Community service may not be on the forefront of some students’ minds when they first enter college, but thanks in part to a thriving Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) at OSU, it’s an option more and more students are choosing to pursue.
In fact, over the 2012-13 school year, students logged almost 6,000 hours of volunteer service through CCE programs. With the support of more than 50 community partners and agencies, students worked on projects ranging from animal welfare and homelessness, to environmental conservation and health and wellness.
Emily Bowling, civic engagement and service coordinator at OSU, said civic engagement programming is important because it offers students a chance to better understand themselves and their place in the world.
“The central goal of our programs is encouraging and inspiring students to have a heightened sense of responsibility for their communities,” Bowling said. “We aspire for students to reflect critically about the ways they impact the human and environmental systems around them and what role they can play in creating a more just, humane world.”
An important component of promoting civic engagement is embedding it within the academic expectations in some courses. In 2013, more than a dozen faculty members worked with CCE to link with community partners to introduce a service learning component to their coursework. Christine Gallagher, a graphic design instructor in the School of Design and Human Environment, worked with CCE to create a service-learning course for her junior-level graphic design students.
As a result, her students worked with nine local nonprofits to create brochures, posters, logos and develop branding. Among the beneficiaries of the students’ work were the Jackson Street Youth Shelter and Corvallis Parks and Recreation.
Alternative Spring Break
“I would recommend these trips to other students, because you don’t want to be that student who just focuses on school and nothing else. I feel that some of my most rewarding experiences while in college have been outside of the classroom. So I would really encourage students to take advantage of these opportunities, especially learning about cultures/ and communities that people are not very familiar with, such as the Native American community.”
~ Matt Williams, who spent his spring break at the Warm Springs Reservation
Another educational component to the work is the introduction of an alternative break program, which this year offered four service-oriented trips during spring break in March and zero week in June. The trips allowed students to explore communities ranging from San Francisco to Warm Springs, Ore., focusing on a theme of service that included cultural engagement, hunger and environmental restoration.
The experience packed many different projects into one week-long trip for students, offering them a whirlwind of experiences and a brief but vivid glimpse of the lives of others. For exercise and sport science major Mariah Waite, spending her Spring Break in Yakima, Wash., was the most fulfilling way she could imagine spending her time off.
“Projects like these help college students transition from the ‘college bubble’ into being active citizens of their community,” Waite said. “It’s so easy to get stuck in college life, but civic engagement allows students to branch out and get involved in the community.”
For Waite, who has been an active community volunteer since high school, service learning adds an important component to her college career.
“There are some things that simply can’t be learned in a classroom and these projects fill those gaps,” she said. “Service learning goes beyond a classroom and greatly enriches college experience. Besides this, a community really needs active commitment from every member to truly thrive.”