Putting Academics in Context Through Service-Learning
by Fernando Quintero
As the first anniversary of the Service Learning Research and Development Center approaches, director and graduate student Andrew Furco is getting the word out among faculty and fellow graduate students about the value of integrating volunteerism into the academic curriculum.
"I think educators and students enjoy service-learning because it helps bring context and meaning to abstract and often seemingly irrelevant curricula," he said. "Service-learning has proved to be an effective strategy for teaching."
The campus's center was established last summer through a federal grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service.
As part of the Graduate School of Education, it provides technical assistance to faculty and graduate students throughout the campus in integrating community service into existing and new academic courses.
Along with offering a limited number of grants to faculty who teach service-learning courses, the center maintains a resource library of materials on service-learning research and course models.
Furco, a doctoral candidate in educational administration, said the center has already received national attention for its research on the impact of community service on students' educational development.
Current service-learning courses include Social Welfare 235: Homeless in America, which addresses issues in the context of social responsibility for the poor. Students volunteer up to six hours a week with organizations that help homeless people.
The goal of these courses is to provide students with opportunities to think critically about key social issues related to course content by drawing on their community service experiences.
Faculty members commented in a review of the courses that students who engaged in service-learning "got a bit more out of class" and wrote papers that were "more grounded and engaging."
And the students found the courses increased their appreciation for those from different backgrounds, ethnicities and life experiences.
"The center is working hard to determine the impacts of service, both on students and on the communities in which they serve," said Furco, who added that little research has been done on service-learning
The center is part of a larger campus national service project which includes expansion of the campus's Cal Corps Public Service Center.
For information, call 642-3199 or send email to andy_furco@ maillink.berkeley.edu.