities;
  • Eternal and divine sources perpetuate society by linking values, ethics, and morality;
  • Science includes what can be observed and quantified;
  • Knowledge of a discipline that has a particular method used to extend its boundaries; and,
  • Learners include what we know of student’s cognition, and psychosocial development.

The selection of the goal coupled with whether the course is required and the knowledge level of participating students, informs the year of study in which students participate in service-learning. Introducing service-learning during the M1 year is important: students who had the opportunity to begin their medical education with a service-learning opportunity were more likely to carry a community-based perspective throughout their medical training, while simultaneously building a renewable pool of students/service-learners in their medical schools. 15

Build university-community partnerships

Effective service-learning relies on strong campus-community partnerships. These partnerships can manifest in many different variations, from institution-community, to individual course-community, and even to student organization-community. Each level of integration depends on the formality, goal, type of learning, and community-partner relationship. During the planning and preparation phase, agreements are made between the service-learning designer/instructor, service-learners/students, and the community members/organization. Students and community partners should be involved at the start to contribute to the planning process, to know what is expected, and to understand the desired outcomes from the service.The key to incorporating service-learning programs that have the ability to evolve over time is to establish relationships of trust with community-based organizations. 30 Personal relationships and experience working together are often necessary for forming service-learning partnerships. Faculty usually work with non-profits to which they, or their colleagues, are already connected, as the trust and genuineness are usually developed already. Another approach is to build on existing campus-community partnerships for which a memorandum of understanding (MoU) exists. Many medical education programs have memoranda of understanding with community engagement or volunteer offices charged with maintaining partnerships. The community-institution partnership can too be enhanced through the co-evaluation of the service-learning program to ensure the relationship shares a common interest, complementary skills and resources, and a commitment to the instruction and assessment of medical students.Overtime, the effect of service-learning programs will contribute to building relationships of trust with community-based organizations. Relationships of trust are built though the willingness of the institution, faculty, students, and community-based organizations to develop shared values. 31 In order to ensure that the values of the community-based organizations are aligned with the values of the participants of the service-learning program, it is important to include community partners as co-evaluators who can provide feedback on student performance. 32 This feedback allows both students and faculty to consider the perspective of the community when determining ways to improve the service-learning program.

Establish structure, funding, and recognition for faculty

Service-learning institutionalization requires structural (offices and policies), procedural (activities and cultural mindset), and integration. A lack of time is one pervasive explanation as to why faculty have decided not to infuse service-learning, or to stop requiring service-learning. 14 Unlike more traditional pedagogies in which the professor prepares information to be presented to a large group of students at one time (i.e., lecture-based instruction), service-learning requires faculty to find partners, develop reflection activities and assessments to match the course objectives, juggle each student’s individual experiences, liaise with professionals at the university to create MoUs to manage risk and liability, identify readings that incorporate community health and civic elements, all while working with other faculty and dozens of students. It is understandable that faculty who must complete these additional tasks may opt-out unless provided with the necessary time and support. Dedicated time is especially crucial for the first-time implementation of service-learning. However, longitudinal service-learning projects may both decrease the overall time commitment and increase program sustainability. 33 , 34 Another major limitation to service-learning that affects implementation and sustainability is funding. Faculty must “sell” the concept to campus administrators by demonstrating how service is contributing to the mission, curriculum objectives, and research of the institution. A first step is to establish an engagement taskforce by including individuals familiar with community engagement and who can draft an agenda as a guide for over five years. One approach is for faculty to design service-learning programs that aim to generate funding and become self-sustainable by holding fundraising events aimed at addressing community needs. 35 Another approach is for faculty to designing service-learning activities where students go into the community and meet with families at their home. Home-based service learning provides students with an opportunity to spend individualized time with patients while also providing students with first-hand experience of common environmental/living health concerns. 33 , 34

To recognize engaged faculty, a service-learning scholar/fellows programs can be established. These competitive programs name a couple of faculty each year as “engaged scholars” who are charged with assisting their colleagues to design service-learning modules and an associated research agenda. Often, the scholars receive acknowledgement, a cash stipend, travel monies for professional development, and/or course release time for service, while the faculty who are implementing service-learning may also receive a cash stipend or course release for one semester. Another recognition event is to consider making “engagement” a theme for an academic year. A taskforce may recommend readings to faculty, invite guest speakers, hold joint campus-community activities, and host visiting fellows for trainings/workshops. Students may present their own research conducted during this time at an end-of-year poster fair.

Match service activity to learning goal(s)

Action is the service activity itself. Service-learning activities in medical education can be categorized into three broad types: 1) educational/training (e.g., teaching CPR to young parents, health behavior intervention programs in schools), 2) clinic-/community-based (e.g., health fair for elderly, Alzheimer patient care), 3) advocacy, policy, and outreach (e.g., Autism awareness, fundraising). 36 Indirect (e.g., organizing first aid kits) and research projects are also service options. Regardless of type, the service must be meaningful, have academic integrity (i.e., not just thrown into a course), put the student in a position of responsibility and ownership, allow for project supervision and mentoring, place community organizations as co-instructors in student learning, and be appropriate for the needs being addressed as well as the developmental levels of the participants. Attention should be taken to ensure that the action, learning goals and objectives, and community needs are aligned.

Program design and student participation

The design of the service-learning course can be elective, requisite, or selection-based. From this review, service-learning elective courses are the most prominent, but often restrict participation to those students who self-selected into the course and may be, arguably, already service-oriented. Selection-based service-learning courses often require an application and acceptance in order to participate. Both elective and selection courses may provide flexibility for when student participation is limited. In order to reach all students, programs may choose to require participation in service-learning by infusing the pedagogy into the required curriculum; this allows the concept of altruism to be introduced more broadly across the diverse student population. Required service-learning is likely to be sustained over time through an ongoing volunteer of new students. In addition, sustained service-learning programs reduce the costs associated with program start-up (e.g., materials, resources, faculty training).Level of student performance also affects service-learning involvement. Brush, Markert, and Lazarus 37 found that students in the lower and higher quartiles of class rank were less likely to participate in service-learning, while students in the middle quartiles (i.e., 66%) were more likely to engage in service-learning. Perhaps integrating a mandatory service-learning course may ameliorate performance issues of struggling students by providing them with the opportunity to learn by doing, while providing students ranked in the higher quartiles of their class with opportunities to develop communication skills by increasing personal interactions with community members. This opportunity is mutually beneficial—that is, community members can benefit from the service-learner’s expertise while the latter gains an increased understanding of the contextual problem that faced the health and wellness of an underserved community. 37

Reflection and demonstration

Best practices for organizing reflection.

Reflection is the conduit between volunteer service, academic coursework, and civic intentions—the glue holding service and learning together. 38 Reflections should be continuous (i.e., before, during, after), connected to academic and real-life needs (learning objectives for synthesizing action and thought), challenging to prompt critical thinking, contextualized within the course and service setting, and involve communication with peers, instructors, and representatives from the organization. Reflection examples include: discussion, presentations/performance, journals/writings, role-play, artwork/portfolios, research posters, and meditation.

Best practices for reflection in service-learning include: setting goals, knowing the audience, making time, choosing a method, sharing expectations, identifying resources, reviewing skills, creating transparent evaluations, demonstrating the importance of different types of reflection, and embracing/capitalizing on teachable moments. Students engaged in service-learning need to also process more than academic topics during their service experiences; additional reflection on civic engagement, stereotypes, feelings of privilege, and emotional distress is warranted. The following barriers to reflection should be avoided: reflection as an extra activity; relegating reflection toward the end of the semester; framing reflection as an individual activity or log of events; and, failing to encourage students to take a self-searching and critical stance.

Assessment and celebration

Qualitative and quantitative assessment.

Assessment is necessary to determine student outcomes, document community impacts, and evaluate program structure and process, including the relationship between the community and medical institution. Quantitative measures, such as clinical-knowledge tests, attendance, and multiple-choice exams, placed outcomes in a pre-determined context. This context represented the skills, knowledge, or experiences that students were expected to have learned. A starting point for research instruments is the Compendium of Assessment and Research Tools (CART) and Project STAR. Lastly, a compendium of scales commonly used in service-learning is available in The Measure of Service Learning. 39 These resources can help faculty locate assessment tools that are aligned with their course/program objectives.

On the other hand, qualitative measures can illuminate unexpected outcomes that may lead to greater program flexibility, if not innovation. Qualitative measures include written reflection, reflective discussion, journaling, written essays, interviews, portfolios, and open-ended questions. Poster presentations are an effective culminating activity when used to share the service-learning experience with medical school faculty, students, and community members. 40

Student outcomes

Student outcomes help to determine if the objectives of the service-learning activity were met. It is important to consider and report the descriptive variables (i.e., course objectives, duration, service activity, funding, community partners, participants, types of reflection, and type of assessment) in order to frame and place the results in context. Three themes of student outcomes were identified from the literature: 1) academic learning and professional development, 2) personal development, and 3) enhanced civism and social responsibility.First, the students involved in service-learning demonstrated increased academic learning and professional responsibility. This academic learning included both non-clinical and clinical skills, which often depended on the course and the student’s year in medical school when participating in service-learning. Increased self-confidence and efficacy and the development of problem analysis skills were also beneficial outcomes of students’ participation in service-learning. Further, students appeared to develop a better understanding of their roles as physicians and of professional work environments, while also developing a better understanding of public health and the impact of health legislation and policies.Next, outcomes also resulted in changes to students’ intrapersonal and interpersonal skills and leadership ability. Students immersed in the community developed their communication skills with patients, community members, other students, and school faculty. They were able to understand diversity while showing increased levels of compassion and respect for others from different backgrounds. Students also demonstrated increased teamwork, collaboration, and leadership skills. And, many became more likely to step in and take on the responsibilities associated with leadership.Lastly, students reported increased social responsibility and civism to support the underserved community. They demonstrated an increased sense of social justice and found many of the health related problems embedded in a perpetual cycle that was difficult to break. Students often found themselves eagerly engaging in more hours of service than were required. Finally, service-learners were able to support communities by helping members of these communities understand both their assets and their needs.

Encourage the scholarship of teaching and learning

Medical school faculty and medical school students should actively engage in scholarship aimed at reporting effective and ineffective teaching and learning practices in service-learning. The Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL) involves the study of teaching and/or learning and the public sharing and review of such work through presentations, performance, or publications. 41 Instructors can co-write/publish with community partners and students. The publication of original scholarship in scholarly peer-reviewed journals is important to clearly articulate the methods, results, and outcomes for the evaluation and comparison of service-learning programs. Further inquiry on the topics/designs for research include: epistemological models applied to service-learning, impact of student knowledge, longitudinal/time-series, control-group designs, pretest-posttest designs, community impact studies with community groups/partners, cross-disciplinary studies connecting quantitative and qualitative outcomes, and internationally comparative studies. The improvement of service-learning in medical school is dependent on sharing examples and outcomes vis-à-vis both teaching and learning.

Celebrate, recognize, and share the learning

Celebration is an opportunity to acknowledge the work, learning, and appreciation of the service-learning activity. As noted in SoTL above, there is a public aspect to service-learning, which can be emphasized through special media coverage and newspaper articles written by participants, or by having everyone sign a symbolic agreement to continue the work. Students with research interests can present posters at fairs put on by the medical school or at professional academic conferences. For positive reinforcement, students can receive awards for the best poster, as decided by peers, a faculty panel, and the community partners.Technology can be used to highlight student learning, community impact, and the campus-community partnership. Students can use several free websites (e.g., Slideboom, Authorstream, YouTube) to narrate slideshows or videos to be published online. These presentations may be research-focused, descriptive, or reflective of how the experience has shaped the students’ personal and professional identities. Lastly, the Community-Campus Partnerships for Health has organized, an online mechanism for peer-reviewing, publishing, and disseminating products of health-related community-engaged scholarship. Medical students may submit their presentations for possible publication. The possibility of publication may especially attract higher-ranking students to service-learning activities, since they have been found to choose engagement with research, rather than engagement with service-learning. 37

The changing nature of medicine and its practice begs new approaches to educating future physicians. From this study’s review, service-learning, when infused systematically, appears to provide simultaneous opportunities to train students authentically, engage the community and university reciprocally, and develop students’ cognitive-emotional dimensions.The literature on service-learning in medical education revealed that programs across medical schools are not homogeneous. The varieties of service-learning programs reflect the multitude of community needs while also addressing the learning objectives of students at different stages of their training.A shared theme across these diverse programs, however, is that service-learning typifies authentic learning. That is, students perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills. Authenticity offers mastery experiences for future physicians to develop a professional identity by providing opportunities to grow in confidence, self-reliance, and self-understanding; to explore and demonstrate their abilities; and to receive supportive feedback and rewards for their actions. It permits alternatives to traditional assessment, through which educators may gain a richer understanding of their students’ strengths and challenges. For students, including authentic assessments like needs assessments and reflection activities ultimately support multiple intelligences and varied learning styles. In short, the infusion of service-learning to balance the traditional instructor-centered methods may help faculty members avoid isolating the “material of education … [that leads] to a diet of predigested materials”. 9 , 10 A value of engagement from service-learning is that medical students may experience transformative learning vis-à-vis cognitive-emotional development. As individuals critically reflect on their assumptions and beliefs, they can change their frames of reference, which can result in a fundamental change in the basic premises of thoughts, feelings and actions. Educators understand through information processing models that “in meaningful and sustained learning, the intellect and emotion are inseparable,” whether learning occurs at a traditional classroom or in a more informal setting. 42 Research has suggested that pride plays a key role in the development of identity and self-esteem, especially in the context of experience of success, and may dispose students to act positively toward learning and seeking similar experiences in the future. 43 Continued engagement by students would, therefore, advance the call for more community-centered models in which healthcare professionals adopt a population perspective and advocate for the health of the community, rather than approaching individual patients and their pathologies one symptom at a time.Medical institutions must become engaged with communities in order to collectively meet the needs and goals of all parties involved. In these “communities of practice,” engaged universities embrace communities as equal partners who work with, not for, universities in a mutual exchange to discover new knowledge and promote and apply learning. 44 This collaborative paradigm redefines universities from curators of knowledge to dialectic partners who must reconsider how they operationalize teaching for the benefit of all—“a successful collaborative process [that] enables a group of people and organizations to combine the complementary knowledge, skills and resources so they can accomplish more together than they can on their own.” 45 In the end, a systematic approach will need to be taken in order to engage faculty, students, and the community in the benefits of service-learning. It appears through the developed framework that service-learning follows an iterative process. In such systematic processes, course content is first designed, and then the course is developed, implemented, evaluated, and revised based on the outcomes. It will be necessary to reform curriculum, prepare faculty through training, garner student participation, highlight community needs and assets through community involvement, and obtain the support at the highest levels of medical education and governmental policy. Infusing service-learning in medical school will depend on the dynamic interplay of these factors. The proposed research-based framework should feasibly guide those wanting to move toward these goals.

Implications and future directions

This study promises immediate and long-term implications for medical education. First, for those institutions interested in infusing service-learning into its curricula, faculty training is paramount. In addition to faculty learning how to design, implement, and assess service-learning, it is equally important for faculty to use these opportunities to reflect on how their own practices can change to meet the new professional expectations of their students. Further, faculty, students, and community partners must understand the conceptual differences between service-learning and community service. Institutions can quickly support faculty development by providing financial and material resources. Recognition of those engaged in pedagogies of engagement may symbolically lend institutional support.More long-term directions will be reimagining goals and how to achieve them, including developing assessments to match and complement traditional approaches. Central to this task will be finding additional community partners/sites, perhaps utilizing a snowball sampling approach. International partnerships via study abroad or disaster assistance also appear to be promising transformative collaborative opportunities.Lastly, this review offers medical education faculty key avenues to investigate as part of their research agendas. With this in mind, as additional studies are conducted on service-learning in medical education, the literature base on which frameworks and recommendations will be broadened. Therefore, future attention should be placed on revisiting the literature as it is published, within a realistic timeframe (e.g., 3-5 years). Furthermore, as a result of discordant studies in the literature, we recommend that future research conducted on service-learning in medical education provide consistent reporting of descriptive variables (i.e., course type, course objectives, duration, service activity, funding, community partners, participants, types of reflection, and type of assessment).


Future research should take into account the following limitations. First, accuracy in the selection of literature may be limited by databases’ and/or journals’ poorly assigned keywords on which the search was conducted. Second, given that this study is restricted by cost and timeframe concerns, it was impossible to conduct an exhaustive search of all databases. Rather, a focused search of key databases used predominantly in service-learning and medical education was completed. Third, not all relevant manuscripts were obtainable either through lack of availability or database changes. Nonetheless, article selection was outlined in the method’s search criteria and manuscript selection and exclusion procedure.With this in mind, a fourth limitation is that researcher judgment was made about which texts to ultimately include. The process for these decisions is transparent and outlined in the methods. As is true of all studies of this type, authors’ interpretation of the results is their own construction of knowledge, based on the merging of the objective and the subjective epistemological foundations. This is further complicated when analyses are required across a pool of discordant studies, diverse in their design, methods, quality, participants, and conceptual frameworks. Our conclusions assume the included studies were previously subjected to rigorous review standards and that they are, in fact, methodologically adequate.Lastly, the literature on service-learning in medical education stems significantly from the United States. What we offer here, therefore, is an attempt to provide “generic” findings and themes for international application. However, we acknowledge that uniqueness is the norm and generalization is impossible in reality.

The purpose of this study was to identify existing empirical literature on service-learning and medical education in order to develop a general framework that faculty, staff, students, and community members can use when developing service-learning to be infused into medical school curricula. A four-stage framework guides the infusion and implementation across varying medical schools’ structures, practices, and locations. Service-learning implemented in medical education has the potential to strengthen campus-community relations, improve the lives of the underserved, and develop future medical professionals who are skilled at addressing and preventing health problems interwoven into the fabric of communities in need. 46 Levine argued that new ideas in higher education would inevitably meet four fates: enclaved, diffused, re-socialized, or terminated. 47 The determination is made by the individual and collective assessment of the faculty and leadership regarding the compatibility of the new idea with current organizational values and conditions. For this reason, and to advocate for enclaved service-learning within medical education, the proposed four-stage framework is purposefully broad and flexible to help medical schools develop an understanding of, intentional design for, implementation of, and assessment for institutionalizing service-learning that is connected to their mission statement. The components of this framework also serve to help faculty mobilize emergency service-learning projects that manifest outside of the standard curricular parameters and academic timeframes. Engagement in communities and partnerships between institutions and communities are unique, and this four-stage framework should assist medical education programs and community organizations to springboard into service-learning, or continue their momentum toward its institutionalization and refinement for students in all years of their medical career preparation.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


How service learning can help students create a positive change in the community

Service learning can help students develop a civic mindset, universities achieve their third mission and communities flourish as a result. Intan Azura Mokhtar shows how

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With higher education institutions competing to stay relevant, service learning, sometimes known as community-engaged learning, seems to have carved out its own niche. Offering the opportunity to balance active and experiential learning, it also helps to foster a civic mindset in students and allows institutions to demonstrate their third mission.

At the Singapore Institute of Technology, we created the SIT Community Challenge (SIT-CC) as one of the initiatives to support our third mission. Here’s how we did it.

The Singapore Institute of Technology Community Challenge

The SIT–CC is a service learning initiative that fosters collaboration between SIT, secondary schools and community stakeholders to address real-life challenges faced by local communities. The objective is to provide opportunities for secondary school students to build on their knowledge and skills and apply them in a real-world context. They work with community stakeholders who guide them towards solutions. SIT–CC not only offers opportunities for applied, authentic and active learning but also aims to nurture social awareness among the youth, inspiring them to make a meaningful impact on society.

  • Use students to facilitate impactful collaborations that benefit the community
  • In this together: developing meaningful community engagement
  • Directing research to engage and support local communities

SIT started the SIT-CC in 2019 and the 2023 edition of the initiative was co-produced with Greendale Secondary School and the James Dyson Foundation. The theme for 2023 was “Enhancing Sustainable Development Efforts and Education in the Punggol Community”. The finals took place on 4 November 2023.

Applied, authentic and active learning

The projects done through SIT-CC have created numerous opportunities for applied, authentic and active learning where students are able to learn beyond theories or their classroom walls. This is true not just for the secondary school students involved in the SIT-CC, but also for SIT students (SITizens) who serve as student mentors or who help to run the boot camps. The seven-month SIT-CC 2023 journey included an opening talk in May 2023 to all four secondary schools (Yusof Ishak, Punggol, Edgefield and Greendale) to garner interest and team participation, followed by a design thinking training session from SIT faculty in June where a total of 80 students participated. The teachers of each secondary school then shortlisted four to five teams each to attend the boot camp on 26 August.

During the boot camp, James Dyson engineers guided the 19 finalist teams in design prototyping through a hands-on approach, equipping them with real-life experience. Students were further assisted by both SIT student mentors and student ambassadors during the process. After the boot camp, SIT student mentors continued to mentor the students in building and refining their prototypes.

The SIT-CC 2023 finale event was held at Punggol National Library on 4 November and was open to the public, where the secondary school students’ prototypes and posters were presented. A panel of judges evaluated the prototypes and presentations and decided on nine winners who were awarded prizes for their time, effort and ideas.

The support and mentorship rendered by SIT staff, teachers and parents of the secondary school students during the finals cemented the importance of environmental sustainability to the general public and secondary school students involved, beyond their typical school curriculum. Through this event, SIT students learned the importance of environmental sustainability and the role of community partnership.

The initiative helps us forge closer links with the Punggol community, ahead of our new campus opening in the Punggol Digital District in late 2024. The projects we do together with the Punggol schools help our SITizens demonstrate active citizenship, as well as becoming more engaged with the area’s community.

Bringing stakeholders together

Service learning has emerged as a platform that brings together educational institutions, community stakeholders and actively engaged students to drive positive change within local communities. By empowering students with the relevant knowledge and skills, including social skills, and encouraging them to take an active role in addressing social and community challenges, service learning nurtures a generation of socially attuned and innovative youth who can shape a brighter future for Singapore and the Southeast Asian region  –  as in the case of SIT.

Service learning initiatives continue to evolve. Higher education institutions need to step up at this crucial time and work with like-minded partners and stakeholders, including other universities, to identify and develop similar learning opportunities for students. For university staff, the first step is to make time to be involved in community service, which can start once or twice a year. Once they are comfortable with that, they can volunteer their time and expertise to support service-learning initiatives, where there is a stronger, engaged and more pronounced learning or mentorship component, rather than just volunteering time for service alone. Making service learning more engaging and meaningful can significantly affect the lives of communities and help fuel the aspirations of young change-makers.

Intan Azura Mokhtar is an associate professor at Singapore Institute of Technology.

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  • Why Use Service Learning?

Service-learning can benefit all participants, students, faculty, academic institutions and their communities. Students gain academic knowledge and skills, interpersonal skills, and self confidence. Faculty can enhance the quality of their teaching, find opportunities for research and outlets for professional expertise. Service-learning supports the civic engagement mission of colleges and universities and improves town/gown relationships. Community members receive valued service and institutional support.

Service-Learning Enhances Student Learning and Personal Development

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Service-learning is a form of experiential education that supports deep learning . Through their service-learning activities, students apply classroom knowledge in practical settings to enhance their understanding of class materials.

Service-learning provides students with opportunities to develop civic engagement skills. By working with community members, students can enhance their group, organizational and interpersonal skills. They also can gain important experience working with diverse members of their communities. Learn more about how service learning can be used to connect classroom learning with societal issues (from the InTeGrate project) .

Students can gain better understanding of themselves as they explore and develop ways to contribute to their communities. They can develop self confidence and an enhanced commitment to public service.

Service-Learning Benefits Other Constituents

  • academic institutions
  • and their communities.

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Innovative Education in VT

A blog exploring innovative, personalized, student-centered school change

plan a service learning project

How to plan a service learning project in 5 stages

Leland & gray lead the way.

a model for service learning

And they used this framework to improve their school’s infrastructure in powerful ways.

Outdoor classroom, anyone?

It’s the last two weeks of school and Leland & Gray students are busy.

One team is building an outdoor classroom.

Leland & Gray middle school students are creating an amazing outdoor classroom as one of their end of year service-learning projects- looks like a beautiful place to learn! #vted @innovativeEd @bob_thibault @JohannaLD1 — Jeanie Phillips (@JPhillipsVT) June 16, 2018

Another team is building planters to rejuvenate a neglected area of their school. They’ve chosen a variety of beautiful and sustainable plants to fill them, too.

#ServiceLearning at Leland and Gray in Action: Team Nature is beautifying the school grounds with plant boxes and horticultural care! #vted @innovativeEd @bob_thibault @JohannaLD1 — Jeanie Phillips (@JPhillipsVT) June 16, 2018

The murals team are working on five. different. murals.

Another group of Leland & Gray middle school students is busy painting murals to beautify the school grounds and create community #ServiceLearning #vted @bob_thibault @JohannaLD1 @innovativeEd — Jeanie Phillips (@JPhillipsVT) June 16, 2018

And the trail maintenance team is renovating trails around the school: clearing brush, rebuilding a bridge and adding a welcoming arbor.

The 4th #ServiceLearning project that Leland & Gray students are working on: trail maintenance. They are rebuilding a bridge, clearing trail, and more for the entire community to enjoy. #vted @bob_thibault @JohannaLD1 @innovativeEd — Jeanie Phillips (@JPhillipsVT) June 16, 2018

How did students and teachers prepare for these hands-on projects?

They broke the process down into manageable stages..

For their third big project-based learning unit of the year, Leland & Gray teachers wanted students to “make a difference” in their community.  Service learning was the perfect fit , and the  K-12 Service Learning Project Planning Toolkit  (.pdf)provided a framework for student-led community service.

paragraph on service learning

5 stages of service learning

1. investigation.

In the investigation phase, students explore and analyze their school setting. What problems exist that they might solve or improve?  What opportunities exist for building community?

With these questions in mind, they begin to explore solutions.

Leland & Gray teachers scaffolded this learning during advisory, beginning by exploring the very concept of service-learning. Students watched and discussed the video below to better understand the work ahead.

Leland & Gray teachers wanted students to think broadly as they examined the local environment. To this end, they asked the students to unpack some categories and brainstorm some problems, issues, and opportunities that fit into each one. The categories:

  • Environment
  • Beautification
  • Community spaces
  • Community-building
  • School culture

Mapping the community

Finally, students were ready to engage in some community mapping.  Each advisory group took a different route as they explored their campus and the surrounding town. As they walked, they gathered ideas — problems, opportunities, and possible solutions — on a graphic organizer.

When they returned to their classrooms they brainstormed an enormous list of potential service-learning projects organized by their categories.

how to plan a service learning project

Choosing projects

Inspired by the students at Burke , Leland & Gray teachers consolidated the lists from all advisories into one and asked students to vote on their top choices, using dot-voting . This narrowed them down to a list of four:

  • Creating a new outdoor classroom
  • Painting community-minded murals
  • Beautifying the campus through nature
  • Maintaining and renovating local trails

Students used a Google Form to choose the project they wanted to work on and formed teams.

2. Planning and preparation

The planning and preparation phase asks students to develop an action plan. The Leland & Gray teachers kicked it up a notch by requiring students to write grants for funding. Students wrote out grant proposals (including budgets) and applied for funding from a local non-profit.*

Getting to Why

The teachers wanted students to really think about the purpose of their service, and not just the service itself.  They wanted them to outline what they were doing, but also why .

After watching Simon Sinek explain the power of why, teams discussed the relevance of their own work.

Teachers selected readings connected to each project and students used these to explore their whys. Depending on the team, this instructional time took one of two forms:

Common reading

  • Students read a common reading related to their service-learning project
  • As they read, they highlight text that answers the question “why?”
  • The team collects the “whys” on chart paper or sticky notes
  • The team organizes and prioritizes the “whys” as a group to generate a list
  • As a team, or in small groups, they rewrite the whys into a short paragraph that explains their purpose 

Jigsaw reading

  • Give small groups within the team different readings
  • Ask each group to generate 3 “whys” for the project
  • As a whole group, share “whys” on chart paper or sticky notes

how to plan a service learning project

The results to the “why” question became the purpose statement for the student-authored grant applications.

Here are a few examples of student purpose statements:

We are making an outdoor classroom for our school to have class in. It will allow kids to escape the indoor classroom that we have been in for the entire school year. We want to have the experience of getting taught outside the normal classroom. With the space we found we can use it to learn and experiment in the outdoor area we will build in nature. We want to build an area that is safe welcoming, and inspirational with having fun as it is built and as we learn in it. The goals of our project is to make a mural outside were people can see it, be inspired by it, and have the mural make them happy. Our goal is so that people can walk by it when they are outside either go to a basketball game, eating lunch or walking around.  We also are trying to make it an even more beautiful and a happy learning environment for other students. I think that it will have a positive and happy impact on kids and their growth through art. We hope that it will inspire kids.

Deciding on the What

Specifically, what:

  • murals would they paint?
  • would their outdoor classroom look like?
  • trail maintenance and renovation would they focus on?
  • plants and trees would they use to beautify their campus?

Some teams u sed a brief affinity mapping activity to brainstorm ideas, organize them and then make a decision. Other teams did a simpler brainstorm to collect ideas for meeting their purpose and then used dot-voting to determine which idea(s) they would pursue.

The answers to the “what” question not only set the course of action ahead, they also contributed to the grant proposals:

For our service learning project, we are planting flowers and other vegetation to help beautify the school. This will help make a better learning environment for the school and make it more inviting for visitors and the community. People who care for nature will probably care for others. Our project ideas are to make: succulent wall  garden edible garden for classroom cactus garden terrariums hanging plants flowers to enhance the outdoor classroom bleeding hearts out front There are several aspects to the trail maintenance project. We are revitalizing community trails that have been neglected; giving them new life. We are renovating a dilapidated old bridge that leads to a ropes and exercise course. We are also creating an arbor as an entryway to a trail system. Lastly, we are going to create a laminated storybook series of signs that line a trail near the elementary school.

The “what” was also a crucial step toward figuring out the “how” of the action plan.

Planning the How

Teachers asked teams to consider a range of questions as they further developed their action plan:

  • What do you need?
  • What will it cost?
  • Where will you get it?
  • Who in the community might help you?
  • Who in the community will benefit?
  • How might you include them?
  • What steps will you take?
  • How long will each step take?
  • What roles will different people play?
  • How will you know you have been successful?

Teams jigsawed the work, coming back together to share their results and develop a cohesive plan.

Gathering supplies and materials

Once students received word that their proposals were funded, they began acquiring materials and tools necessary to complete their service projects.

While many materials would be purchased with grant funds, teams got creative about the supplies. The trail maintenance team used Front Porch Forum to collect rakes, shovels, and other tools from kind-hearted town residents. The murals group solicited donations of paint from a nearby hardware store.

3. Implementation

As facilitators, teachers engaged the students in some important considerations: how would they build in time for clean up?  What would they do on rainy days?  How would they decide which roles students played?

4. Reflection

Teachers also engaged students in lots and lots of reflection!  Here are some of the prompts they used:

  • What was satisfying about today’s work?  What was challenging?
  • How did your plan support the work you did today?  How might you improve your plan?
  • If others wanted to do a project like this, what advice would you give them?
  • What went well?  What could be improved?

They also used a variety of strategies to help students reflect deeply:

  • Think Pair Share
  • Walk and Talk 
  • 6-word stories
  • Metaphors: Consider the work of the day.  What traffic sign does it bring to mind? Why?   
  • Plus and delta chart
  • Quiet write or draw

And now for 5: Celebration.

how to plan a service learning project

The last day of school will be extra special for Leland & Gray’s middle school students. They will present their service-learning projects to the school and town community: the what and the how, but also the why! Students will take visitors on a tour of the school grounds explaining the purpose of their projects and the learning they did along the way.

They in effect, are gifting their service to a town and community who support them in kind. The circle is closed.

How are your students making a difference in their community?

*Full disclosure: the granting agency mentioned in this story is our organization, The Tarrant Institute. We fund innovative school change projects to qualifying schools around Vermont.

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Jeanie Phillips

Jeanie Phillips is a former (and always!) school librarian and a Professional Development Coordinator for TIIE. A 2014 Rowland Fellow, she is passionate about student engagement, equity, collaboration, and questions. Jeanie likes to hike the woods of Vermont with her dog Charlie and is always in search of a well-brewed cup of tea and a good book.

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Service Learning Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

🏆 best service learning topic ideas & essay examples, 📌 good essay topics on service learning, 🔎 simple & easy service learning essay titles.

  • Should Service Learning Be A Requirement For College Graduation? This paper addresses the impact that service learning has on the students and the community to gauge whether it would be viable to make it a requirement for learning or not.
  • Service Learning Strategy: Process and Outcomes They help the students in appreciating some of the activities that take place in the community as they learn. Through the linking of issues taught in the classroom with participation in the community, students get […] We will write a custom essay specifically for you by our professional experts 808 writers online Learn More
  • Research Process of Service Learning It enables students to review what they did, learned and the effects of learning on his or her capacity to perform in future.
  • A Strategic Plan to Involve School-Family-Community Partnerships via Service Learning The process makes students responsible citizens who actively contribute to the needs of the community through the practical application of their formal instructions. The interaction of the students, members of the community and the educators […]
  • Academic Service Learning for Teacher Preparation In part, this method is based on the premise that these people should take an active part in the life of the community in order to understand the various challenges, to which students and their […]
  • Social Work and Human Service-Learning Experience The skills I acquired in class could be put to assessment, and points of improvement could be identified. While there are many skills a social worker should possess, I was able to use and assess […]
  • Service-Learning Reflective Process It focused on the components of the project with regards to the summer school programme, how it will be linked to the schools language arts curriculum, the aim and purpose of the project and how […]
  • Economic Development of Dubai and Service Learning The purpose of this project is to analyze the role of the services provided by the Department of Economic Development of Dubai in the community’s development with the focus on interviewing the persons who participate […]
  • The Importance of Service Learning for Students: Self-Reflection
  • Using Service Learning and Project-Based Learning as a Conceptual Framework
  • How Service Learning Can Be Utilized Throughout Your
  • Leveraging Community-Based Service Learning Experiences
  • Reflections From Inside a Service Learning Partnership in a California Juvenile Hall
  • Building Effective Service Learning Programs in Local Communities
  • How Academic Service Learning Informs Practice of Pre-service Teachers
  • Service Learning Within the Walls of an Orphanage
  • Does the Service Learning Experience Help Students Promote the Character of Servant
  • Service Learning and the Homeless Center
  • The Experience and Importance of an Effective Community Service Learning
  • The Principles for Success in Service Learning
  • Pros and Cons of Service Learning
  • Embedding Social Innovation and Service Learning in Higher Education’s
  • Our Schools Need Community Service Learning Programs
  • Benefits of Service Learning Programs
  • Animal Rights: Service Learning Requirement
  • Enhancing Undergraduate Geographic Education With Service Learning
  • Cross-Cultural Communication: Applying Concepts to Service Learning
  • Service Learning With the Veterans Administration
  • Compare and Contrast Volunteerism, Community Engagement, and Service Learning
  • Community Service Learning Project at College
  • Learning With Older Adults Through Intergenerational Service Learning
  • Developing Leadership Skills Through Service Learning Courses
  • Service Learning and Integration Within Community
  • Integrating Community Service Learning to Ladderized Curriculum in Bsce
  • Native American Service Learning Opportunities
  • Service Learning and Nursing Education
  • The Difference Between Service Learning and Volunteerism
  • The Positive Relationship Between Communication and Service Learning
  • Experience and Pluralist Pedagogy: Service Learning as a Means and an End
  • How Service Learning Enriches the Learning Experience
  • Nontraditional Approach for Interprofessional Service Learning in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program
  • Factors That Affect Service Learning Teams
  • Service Learning for Improving Academic Success in Students
  • Nonprofit Financial Assessment in Research Service Learning
  • The Importance of Critical Perspectives on Service Learning in Higher Education
  • Community Service Learning: Pedagogy at the Interface of Poverty, Inequality, and Privilege
  • Bridging Generation Gaps Through Service Learning
  • The Difference Between Service Learning and Community Service
  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

IvyPanda. (2022, September 10). Service Learning Essay Topic Ideas & Examples.

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, how to write a great community service essay.

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College Admissions , Extracurriculars


Are you applying to a college or a scholarship that requires a community service essay? Do you know how to write an essay that will impress readers and clearly show the impact your work had on yourself and others?

Read on to learn step-by-step instructions for writing a great community service essay that will help you stand out and be memorable.

What Is a Community Service Essay? Why Do You Need One?

A community service essay is an essay that describes the volunteer work you did and the impact it had on you and your community. Community service essays can vary widely depending on specific requirements listed in the application, but, in general, they describe the work you did, why you found the work important, and how it benefited people around you.

Community service essays are typically needed for two reasons:

#1: To Apply to College

  • Some colleges require students to write community service essays as part of their application or to be eligible for certain scholarships.
  • You may also choose to highlight your community service work in your personal statement.

#2: To Apply for Scholarships

  • Some scholarships are specifically awarded to students with exceptional community service experiences, and many use community service essays to help choose scholarship recipients.
  • Green Mountain College offers one of the most famous of these scholarships. Their "Make a Difference Scholarship" offers full tuition, room, and board to students who have demonstrated a significant, positive impact through their community service

Getting Started With Your Essay

In the following sections, I'll go over each step of how to plan and write your essay. I'll also include sample excerpts for you to look through so you can get a better idea of what readers are looking for when they review your essay.

Step 1: Know the Essay Requirements

Before your start writing a single word, you should be familiar with the essay prompt. Each college or scholarship will have different requirements for their essay, so make sure you read these carefully and understand them.

Specific things to pay attention to include:

  • Length requirement
  • Application deadline
  • The main purpose or focus of the essay
  • If the essay should follow a specific structure

Below are three real community service essay prompts. Read through them and notice how much they vary in terms of length, detail, and what information the writer should include.

From the Equitable Excellence Scholarship:

"Describe your outstanding achievement in depth and provide the specific planning, training, goals, and steps taken to make the accomplishment successful. Include details about your role and highlight leadership you provided. Your essay must be a minimum of 350 words but not more than 600 words."

From the Laura W. Bush Traveling Scholarship:

"Essay (up to 500 words, double spaced) explaining your interest in being considered for the award and how your proposed project reflects or is related to both UNESCO's mandate and U.S. interests in promoting peace by sharing advances in education, science, culture, and communications."

From the LULAC National Scholarship Fund:

"Please type or print an essay of 300 words (maximum) on how your academic studies will contribute to your personal & professional goals. In addition, please discuss any community service or extracurricular activities you have been involved in that relate to your goals."


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Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas

Even after you understand what the essay should be about, it can still be difficult to begin writing. Answer the following questions to help brainstorm essay ideas. You may be able to incorporate your answers into your essay.

  • What community service activity that you've participated in has meant the most to you?
  • What is your favorite memory from performing community service?
  • Why did you decide to begin community service?
  • What made you decide to volunteer where you did?
  • How has your community service changed you?
  • How has your community service helped others?
  • How has your community service affected your plans for the future?

You don't need to answer all the questions, but if you find you have a lot of ideas for one of two of them, those may be things you want to include in your essay.

Writing Your Essay

How you structure your essay will depend on the requirements of the scholarship or school you are applying to. You may give an overview of all the work you did as a volunteer, or highlight a particularly memorable experience. You may focus on your personal growth or how your community benefited.

Regardless of the specific structure requested, follow the guidelines below to make sure your community service essay is memorable and clearly shows the impact of your work.

Samples of mediocre and excellent essays are included below to give you a better idea of how you should draft your own essay.

Step 1: Hook Your Reader In

You want the person reading your essay to be interested, so your first sentence should hook them in and entice them to read more. A good way to do this is to start in the middle of the action. Your first sentence could describe you helping build a house, releasing a rescued animal back to the wild, watching a student you tutored read a book on their own, or something else that quickly gets the reader interested. This will help set your essay apart and make it more memorable.

Compare these two opening sentences:

"I have volunteered at the Wishbone Pet Shelter for three years."

"The moment I saw the starving, mud-splattered puppy brought into the shelter with its tail between its legs, I knew I'd do whatever I could to save it."

The first sentence is a very general, bland statement. The majority of community service essays probably begin a lot like it, but it gives the reader little information and does nothing to draw them in. On the other hand, the second sentence begins immediately with action and helps persuade the reader to keep reading so they can learn what happened to the dog.

Step 2: Discuss the Work You Did

Once you've hooked your reader in with your first sentence, tell them about your community service experiences. State where you work, when you began working, how much time you've spent there, and what your main duties include. This will help the reader quickly put the rest of the essay in context and understand the basics of your community service work.


Not including basic details about your community service could leave your reader confused.

Step 3: Include Specific Details

It's the details of your community service that make your experience unique and memorable, so go into the specifics of what you did.

For example, don't just say you volunteered at a nursing home; talk about reading Mrs. Johnson her favorite book, watching Mr. Scott win at bingo, and seeing the residents play games with their grandchildren at the family day you organized. Try to include specific activities, moments, and people in your essay. Having details like these let the readers really understand what work you did and how it differs from other volunteer experiences.

Compare these two passages:

"For my volunteer work, I tutored children at a local elementary school. I helped them improve their math skills and become more confident students."

"As a volunteer at York Elementary School, I worked one-on-one with second and third graders who struggled with their math skills, particularly addition, subtraction, and fractions. As part of my work, I would create practice problems and quizzes and try to connect math to the students' interests. One of my favorite memories was when Sara, a student I had been working with for several weeks, told me that she enjoyed the math problems I had created about a girl buying and selling horses so much that she asked to help me create math problems for other students."

The first passage only gives basic information about the work done by the volunteer; there is very little detail included, and no evidence is given to support her claims. How did she help students improve their math skills? How did she know they were becoming more confident?

The second passage is much more detailed. It recounts a specific story and explains more fully what kind of work the volunteer did, as well as a specific instance of a student becoming more confident with her math skills. Providing more detail in your essay helps support your claims as well as make your essay more memorable and unique.

Step 4: Show Your Personality

It would be very hard to get a scholarship or place at a school if none of your readers felt like they knew much about you after finishing your essay, so make sure that your essay shows your personality. The way to do this is to state your personal strengths, then provide examples to support your claims. Take some time to think about which parts of your personality you would like your essay to highlight, then write about specific examples to show this.

  • If you want to show that you're a motivated leader, describe a time when you organized an event or supervised other volunteers.
  • If you want to show your teamwork skills, write about a time you helped a group of people work together better.
  • If you want to show that you're a compassionate animal lover, write about taking care of neglected shelter animals and helping each of them find homes.

Step 5: State What You Accomplished

After you have described your community service and given specific examples of your work, you want to begin to wrap your essay up by stating your accomplishments. What was the impact of your community service? Did you build a house for a family to move into? Help students improve their reading skills? Clean up a local park? Make sure the impact of your work is clear; don't be worried about bragging here.

If you can include specific numbers, that will also strengthen your essay. Saying "I delivered meals to 24 home-bound senior citizens" is a stronger example than just saying "I delivered meals to lots of senior citizens."

Also be sure to explain why your work matters. Why is what you did important? Did it provide more parks for kids to play in? Help students get better grades? Give people medical care who would otherwise not have gotten it? This is an important part of your essay, so make sure to go into enough detail that your readers will know exactly what you accomplished and how it helped your community.

"My biggest accomplishment during my community service was helping to organize a family event at the retirement home. The children and grandchildren of many residents attended, and they all enjoyed playing games and watching movies together."

"The community service accomplishment that I'm most proud of is the work I did to help organize the First Annual Family Fun Day at the retirement home. My job was to design and organize fun activities that senior citizens and their younger relatives could enjoy. The event lasted eight hours and included ten different games, two performances, and a movie screening with popcorn. Almost 200 residents and family members attended throughout the day. This event was important because it provided an opportunity for senior citizens to connect with their family members in a way they aren't often able to. It also made the retirement home seem more fun and enjoyable to children, and we have seen an increase in the number of kids coming to visit their grandparents since the event."

The second passage is stronger for a variety of reasons. First, it goes into much more detail about the work the volunteer did. The first passage only states that she helped "organize a family event." That really doesn't tell readers much about her work or what her responsibilities were. The second passage is much clearer; her job was to "design and organize fun activities."

The second passage also explains the event in more depth. A family day can be many things; remember that your readers are likely not familiar with what you're talking about, so details help them get a clearer picture.

Lastly, the second passage makes the importance of the event clear: it helped residents connect with younger family members, and it helped retirement homes seem less intimidating to children, so now some residents see their grand kids more often.

Step 6: Discuss What You Learned

One of the final things to include in your essay should be the impact that your community service had on you. You can discuss skills you learned, such as carpentry, public speaking, animal care, or another skill.

You can also talk about how you changed personally. Are you more patient now? More understanding of others? Do you have a better idea of the type of career you want? Go into depth about this, but be honest. Don't say your community service changed your life if it didn't because trite statements won't impress readers.

In order to support your statements, provide more examples. If you say you're more patient now, how do you know this? Do you get less frustrated while playing with your younger siblings? Are you more willing to help group partners who are struggling with their part of the work? You've probably noticed by now that including specific examples and details is one of the best ways to create a strong and believable essay .

"As a result of my community service, I learned a lot about building houses and became a more mature person."

"As a result of my community service, I gained hands-on experience in construction. I learned how to read blueprints, use a hammer and nails, and begin constructing the foundation of a two-bedroom house. Working on the house could be challenging at times, but it taught me to appreciate the value of hard work and be more willing to pitch in when I see someone needs help. My dad has just started building a shed in our backyard, and I offered to help him with it because I know from my community service how much work it is. I also appreciate my own house more, and I know how lucky I am to have a roof over my head."

The second passage is more impressive and memorable because it describes the skills the writer learned in more detail and recounts a specific story that supports her claim that her community service changed her and made her more helpful.

paragraph on service learning

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Step 7: Finish Strong

Just as you started your essay in a way that would grab readers' attention, you want to finish your essay on a strong note as well. A good way to end your essay is to state again the impact your work had on you, your community, or both. Reiterate how you changed as a result of your community service, why you found the work important, or how it helped others.

Compare these two concluding statements:

"In conclusion, I learned a lot from my community service at my local museum, and I hope to keep volunteering and learning more about history."

"To conclude, volunteering at my city's American History Museum has been a great experience. By leading tours and participating in special events, I became better at public speaking and am now more comfortable starting conversations with people. In return, I was able to get more community members interested in history and our local museum. My interest in history has deepened, and I look forward to studying the subject in college and hopefully continuing my volunteer work at my university's own museum."

The second passage takes each point made in the first passage and expands upon it. In a few sentences, the second passage is able to clearly convey what work the volunteer did, how she changed, and how her volunteer work benefited her community.

The author of the second passage also ends her essay discussing her future and how she'd like to continue her community service, which is a good way to wrap things up because it shows your readers that you are committed to community service for the long-term.

What's Next?

Are you applying to a community service scholarship or thinking about it? We have a complete list of all the community service scholarships available to help get your search started!

Do you need a community service letter as well? We have a step-by-step guide that will tell you how to get a great reference letter from your community service supervisor.

Thinking about doing community service abroad? Before you sign up, read our guide on some of the hazards of international volunteer trips and how to know if it's the right choice for you.

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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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This section of our website will tell you about service learning — what it means, how it works and how to become involved. If you are simply seeking a volunteer opportunity, visit our Volunteer Programs page.

Service-Learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility and strengthen communities.

Service-Learning Definition

Sacred Heart University’s Service-Learning Council (SLC) acknowledges the value of all types of community engagement, from volunteerism and mission work to internships. The purpose of the SLC is to focus its attention in on service-learning as a high impact pedagogical strategy. What follows is the SLC’s agreed upon definition of service-learning. It is intended to be a guide to faculty in designing and re-designing courses using this high impact pedagogy and in no way strives to define or restrict other types of community engaged activities.

The SLC defines service-learning as follows:

Service-learning is a credit-bearing, faculty-directed, teaching-learning experience that is course specific. Service-learning strengthens academic content knowledge and sense of civic responsibility. Students build critical thinking skills as they engage in experiential, community-based activities that are aligned with and integral to academic course work. At the same time, the community (real people in real situations) benefits from assistance that would otherwise not be available.

Components of Service-Learning

The Office of Community Engagement incorporates three components into each service-learning opportunity. Faculty are encouraged to utilize the following components in course development:


Students are introduced to relevant social issues and the community through course content.


Students participate in hands-on, project-based activities that enhance learning, address the identified social issue, and promote community interest.

Students are challenged to think critically about the questions of “So what?” and “Now what?” Through structured reflections, participants are asked to address critical moments and to begin considering viable solutions that will create sustainable social change.

These three components distinguish service-learning from other student engagement activities like internships, work study, experiential learning, and/or clinical care experiences. Students and faculty engage in service-learning programs because they aspire to achieve prominence through innovative teaching and learning while cultivating a campus community that is recognized as caring and creative.

Student Learning Objectives & Community Benefit

  • To foster the mission and identity of the University and the preservation of its core values, including the promotion of the common good of society and the recognition of the dignity and worth of every human being
  • To practice and improve on competencies that are necessary to develop good leadership and project management skills
  • To gain a genuine appreciation of social diversity and inclusion while working alongside community partners
  • To provide community organizations with a committed partner who will assist in their pursuit for viable social justice solutions

Courses include the following best practices:

  • Service-learning is both a teaching strategy and philosophy used to develop students into citizens who contribute to their communities and promote social justice (SHU Mission; Speck, 2001).
  • Service-learning is integrated into curricula, related to specific learning objectives that are outlined on course syllabi with student assessment and academic credit based on learning outcomes—not on the service.
  • Service-learning and the community partners are equal in determining the service-learning experience and should be outlined in a plan of mutual benefit to students and the community partner(s) and articulates the needs and expectations of both.
  • Service-learning integrates critical reflection that requires students to relate the experience to the course learning objectives and outcomes, social justice, professional values, and students’ personal values and perceptions (Evers, 2010).
  • Service-learning is along the continuum of activities that includes volunteerism, community service, mission work, field education, and internships. Service-learning is differentiated by its focus and intended beneficiary. Service-learning is unique in its mutual benefit to the recipient (community partners) and service provider (students) with an equal focus on service and students’ learning (Furco, 1996).

Furco’s typology . Furco (1996) developed a typology continuum to distinguish among the various forms of service. The degree to which the activity focused on the intended beneficiary and degree to which the activity focused on students’ learning determines its place along the service continuum.  

Service learning is along the continuum of activities that includes volunteerism, community service, mission work, field education and internships.

Bibliography & References

  • Dary, T. (2012, February 28). The academic service learning answer to student engagement.
  • Dary, T.  (2010, April). Highly quality instruction that transforms: A guide to implementing quality academic service learning. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. 
  • Furco, A. (1996). Service learning: A balanced approach to experiential education: Service and learning.  Washington DC Corporation for National Service. 2-6.
  • Speck, B.W. (2001, Summer). New directions for higher education: Developing and implementing service learning programs 2001(114), 3-13. DOI: 10.1002/he.8 

View the separate sections of our website for faculty , students and community partners . As you explore, if you have any questions, contact our office at 203-365-4710.

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Service Learning Essays (Examples)

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Service learning.

Service Learning My Experience: Volunteering and Community Service I was not able to volunteer at the Houston or NYC Food Bank, so I'm writing about my other experiences for Service Learning, Volunteering and Community. I have volunteered to assist my colleagues whom are from the nation of Haiti. e have collected toiletries from hotels stays (I'm a flight Attendant all F/A's contribute), school supplies, clothing as well as food. I have also had the honor of flying to Haiti to delivery these donations. On one occasion, I had the opportunity to visit an orphanage and a home that housed mothers and their children. This was the saddest most emotional part of the trip, seeing the mothers of these precious babies. As I interacted with the families and got to hold this one particular baby, he was so cute. The mother said, "You can have him, you can keep him." It brought tears to….

Works Cited

Bigelow, J. (2010). Establishing a training programme for rehabilitation aides in Haiti: Successes, challenges, and dilemmas. Disability and Rehabilitation, 656-663.

Service Learning Project Working in

I took that learning styles quiz and for me that was quite illuminating. I had never really thought before that there were different learning styles, but it makes sense now having seen that I definitely have a predisposition for a certain learning style. This actually did end up helping in the teamwork situation because we were able to help each other understand things. You could have somebody who did not understand something but the team would work together to find different ways of explaining it. Also, I think the learning style thing is going to help me next year as well. University is a special challenge for me and I am excited to begin this challenge. Having gone through the exercises and learned a little bit about the ways I learn best, I think I can actually make some changes to the way I approach school, and that this will….

Service Learning and Nursing Education

.." (10) the result was "development of a marketing plan that defined the role of the CNL and highlighted the significant contributions of the CNL and interdisciplinary team members." (10) the work of Pohl, et al. (2007) relates that the Academic Nurse-Managed Centers (ANMCs) are sponsored by schools and colleges of nursing and are furthermore "increasingly reaching attention" as their importance is being recognized is the response they provide the particular health care needs of communities. (11) the work of Deal, Fountain, Russell-roaddus, and Stanley-Hermanns (2006) entitled: "Challenges and Opportunities of Nursing Care in Special-Needs Shelters" relates the challenges that were stated by nurses in providing assistance in a special needs shelter following Hurricane Katrina. Challenges included the varying methods of volunteer recruitment, the operations of the shelter, the availability of supplies, methods of identifying patients and their locations, organization of medication for those unable to self-medicate, patient privacy and….


Seifer, SD (1998) Service-Learning: Community-Campus Partnerships for Health Professions Education. Academic Medicine, 73(3):273-277.

Bailey, PA; Harrington, P; and Carpenter, DR (2002) Theoretical Foundations of Service-Learning in Nursing Education. Journal of Nursing Education Vol. 41 No. 10 October 2002.

Building Partnerships Into All Aspects of Service-Learning: A Tool for Service-Learning Programs. 2000 Community-Campus Partnerships for Health.

Callister, L.C., & Hobbins-Garbett, D. (2000). "Enter to learn, go forth to serve": Service learning in nursing education. Journal of Professional Nursing 16(3), 177-83. In Seifer, Sarena D. And Vaughn, Rachel L (nd) Service-Learning in Nursing. University of Washington. Online available at

Service Learning Observation of Psychiatric Patients

Service Learning Observation of Psychiatric Patients Patients with normal health problems behave in a different manner as compared to patients with psychiatric problems. It has always fascinated me that psychiatric patients have an ability to look normal as compared to the patients with other health problems despite the fact that they are suffering from what can be in a longer term a fatal mental disease. My interest in psychiatric patients encouraged me to voluntarily work at a local psychiatric hospital to observe these patients and identify their attributes to develop better understanding of how they would react to certain situations. The paper aims to elaborate on my experience of work there and also elaborates on my observation of the psychiatric patients in the observed local hospital. The Experimental Dimensions of Service Learning It is human nature to associate certain expectations and develop certain feelings with a certain situation before experiencing it. Similarly, before….

Service-Learning Few Are Those Who See With

Service-Learning "Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts" (Einstein, as cited in Freeman & Jackson, 2007, p. 338). An old adage asserts that people remember what they see; they understand what they do Freeman and Jackson (2007) note in the book, UnCommon sense about learning. In addition, just like the sounds one hears and the words one speaks have consequences, the things one sees in life also birth responses. One primary component contributing to students feeling included in school relates to them feeling "seen." In the first of a three series report relating to service learning in a small school setting, "What would it look like if all students felt included?," Frodge (2004) reports that teachers discussed how they currently "see" students. Teachers typically "see" students who routinely "act out" and demonstrate behavioral issues or problems as well as students failing classes right away. "What about….

Blundo, R. & Bolduc, W. (2001). Video documentaries as interdisciplinary student service learning projects. In Colburn, Jr., K. & Newmark, R. (eds.). Service-learning paradigms: intercommunity, Interdisciplinary and international. Indianapolis, IN: University Press.

Davies, L. (2008). Informal learning: A new model for making sense of experience. Burlington, VT: Gower Publishing, Ltd.

Freeman, W. & Jackson, M. (2007). UnCommon sense about learning. GoogleBooks. Retrieved August 6, 2011 from  +those+who+see+with+their+own+eyes+and+feel+with+their+own+hearts&source=gb _navlinks_s

Frodge, C. (2004). What would it look like if all students felt included? Retrieved August 4, 2011 from  

Service learning Project for Hope Chicago

Hope Chicago esearch ProjectHope Chicago is a non-profit organization that was founded by businessman Ted Koenig and entrepreneur Pete Kadens. The organization seeks to lessen economic and social inequity through financing post-secondary scholarships and non-tuition fees for Chicago Public School. This non-profit agency seeks to provide such funding to graduates and adult family members who want to return to school and improve their skills (Hope Chicago, 2022). To achieve this objective, Hope Chicago seeks to raise and invest at least $1 billion over the next ten years. However, achieving debt-free higher education in Chicago remains a major challenge requiring huge financial investments than the targeted $1 billion over the next decade. This paper discusses a solution that will result in a service-learning opportunity that positively contributes to society and deals with matters of equity and cultural responsiveness.Problem IdentificationHope Chicago believes that offering free college for all would help increase enrollment….

ReferencesGoertzen, B.J., Greenleaf, J. & Dougherty, D. (2016). Exploring the community impact of service-learning project teams. Partnerships: A Journal of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, 7(2), 37-50.Hope Chicago. (2022). Hope Chicago leadership. Retrieved July 6, 2022, from Kelleher, M. (2022). Hope Chicago starts strong, faces challenges. Retrieved July 6, 2022, from Mat-jizat, J.E. & Khalid, K. (2016). A service-learning project using crowdfunding strategy: Students’ experience and reflection. Retrieved from ERIC – Institute of Education Sciences website: Meyers, S.A. (2009). Service learning as an opportunity for personal and social transformation. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 21(3), 373-381.Roehlkepartain, E.C. (2009). Service-learning in community-based organizations: A practical guide to starting and sustaining high-quality programs. Retrieved from University of Nebraska Omaha website: Strait, J. & Nordyke, K.J. (2015) eService-learning: Creating experiential and civic engagement through online and hybrid courses, Sterling, VA: Stylus Publications.Verjee, B. (2010). Service-learning: Charity-based or transformative? Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal, 4(2), 1-13.

Issues Relating to Service Learning

Discussion Question #1Service learning is an integrative experience that enables students to understand how education can be used as a tool for serving communities. As a result, this approach to learning seeks to promote academic and civic engagement, which implies that the latter is a major area of focus in service learning. According to Strait & Nordyke (2015), the major goal of civic engagement is to generate meaningful service and experience for the involved parties. Therefore, teaching civic engagement is critical to the achievement of service learning outcomes. The process of integrating civic engagement into service learning requires incorporating all the elements listed by Strait & Nordyke (2015).Personally, I would first focus on developing campus-community partnerships in effort to ensure successful outcomes are achieved in service learning. Such partnerships would help enhance the achievement of learning outcomes by providing students with field experience. I believe that campus-community partnerships give students….

ReferencesPurcell, J. (2017). Community-engaged pedagogy in the virtual classroom: Integrating eService-learning into online leadership education. Journal of Leadership Studies, 11(1), 65-70.Rodela, K.C. & Bertrand, M. (2018). Rethinking educational leadership in the margins: Youth, parent, and community leadership for equity and social justice. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 13(1), 3-9. Strait, J. & Nordyke, K.J. (2015) eService-learning: Creating experiential and civic engagement through online and hybrid courses, Sterling, VA: Stylus Publications.

The Technology Based Courses Role of Service Learning

Week 3 Discussion QuestionThe need to understand the role of service-learning for success in technology-based courses lies in implementing different learning modes and acquiring experience in the real-world practice of learned material. For example, the longest engagement of students in civil engagement results in deeper learning and yields significant community impact. Technology-based courses can involve assignments that stem from service-learning experiences that directly contribute to the students grade (Odegard, 2015). Collaboration with other students while covering learning material is also critical to enhancing their understanding. Understanding the correlation between academic study, practical experience, and civic engagement in complementary learning intersects with service learning. This approach enables them to identify acceptable service opportunities on learning materials and ensure the learning activities are integrated to connect with the courses academic and civic learning objectives.The academic preparation to ensure success in the service-learning project would involve setting learning objectives and planning the course….

ReferencesOdegard, S. (2015). Guide to Service-Learning. Retrieved 12 July 2022, from .

Learning Capacity E Service Educational Video

Service-Learning VideoService-learning contributes to enhancing teaching methods by identifying learning gaps. It also provides learners with better experiences by experiencing diversity. The video \\\"Service Learning Projects Fall 18\\\" shares practical aspects covered in the course. It demonstrates a need to eliminate an imaginary learning approach by having students engage more closely with children. This requires a deep understanding of the learners to aid in developing different teaching methods. According to Strait and Nordyke (2015), service-learning outcomes advocate for knowledge contextualization, enhanced communication, research, critical thinking, techniques, and praxis. These integrate cognitive and intellectual skills, developing positive attitude and motor skills. When these form part of the learning structure, learners experience reduced stereotypes often attributed to cultural differences and a feeling of social responsibility.Lessons demonstrated in the video resonate with the course outcomes where such practical learning methods motivate educators to put more effort into enhancing benefits for children. Diversity is….

ReferencesStrait, J., & Nordyke, K. (2015). E-Service-Learning: Creating Experiential Learning and civic engagement through online and hybrid courses. Stylus Publications.

Service Theory Design

Service Theory design is not a basic foothold that can be explained in only a few sentences. There is a lot of thought, experimentation, research, and trial and error that goes into the creation of a sound theory. First, it is important to acknowledge all of the things that can play a role in the design of a theory itself. esearchers have reported that community and culture significantly influence value orientation (Goel, 2010), perceived needs, and motivation as well as provide the ground for creating shared understanding. All disciplines have their own cultures, and all cultures evolve through cross-cultural exchanges. It all starts with a series of questions and ideas that the researcher would like to find out background information on, and possible determine information that may not have been evident upon first glance. The questions that would need further clarity are: (1) what model best fits the current prospective theory….

Freeman, J.B., & Ambady, N. (2011). A dynamic interactive theory of person construal. Psychological Review, 118(2), 247-279. doi:10.1037/a0022327

Goel, S. (2010, April 1). Design of Interventions for Instructional Reform in Software Development Education for Competency Enhancement. Online Submission, Retrieved from EBSCOhost..

Rodrigues, R., de Lima Bicho, A., Paravisi, M., Jung, C., Magalhaes, L., & Musse, S. (2010). AN INTERACTIVE MODEL FOR STEERING BEHAVIORS OF GROUPS OF CHARACTERS. Applied Artificial Intelligence, 24(6), 594-616. doi:10.1080/08839514.2010.492167

Tracey, M. (2009). Design and development research: a model validation case. Educational Technology Research & Development, 57(4), 553-571. doi:10.1007/s11423-007-9075-0

Learning Platforms

Learning Platforms -- K-12 and Beyond A Comparison of Learning Platforms that Focus on the K-12 and Higher Education Learning Environments Many of the educational initiatives in recent years have focused on improving the delivery of services by incorporating learning platforms that focus on the K-12 and higher education learning environments, such as WebCT or Blackboard. To determine how these learning platforms are being used today and for what learners, this paper will provide an overview of the features of learning management systems (LMS) that have assumed increasing importance for a wide range of corporate and government-sponsored learning environments. A comparison and evaluation of these platforms and their applicability to the different learning environments is followed by a summary of the research in the conclusion. eview and Discussion Background and Overview. In their book, Handbook of Distance Education Technology, Anderson and Moore (2003) suggest that it just makes good sense to use the technological….

Anderson, W.G., & Moore, M.G. (2003). Handbook of distance education. Mahwah, NJ:

Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Carlivati, P.A. (2002). E-learning evolves. ABA Banking Journal, 94(6), 49.

Granger, D., & Bowman, M. (2003). Constructing knowledge at a distance: The learner in context. In W.G. Anderson & M.G. Moore (Eds.). Handbook of distance education.

Learning Journal for Organizational Behavior

Given the capriciousness of the human condition with respect to continuing redefinitions of personal and professional success, human resource managers are faced with some difficult choices in formulating recommendations for best practices. Therefore, the learning journal would undergo a series of draft versions that would be used to solicit feedback from experts in the field who could point out flaws and areas that required additional research or support to be valid and trustworthy. The solicitation of feedback process would follow the guidance provided by Neuman (2003) who recommends having a manuscript reviewed by knowledgeable individuals who possess the requisite credentials to provide informed feedback. This feedback would be carefully reviewed and the collaborative process would result in changes and additions where they were deemed necessary and appropriate. 4) Outcomes and New Learning Some of the overriding themes that emerged from the learning episodes outlined above was that the more researchers learn about….

American Psychological Association. (2002). Publication manual of the American Psychological

Association (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Cheverton, J. 2007. 'Holding our own: Value and performance in nonprofit organizations.'

Australian Journal of Social Issues, vol. 42, no. 3, pp. 427-428.

Learning Needs Assessment and Analysis the University

Learning Needs Assessment and Analysis The University of San Diego Counseling Center (USDCC) has been established to provide enrolled students with access to quality counseling and healthcare services. Employing a diverse selection of the university's most accomplished psychiatrists, psychologists, medical doctors, registered nurses, and other healthcare professionals, the USDCC operates a high-volume Critical Intensive Care Unit with the assistance of a 50-member nursing staff. Although the USDCC has built a reputation for delivering competent and qualified critical care services across a number of years, the organization's management structure has become concerned that educational priorities have not been updated to reflect modern advancements in the field. To that end, the USDCC recently elected to conduct a comprehensive Learning Needs Assessment and Analysis to identify the paramount educational needs in place, and the institutional forces working to facilitate or impede the implementation of these needs. Empirical research on the efficacy of various instructional….

Lewin, K. (1939). Field theory and experiment in social psychology: Concepts and methods.

Journal of Sociology, 44, 868-896. Retrieved from 


Morrison, G.R., Ross, S.M., Kalman, H.K., & Kemp, J.E. (2011). Designing effective instruction (6th ed). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Learning and Teaching Principles of

(American Lirary Association, 2006) II. Skills that Students will Possess upon Graduation from High School The work entitled: "Information Literacy Curriculum" states that upon graduation from high school the student will posses the following skills: (1) Information literacy -- aility to identify, locate, access, retrieve, evaluate and use information from a variety of formats; (2) Information management -- aility to use electronic lirary catalogs, microformats, periodical dataases, CD-ROM interfaces, school area network programs, INTERNET, and print materials; (3) Research Strategies -- aility to use print and electronic lirary sources effectively; (4) Classification and Grouping of Information -- aility to use word processing, manipulation of dataase files to download, copy, and print information, and note-taking skills; (5) Organization of Information - aility to correctly cite sources and create note cards and iliography; and (6) Effective Use of Media Equipment -- aility to operate OPAC, LAN, Microfilm / Microfiche, VCR and Videotapes, Audio Cassette Player and tapes, CD-ROM….

bibliography; and (6) Effective Use of Media Equipment -- ability to operate OPAC, LAN, Microfilm / Microfiche, VCR and Videotapes, Audio Cassette Player and tapes, CD-ROM station, Copy Machine and Printer to retrieve, copy, or print materials.

Information Literacy Curriculum (nd) Clarkstown Central School District West Nyack, NY. Online available at: 

Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning - Learning and Teaching Principles of School Library Media Programs (2006) American Association of Libraries. Online available at:

Learning in Recent Years Is

(3) According to the Multiple Intelligences Survey, I have quite a bit of intrapersonal and interpersonal intellegence and a moderate amount of musical and kinesthetic intelligence. This makes sense because I enjoy analyzing people and situations; and, I decided to leave my old job because I was bored sitting still behind a desk and not talking to anyone for most of the day. As I was enjoying the surveys so much, also I took Kolb's Learning Styles Inventory and discovered that my learning style consists of doing and feeling or what Kolb would abbreviate as "CE/AE." When these findings are placed on the two-by-two grid by Kolb, my learning style is accommodating. An accommodating learning style is often times referred to as a "hands-on" style and one that relies upon intuition over logic. In fact, these findings also did not surprise me because I have to do something at least two….

Codde, PhD, J.R. (2006). Using Learning Contracts in the College Classroom. Michigan State University.


Service Learning My Experience: Volunteering and Community Service I was not able to volunteer at the Houston or NYC Food Bank, so I'm writing about my other experiences for Service Learning,…

I took that learning styles quiz and for me that was quite illuminating. I had never really thought before that there were different learning styles, but it makes…

Health - Nursing

.." (10) the result was "development of a marketing plan that defined the role of the CNL and highlighted the significant contributions of the CNL and interdisciplinary team members."…

Service Learning Observation of Psychiatric Patients Patients with normal health problems behave in a different manner as compared to patients with psychiatric problems. It has always fascinated me that psychiatric…

Service-Learning "Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts" (Einstein, as cited in Freeman & Jackson, 2007, p. 338). An old adage asserts that people…

Education - Administration

Hope Chicago esearch ProjectHope Chicago is a non-profit organization that was founded by businessman Ted Koenig and entrepreneur Pete Kadens. The organization seeks to lessen economic and social inequity…

Discussion Question #1Service learning is an integrative experience that enables students to understand how education can be used as a tool for serving communities. As a result, this approach…

Information Technology

Week 3 Discussion QuestionThe need to understand the role of service-learning for success in technology-based courses lies in implementing different learning modes and acquiring experience in the real-world practice…

Service-Learning VideoService-learning contributes to enhancing teaching methods by identifying learning gaps. It also provides learners with better experiences by experiencing diversity. The video \\\"Service Learning Projects Fall 18\\\" shares…

Research Paper

Service Theory design is not a basic foothold that can be explained in only a few sentences. There is a lot of thought, experimentation, research, and trial and error…

Learning Platforms -- K-12 and Beyond A Comparison of Learning Platforms that Focus on the K-12 and Higher Education Learning Environments Many of the educational initiatives in recent years have focused…

Given the capriciousness of the human condition with respect to continuing redefinitions of personal and professional success, human resource managers are faced with some difficult choices in formulating…

Learning Needs Assessment and Analysis The University of San Diego Counseling Center (USDCC) has been established to provide enrolled students with access to quality counseling and healthcare services. Employing a…

(American Lirary Association, 2006) II. Skills that Students will Possess upon Graduation from High School The work entitled: "Information Literacy Curriculum" states that upon graduation from high school the student…

(3) According to the Multiple Intelligences Survey, I have quite a bit of intrapersonal and interpersonal intellegence and a moderate amount of musical and kinesthetic intelligence. This makes sense…

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Service Learning, Essay Example

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As my service learning experience, I elected to assist in the dinner service at the downtown homeless shelter. I arrived at the location before five p.m., and concluded my role at the shelter at approximately 7:30 p.m. I was guided in my work there by both volunteers and social services professionals and, although the actual staff was minimal, it represented a wide range of experience in this type of effort. On one level, my time there passed quickly; there was a consistent stream of people coming in for the meal and this, combined with my attempting to function in a helpful way in new surroundings, completely occupied me. At the same time, distinct impressions were formed, the most striking of which was how I had never before been within such an environment, even though they widely exist. Then, there was a practicality to the entire service that both impressed and confused me. I had expected, I think, a more “dramatic” scenario, yet all concerned, from the homeless to the workers, were simply going through necessary motions to either survive or assist. Ultimately, it was beneath this atmosphere of practical work that I felt the real urgency and “drama” of the situation, as I came face to face with the homeless, not as a nameless collective, but as fathers, mothers, veterans, and children.

The Service Experience

The shelter was a large, plain building, seemingly once an office or warehouse space. There was little in the way of ornamentation, and everything I took in as I made my way to the dining hall was only there for a purpose; a few chairs against walls, tables with social services literature, and two cork boards with announcements of other types of assistance available. Before entering, I also was very much aware of the people waiting on the street. They did not appear to me so much hungry, as engaging in a minor social ritual the approaching meal time made possible. Once in the kitchen, I introduced myself to a woman who seemed to be in charge; that is, I waited until she had finished directing someone else in regard to the meal being prepared, and then came forward. This Ms X was gracious, if a little nervous. She immediately told me they were expecting a larger turn-out that night than usual because another shelter was unable to be open. Fortunately, a sizable donation of chicken had come in, so they felt up to the challenge. I understood that, for this effort, nothing could be worse for these workers than to run out of food. The emphasis in my half an hour in the kitchen, in fact, was always on volume, rather than culinary skill. They wanted the food good and tasty, but it was more essential that there be plenty of it.

My job was potatoes, and Ms X trusted me to stir, and salt and pepper, an enormous vat of them, mashed. I was eager to show that I was ready to help, but I must confess that trying to stir a mountain of potatoes with a steel spoon as large as a spear is exhausting work. Around me, small conversations broke out, all based on personal matters being shared between friends or acquaintances. As in most work spaces, the nature of the work was not discussed, except when new cooking orders were given. In that time, I strangely lost sight of the objective; I consciously thought that I could be in an army mess hall, or any mass feeding operation. As noted, and naively, I had anticipated some sort of emotionally-charged, charitable feeling in the room. What I encountered were people busy getting a job done, and I was ashamed of my assumption.

Soon after, I assisted in setting out the buffet in the dining hall. I lit sterno cans and filled the steamer trays with water, along with other helpers. At this point, I took in the sparse hall. Long tables, plain chairs, waste containers, and dim windows were all there was to see. I was reminded of an especially drab student dining hall, as I briefly connected this with the homeless. It seems juvenile, but I clearly saw the common denominator. We all need to eat, and we all often gather in places to do it. At that moment, and only for that moment, I permitted myself a tangible sense of pride in stepping out of my world long enough to help out in an arena where such an experience must be created.

Before the doors opened, I was given “roll duty,” to hand over with tongs one dinner roll per person. I was, then, at the end of the line. Quietly, the room filled, and it was extraordinary. Homeless or otherwise, these were all just people coming together and, while most seemed respectful of the surroundings, others engaged in light conversation. I was struck again by the parallel to “normal” life; changes of clothes on the guests and some art on the walls, and the room might have been an ordinary restaurant. As noted, the team simply carried out their work, in a friendly and professional way. There were no overt expressions of pity or sympathy, as I had somehow foolishly expected. As each person came to me, I was literally humbled. There is no other word for it, for I felt suddenly a sense of privilege in handing over a single roll. I saw faces, not the homeless. I saw eyes that had taken in life I could not imagine, as I saw traces of antagonism and anger as well. Homelessness is inherently chronic, yet I had a sense of serving food at a battlefield site in a rare and emergency situation.

At one point, something in the look a young woman gave me compelled me to violate policy and give her an extra roll. A moment later, Ms X came to me, to ask how I was doing and to commend my help. I believe she had seen the extra roll, but she did not mention it. I suspect she saw many similar transgressions when new people come to help, and she learned that a simple restating of her presence was the best course. It was. In that moment, strangely, I completely understood that undue sympathy could mean someone else going without. The coffee urns needed more attending, so someone else took over the rolls and I helped fill and hand out the paper cups of the drink. In no time, the trays and urns were empty and the guests left. I volunteered to help clean up, but they merely asked me to get some trays into the kitchen sinks. Then Ms X shook my hand, thanked me, and said I was welcome to come by anytime. I can recall few validations as meaningful.

As I reflect on my service experience, I am faced with unresolved feelings and issues. On one level, all I have described is accurate and fairly ordinary. On another, I retain a sense that I was exposed to a hidden part of society, and I am conflicted in wanting to leave the experience as a memory or pursue it. I was by no means emotionally overwrought during or after the service, as I am glad to have lost my condescending assumptions of a charitable atmosphere in action. I definitely do not feel as though I “did a good deed”; on the contrary, I feel as though I came to learn how small any individual action may be in so enormous an arena. At the same time, I believe I now have an awareness that will stay with me, and affect how I think of the homeless. In a very real sense, I was “introduced” to them, and given to see how similar we are. My desire is to remain open to this awareness, and see how it motivates me further.

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  • Transferring to UW

Note: If appointments are completely booked, please schedule an admission advising appointment with Ramon Concepcion.

As an ECFS student, you'll explore careers in early childhood education, and engage in courses that focus on research, curriculum, policy, language and literacy, mathematics, science, and technology. Additionally, you'll participate in extended community-based learning experiences, working directly with children in preschool classrooms or childcare centers. This unique combination of academic coursework and practical application will help you develop a comprehensive and culturally relevant understanding of child development and effective teaching strategies. As we engage in (un)learning, you will be challenged to envision systems that are more equitable and just and engage in teaching and advocacy work toward that vision. 

Our program frameworks emphasize creating engaging interactions and environments that support individualized instruction and culturally responsive anti-bias anti-racist education. This program prepares you to be an early childhood professional who understands and actively works to dismantle systems of oppression.

A minimum of 79-81  credits are needed to meet the requirements for the ECFS major. You will work with your advisor to ensure that your graduation plan includes courses required to earn your degree at UW.

Download degree requirements PDF

  • ECFS 200  Introduction to Early Childhood & Family Studies (3 credits with a grade of 2.0 or higher required)

You must also earn 2.0 in English composition course

All of the following

  • ECFS 301 Early Childhood Curriculum (5)
  • ECFS 303 Exploring the Landscape of the Early Learning Profession(3)
  • ECFS 311 Teaching from the Inside Out: Being a Resilient Educator (3)
  • ECFS 312 Positive Behavioral Support in Early Childhood (3)
  • ECFS 321 Engaging Interactions and Environments (3)
  • ECFS 400 Child Observation & Assessment (5)
  • ECFS 401 Understanding Research in ECFS (5)
  • ECFS 402 Social Policy & Young Children and Families (5)
  • ECFS 410 Language and Literacy in Preschool (5)
  • ECFS 411 Young Children’s Mathematics & Science (5)
  • EDPSY 302 Child Development and Learning (5)
  • EDPSY 406 Learning and teaching in Our Changing World (5)
  • EDUC 251 Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity (5)
  • IECMH 432 Infants & Children: Risk & Resilience (5)

One of the following (5)

  • ECFS 315 Parenting and Child Development
  • ECFS 419 Family & Community Influences on the Young Child
  • ECFS 320 Childhood in Cultural Context: Theory and Practice

One of the following (3-5)

  • EDSPE 304 Disability & Ableism in Education
  • EDSPE 414 Issues and Trends in Inclusive Early Childhood Education
  • EDSPE 427 Introduction to Applied Behavioral Analysis
  • EDSPE 435 Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • ECFS 454  Senior Project 1 (2 CR)
  • ECFS 455  Senior Project 2 (2 CR)
  • ECFS 456  Senior Project 3 (2 CR)

In addition to your ECFS credits, you'll also need the following general education credits to graduate from the UW.

  • English composition (5 credits)
  • Writing (10 credits)
  • Diversity (3-5 credits)
  • Reasoning (4-5 credits)
  • Arts & Humanities (15 credits)
  • Social Studies (15 credits)
  • Natural Sciences (15 credits)
  • Area of Inquiry (15 credits)

We believe early childhood professionals learn by applying knowledge through action, observation and reflection. ECFS students take part in Community Based Learning (CBL), a place-based education, centering learning in the physical environment, local culture, history, language, and with the people of a community.

You will have many opportunities to integrate your classroom experience into your CBL Experience. You will build on your cultural and contextual knowledge of children’s learning through real-world opportunities to apply your knowledge and skills in early learning settings.

Our students participate in two types of experiential learning:

  • Community-Based Learning Experience : Weekly time spent engaging with young children through your work or volunteering in an early learning setting is required for many courses.
  • Applied assignments: Examples of applied assignments include videos of your practice, environment or child observations, case studies, and an interview with a professional or parent. These may be completed at your Community-Based Learning Experience site.

Already working or volunteering with children in an early learning setting? You can complete the community-based learning experience at your current job! If you need support finding a setting, our CBL coordinator will help you find a place to do your community-based learning.

View the ECE Community-Based Learning Guide

It will take a minimum of 7 quarters to complete the program. To graduate from the University of Washington, you must have a minimum of 180 quarterly credits. How long it takes to graduate depends on a number of factors, including how many credits you are transferring in with and how many credits you take per quarter as an ECFS student.

Admission requirements and process

  • Starting in your sophomore year is recommended
  • Apply Mar. 1 - Apr. 15 for autumn start
  • Apply Sept. 1 - Oct. 15 for winter start

You can start the ECFS program in autumn quarter or winter quarter. For autumn quarter admission, apply March 1 - April 15. For winter quarter admission, apply September 1 - October 15. We recommend starting your application process as early as possible due to the different steps and requirements.

If you're a current UW student, it's best to begin the program during your sophomore year and no later than the autumn quarter of your junior year.

Current UW students who are ready to declare ECFS as their major are welcome to schedule an in-person or virtual advising appointment with Waleed Khan, Academic Adviser. 

  • 2.50 cumulative GPA
  • 5-credit English composition course graded 2.0 or higher

Applicants must also have completed  ECFS 200 Introduction to Early Childhood & Family Studies before starting the ECFS program. Please note:

  • You must be graded 2.0 or higher
  • The course can be in progress when you apply, but must be completed before the ECFS begins
  • Transfer students will complete ECFS 200 after joining UW

Applicants need to write and submit three essays. Each essay should be 250 words or fewer. Use the following three prompts for your essays:

  • Have you experienced, witnessed, or learned about injustices in your educational journey? Please describe. How will the ECFS Major help you understand these injustices?
  • The ECFS major focuses on the educational experiences of children from birth to age 8 and their families. Why are you interested in teaching?
  • A premise of the ECFS major is that teachers can be advocates for social change. What are some of the positive changes you would like to work toward within early education?
  • Gather all required materials
  • Begin the online application form
  • Complete all steps in application process and upload your materials
  • Submit your application

This process is only for current UW students. If you are a transfer student, follow the steps outlined in the Transferring section.

We welcome transfer students to our program! As a transfer student, you will have some additional steps and required materials to your application process. 

If you are interested in the ECFS major, be sure to select the major on your UW Admissions application. We require ECFS 200 to be completed for a student to be fully-admitted to the major. Transfer students who select the ECFS major on their UW Admissions application will have a seat in ECFS 200 held for them.

Transfer students need to submit an unofficial transcript with their ECFS application:

  • Include transcripts from all institutions you have previously attended
  • You must upload your transcript during the application process
  • Do not mail your transcript when you apply

You will be submitting TWO applications: one to join the University of Washington and one to join the ECFS program.

  • Gather all required materials for  UW admissions
  • Gather all required materials for ECFS
  • Connect with our Lead Admissions & Outreach Adviser to help you through the process

Feel confident in the process by attending  Transfer Thursday , an informational event run by the UW Office of Admissions. We also invite you to attend one of our weekly undergraduate majors and minor information sessions.

After submitting your enrollment deposit to the university, admitted transfer students will attend the required Transfer Advising & Orientation hosted by UW First Year Programs . This is a chance for you to meet with an ECFS adviser and create a plan to successfully complete the course and internship requirements.

Costs and funding

We are a tuition-based program. Estimated tuition rates are based on your residency:

  • Estimated cost for Washington state residents: $12,643 per year
  • Estimated cost for out-of-state students: $41,997 per year

Estimates are subject to change due and may differ due to course load and summer quarter enrollment. Estimates include some fees such as building fee, technology fee, U-Pass, etc. Fees such as textbooks are not included.

View the UW tuition dashboard → Visit the Office of Planning & Budgeting →

It is highly recommended that students in the program complete the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA) application. These applications are necessary for various forms of financial aid, including scholarships and loans.

Early Learning Equity Scholarship

Undergraduate general scholarship, program faculty.

Jamie Cho

Lynn Dietrich

Nancy Hertzog

Nancy Hertzog

Katherine Lewis

Katherine Lewis

Brinda Jegatheesan

Brinda India Jegatheesan

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Gail E. Joseph

Jodi Burrus

Jodi Burrus Newman

Soojin Oh Park

Soojin Oh Park

Holly Schindler

Holly Schindler

Program staff.

Camille Lemire

Camille Lemire

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Ramon Concepcion

Ramon Concepcion

Ruth Ayodeji

Ruth O. Ayodeji

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Waleed Khan

International Mother Language Day at UNESCO

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Today, 40% of the world’s population does not have access to education in a language they speak or understand. In some countries this figure rises to over 90%.  Yet research shows that the use of learners’ own language(s) in schools provides a solid foundation for learning, boosts self-esteem and critical thinking skills, and opens the door for inter-generational learning, language revitalization, and the preservation of culture and intangible heritage.

UNESCO’s celebration of International Mother Language Day 2024 will highlight the importance of implementing multilingual education policies and practices as a pillar to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4 which calls for inclusive, quality education and lifelong learning for all as well as to the objectives of the International Decade on Indigenous Languages (2022 – 2032). 

Join experts in early childhood education, literacy, informal learning and indigenous languages as they discuss how multilingual education policies and practices can be implemented to ensure inclusive, quality learning for all that enhances not only learning outcomes but the transmission of intergenerational knowledge, languages, culture and intangible heritage.

This year's event at UNESCO HQ will include two panel discussions on multilingual education. Interpretation will be provided in English, French and Spanish. 

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E. Kika De La Garza Fellow Expands Public Service

Texas Tech Davis College Professor Jhones Sarturi

As an associate professor of beef cattle nutrition and metabolism at Texas Tech University’s Davis College, Dr. Jhones Sarturi combines his teaching and research responsibilities with public service. For over ten years, he has taught a course on cattle feeds and feeding that combines classroom instruction with field-based learning that directly benefits agricultural producers.

“Students take learning content into the community and apply it in real-life scenarios with ag producers,” he said. “They advise, they ask questions, and they serve society at the same time.”

He decided to apply for an E. Kika De La Garza (EKDLG) Fellowship to build upon efforts like these. “I’ve seen the powerful impact of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in communities,” Sarturi said. “I wanted to know more.”

As part of the fellowship experience, last summer Sarturi spent a week at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. learning about the diverse programs and resources the agency offers students and researchers. “It was completely beyond my expectations,” he said. He especially appreciated having the opportunity to ask questions and share his perspectives. “My biggest takeaway is that USDA wants to positively impact communities.”

Sarturi is invested in planting seeds that can be harvested into the future and now shares information about USDA programs with his university colleagues and students. He is collaborating with his college career office to raise awareness of possible USDA career paths and internships. He also encourages his peers to apply for EKDLG fellowships and USDA research grants. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to positively impact these communities – to be an arm of USDA,” he said.

He also credits the EKDLG fellowship with broadening his own professional sights. “USDA changed the way I was thinking,” he said. “I now see more opportunities where I had preconceived barriers before.”

The application deadline for the 2024 E. Kika De La Garza Fellowship is March 4, 2024. To learn more or to apply, visit Hispanic Serving Institutions National Program .

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  • USDA Future Leader in Agriculture Student Sees Future in Yuma
  • USDA 1890 National Scholar Connects Field Work with Academics
  • E. Kika De La Garza Fellowship Breaks Down Silos


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