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Serving, Learning, and Succeeding

University Business, Oct 2007

TODAY'S COLLEGE STUDENTS are extremely interested in serving others. They apply their classroom knowledge to serving the common good and while doing so learn more about themselves.

A recent report by Campus Compact illustrates how this important segment of society continues to give more of their time, talent, and energy to benefit their communities, nation, and world.

Campus Compact is a national organization that supports integrating service and volunteerism into college and university curricula. Its recent report highlights how successful these efforts have been. During the last academic year, students donated 377 million hours to community service, and more than 90 percent of the nation's college campuses offer service-learning courses.

These service activities ranged from one-day outreach efforts in support of the homeless to intensive six-week programs in a U.S. inner city and in poor rural areas here and overseas. Nationally, college students donated $7.1 billion in service to others last academic year.

College students who engage in service learning find that what they learn in the classroom can be immediately applied to those less fortunate. For instance, Misericordia College health science students in nursing and occupational and physical therapy recently joined students in education, business, and other fields for a six-week service trip to Georgetown, the capital of Guyana.

With an average mean income of a little over $850 a year, the Guyanese have few health care options. Only a few months before the Guyana experience, some of these same health science students were enrolled in their first clinical experience under the strict supervision of health care professionals. In Guyana, they are pressed into service offering the kinds of professional clinical techniques that are almost impossible to find in that country. These students learn by doing while providing invaluable help to those who otherwise would not receive it.

The concept of service learning has been embraced by a wide variety of disciplines at colleges and universities throughout the country. History majors fan out to record the memories of elderly community members, thereby establishing a wonderful source of oral history for generations to come. Sociology students collect data on a variety of needs within communities. Business students develop marketing plans to assist communities in disseminating information about new 911 emergency programs. Biology students monitor lakes for acid rain and other pollutants through the systemic collection of water samples.

This kind of learning by doing has irrefutable benefits for students, who not only reinforce their classroom and clinical instruction but help to pay back the communities that support their colleges and universities. College students who participate in service learning also tend to be more civically engaged upon graduation.

Our primary motivation is to serve the changing needs of our students and society.

Perhaps the best news is that we are helping the next generation of civic leaders learn how they can apply their expertise not only to their future professional careers but also to helping their community and mankind. When you think about it, that's what a good college education is all about.

Michael A. MacDowell is the president of College Misericordia (Pa.).

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