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Service-learning program gains national attention

Photo courtesy calvin.edu
Photo courtesy calvin.edu

Calvin College’s service-learning program is off to a good start this school year, as U.S. News and World Report recently ranked it one of the top service-learning programs in the country.

“We’re thrilled to be in such good company,” said Jeff Bouman, director of the service-learning center.

The list of 27 schools from around the nation included many noteworthy names, such as Brown University, Duke University, Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania among others.

Several schools from this region also made the list, including the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and Big Ten rivals Ohio State University and Indiana University.

However, when comparing the types of schools to be included on the list, Calvin was unique.

“I believe we’re one of just a few evangelical Christian schools to be included,” Bouman said. “There’s a few Catholic-affiliated schools, but not many evangelical colleges.”

A quick run-through of the list confirms Bouman’s estimate. Of the 27 schools, just two are evangelical Christian schools: Calvin and the College of the Ozarks.

Calvin’s unique success can be attributed to several factors.

“[The recognition] is a testament to the dedication that students have to their education and to their role in the greater community,” said spring break coordinator Nic Scobey.

“Service-learning allows students to practice and apply things that they are learning in classrooms in a real-world context that is both relevant and exciting,” Scobey said.

He went on to explain that more and more students and teachers are experiencing those benefits and realizing their advantages.

Bowman, however, credited the program’s success to the students on staff in the service-learning center.

“I think it’s a testament to the student leadership,” Bouman said. “They are simply phenomenal at what they do.”

According to Bouman, the service-learning program has been student-run since its onset in 1964. While the program has added professional staff in recent years, it is still powered by the the students willing to put their time into coordinating, promoting and participating in events.

The program has four students that serve as academically-based service-learning (ABSL) liaisons. These students act as a direct link between different academic departments and the service learning center. There are eight other students on staff as well, taking on the role of coordinators, each with different specialties.

Between the ABSL liaisons and coordinators, the program offers a plethora of opportunities throughout the year. These include all of the in-class volunteer opportunities, StreetFest and different spring break volunteer trips each year.

The center also offers ACT preparatory tutoring for high school students, partners with residence halls and hosts the West Michigan Special Olympics tournament each year.  All of these provide Calvin students with plenty of options to serve others during their time at Calvin.

These opportunities caught the attention of college administrators around the country. For the U.S. News and World report, college officials were asked to nominate up to 10 colleges with “stellar examples of service-learning.” The most oft-mentioned schools made the list, signifying an incredibly high level of respect from competing administrators.

For Calvin’s service-learning center, the national attention and respect from other schools is exciting, but Bouman was quick to point out that this is not a one-time occurrence.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve been on that list,” Bouman said. “We’ve actually been on it for the last few years. I guess you could say it’s becoming a bit of a trend.”

If the student leadership has anything to say about it, it will be a trend that continues.

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