With a rich history of service woven into the culture of the University and after a century of community involvement and volunteerism from past presidents, engaged faculty, and caring students, the University of Redlands opened an Office of Community Service in 1989. Under the umbrella of the Student Life Division, with volunteer service as its chief responsibility, the half-time office ran as a clearinghouse matching student outreach with community needs. Commissioned by the Dean of Student Life, Char Burgess, as a new administrative residence life assignment, the Office of Community Service Learning’s humble beginnings took shape in a small storage room in the Willis Center. The small but effective office would shape the beginnings of what was to become a broad and sweeping service learning program. It would help capture the relevance of service for college students and help Redlands become one of a handful of universities to intentionally tie service learning into the fabric of the university’s required curriculum.
In 1990, after a year of successful food drives, AIDS awareness programs, creating the first campus recycling program, and working from standing models of service programs such as Big Buddies and the Community Service Honor Houses, the Associate Dean of Students Joe McGill, the ASUR President Vonda Koch, and Johnston Complex Director Chris Fullerton took the initiative to further the scope of service outreach at Redlands by successfully capturing a Fund for the Improvement of Secondary Education (FIPSE) grant. The grant’s purpose afforded the opening of a full time Office of Community Service and the hiring of a director. The impetus of the grant was to create work study job placements by connecting students to non-profit agencies and schools. Tony Mueller was hired as the first director in 1991 and the FIPSE grant marked the beginning of long and lasting partnerships with community agencies and classrooms. By 1993, and with the help of the Student Services office, hundreds of work study jobs had been created in community non-profit agencies within the region. The concept to create positions paid by the University and the government was working. In off campus learning resource centers, children were being tutored every afternoon at no cost to the agency. These service opportunities existed because of the FIPSE work study initiative and set the stage for the University of Redlands soon-to-come community service requirement.
Similarly, in 1993, a casual-comparative study conducted by Joe McGill, investigated the relationship of community service to psycho-social growth among University students. Dr. McGill’s dissertation findings helped solidify the relevance of service to an undergraduate’s experience at Redlands. During the same period, from 1991 to1993 a pilot community service learning class was developed by Tony Mueller, with support from the office of Special College Programs and Academic Affairs, enrolling interested students wanting to make a difference through service. This cross-generational and cross-cultural experience was called “Into the Streets” and received rave reviews from students and the agencies they served. McGill’s research and Mueller’s pilot service learning course were enthusiastically received by the faculty as a reason and a model for a new compulsory undergraduate service requirement. Students enrolling under the 1994 catalogue would begin to fulfill an Interim 3-unit Community Service Activity Course (CSAC) in order to receive a Redlands degree. The name of the Community Service Office was officially changed to the Office of Community Service Learning (CSL) and the office began to report to both Academic Affairs and Student Life. *The decision to keep the word “community” was intentional and together with the new focus on learning, it spoke to the reciprocal relationship between town and gown as well as service and learning. With the opening of the Hunsaker Center in the mid 1990’s, the CSL office moved into a brand new suite of offices where it remains today.
The CSAC experience generally required 80 hours of service outreach at a non-profit agency or school and 40 hours of reflective and evaluation work. The process mirrored closely the Johnston College program where students created their own learning objectives. In CSAC, students contracted with the Office of Community Service Learning to serve the agency of their choice and set learning objectives they wanted to meet. Beginning with the pilot class of 33 students in 1993, the CSAC activity began to show just how creative Redlands students could be regarding service. Many of those enrolled would travel abroad to work in communities in Africa or India, while the others elected to serve in their own towns throughout the United States. The majority, however, chose to serve in the community of Redlands and throughout the Inland Empire. Students tutored children, mentored teens, served in hospitals, and delivered meals throughout their interim experiences. Faculty, too, began to create service learning courses that built intentional service components into their curriculum. Service learning courses such as Woodwind Instrument Repair, Social Justice, Ropes Course Leadership, Animal Rescue, Adapted Education, and “Into the Woods” began to emerge throughout the 1990’s as creative service options for students to take. Additionally, travel courses picked up on the benefits of combining service learning and courses in Haiti, Japan, China, Uruguay and Ecuador captured the benefits of serving communities while traveling abroad. Within six years, the program that had begun with a handful of service oriented students would enroll over 300 students each Interim and today enrolls 500 and 700 students and serving over 100,000 hours annually.
The Redlands CSAC experience continues to be transformative for students. Undergraduates routinely find their calling through service or teaching and for others it solidifies their choice to go into the field of public service. The requirement itself has evolved through careful evaluation and offers more and more options to students including enrolling in CSAC during any semester or summer of an undergraduate’s tenure. It would be difficult to find another program with the scope and depth of service venues available to Redlands students. From faculty-led service learning courses, fourth and fifth unit options, school and non-profit work study placements, to the hundreds of individual CSAC contracts, Redlands has successfully fused service into the undergraduate experience.
The success of the Office of Community Service Learning is a direct result of a committed community of faculty, administration, and students who want to make a difference and who develop new ideas each year to help meet those needs. From 1995 to 2005, Redlands students created a Peer Theatre Outreach program, a Campus Chapter of Habitat for Humanity, opened the Jasper’s Corner Homework Club and the Student Volunteer Center, expanded the Big Buddies program and initiated the new Middle Buddies program for 11 to 14 year olds. Each of these programs is designed and implemented by students who feel that reaching over one hundred thousand hours of public service a year and meeting the needs and the requests of hundreds of community schools and agencies is an essential ingredient for their higher educational experience.
Today, new service programs continue to emerge. Our College High School Mentoring Programs (CHAMPS) specifically targets high school students encouraging them to take a serious look at college or trade school. CSL’s partnership with Race and Ethnic Studies created the REACH Program and puts college student in classrooms at juvenile hall where mentoring relationships are encouraged. Totally Kids Outreach (TKO) makes weekly treks to Totally Kids Specialty Healthcare where college students visit medically fragile children who often receive little or no other visitors.
Emerging programs and sustainable models of service partnerships have assisted the University of Redlands in receiving the Carnegie Foundation’s first-ever national classification in building community partnerships with non-profit agencies while providing academic service learning experiences for students. The University of Redlands is one of five schools nationally to receive the Honor Roll with Distinction each year as well as winning the President’s Award for Outstanding Service from the Cooperation of National and Community Service in Washington D.C.