Volunteering for the university’s sake
I made my first micro-loan using Kiva on Friday. And despite not being able to personally witness the good that loan will do, it feels like it’ll do more good than anything else I’ve done for a long time. And that includes UW-Eau Claire’s service-learning requirement.
For those who don’t know, Kiva is a micro-lending website where you can lend money in $25 increments to a person in an underdeveloped country.
They’re generally trying to start or expand their own small business, but some are looking for help with housing or education, too.
The most encouraging thing about Kiva is that 99 percent of those loans are eventually paid back. Which means that I have an excellent chance of having my money repaid, which I could then loan to another person on Kiva, if I so chose. It’s really a great system.
Which brings me back to the service-learning thing. Though Eau Claire requires each student to perform 30 hours of service-learning over the course of their time at the university, and though I’ve fulfilled that requirement two times over, I don’t feel as though I’ve done much good for the community.
I’ve gotten all of my service-learning through classes, and I think that may be where the problem lies.
In an honors class I took junior year, I chose a community service project from a list compiled by the professor. And in an advanced reporting class I’m required to take for my major, I guess I fulfilled the requirement by completing projects I would have done regardless? Sure, we’ll go with that.
I only know that I got service-learning through advanced reporting because I happened to notice it on my degree audit. I could have gone my entire four years at Eau Claire without knowing about the requirement and still have met it. Hardly the point of the program, I think.
According to the website of the Center for Service-Learning, the “requirement is intended to provide students with an opportunity to serve their community, apply knowledge gained in the classroom, enhance their critical thinking skills, and become informed, ethical, responsible and active citizens.”
That’s a pretty lofty — albeit excellent — goal.
And I think one of the best ways to accomplish that is to have students choose and develop their own service projects, something that they’re passionate about.
Speaking from experience, it is difficult to see the positive outcomes of a service-learning project when you don’t feel very strongly about it or involved in it in the first place.
Perhaps there could be a class — required for every student — devoted to helping them develop and follow through on these projects. Or that could be a requirement in first-year experience classes, which would be easier to implement and would give students more choices.
Plus, it would help to build camaraderie, which seems to be a goal of those classes anyway.
It just seems to me that with the current program, having service-learning be part of some classes may be expedient, but it certainly doesn’t meet the university’s stated goal.
I’ve heard that there is a plan in the works to overhaul the current service-learning program and install what amounts to a completely new system.
I don’t know how far along they are or what this new system will entail, but I certainly hope there will be more accountability there. Because I’m afraid the current program just doesn’t cut it.