Community Service Learning Celebrates Major Milestone

November 9, 2015

It doesn't matter what their majors are, what clubs they are in or what sports they play — at the University of Redlands, every student is united in service.

Since the University's founding, giving back to the community has been part of the fabric of campus life. In 2016, the Office of Community Service Learning will celebrate its 25th anniversary, as committed as ever to its mission of recognizing and promoting the educational benefits of learning through service, encouraging Redlands students to build healthier, stronger communities. The office oversees several different programs and projects, including Community Service Learning Activity Courses (CSAC), volunteer outreach, work study, children's programs, and spring and May Term service travel excursions. Throughout the year, it also hosts special events, like the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

"It's a privilege to work at a university that values serving the community so much that it requires it as part of the undergraduate experience," Director Tony Mueller said.

During the 2014-2015 school year, students logged 119,762 hours of service, individually and through Greek organizations and clubs. Service is "such a part of the culture," Associate Director Erin Sanborn said. "Students have always been heavily involved, and recognize the importance of serving the community and being connected."

In 1989, the University launched the Office of Community Service, which primarily helped students find volunteer opportunities. After receiving additional funding in 1990, the University was able to open a full time Office of Community Service, connecting students with work study job placements at nonprofits and schools.

"We've had ongoing support from our university presidents, alumni and great friends of the University who help us proceed with our programs each year," Mueller, who was hired in 1991, said. "We've had a lot of recognition for the quality of our student-led programs from Washington, D.C., and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, so considering we started out in a one-room storeroom in 1991, we've come a long way."

In 1994, it became a requirement for University students to enroll in a 3-unit CSAC course, selecting and contracting to serve a nonprofit agency or school. Students can utilize their skills at agencies that may not have a lot of resources; graphic design students can help create logos and websites, while students interested in communications can work on newsletters or social media.

"There's a lot of talk about volunteering, but that's not really what CSAC service at Redlands is about, it's really about the learning component and reflection and critically thinking about what you're doing and how you've contributed," Sanborn said.

Prof. Kathie Jenni has taught an experimental course in animal ethics for 15 years, combining a seminar in animal ethics with hands-on work at animal shelters and trips to sanctuaries, rescues and rehabilitation centers. Student interest led Jenni to initiate the creation of the University's Human-Animal Studies program, and she credits Mueller with inspiring her to combine academics with an experiential component.

"He knew that many students were hungry for such an experience and knew that I might be able to make it happen," she said. "Doing so has changed my teaching and scholarship dramatically, and the experience has been profoundly important to my students."

Children's programs are always popular with students like Gianna Poidmore '16, who has spent the last three years serving as the student director of Big Buddies, a mentoring program for local children. She focuses on planning monthly themes, nightly activities and yearly field trips.

"My experience as a director has truly prepared me for my future," she said. "The position has taught me the importance of inclusion, selflessness, service, purpose, drive, and most importantly, to simply do something good, something larger than yourself."

Vice President and Dean of Student Life Char Burgess has watched the Office of Community Service Learning grow, and is impressed by the dedication students and staff have to giving back.

"Community Service Learning at the University has over the last 25 years added structure and spirit to an area that has always been a hallmark of a U of R experience," she said. "Students here are people-oriented and have always sought to help people in the world around them have a better life."