Clarity necessary in service learning courses

By Editorial Board

In an effort to incorporate a stronger sense of volunteerism into its curriculum, Columbia has expressed wishes for expanding its Service Learning program throughout more departments, as reported in the March 16 issue of The Chronicle.

This comes at an ideal time, as President Barack Obama has voiced his hopes to encourage students to participate in more volunteer work and community service programs.  And while the spirit of volunteerism is admirable and helpful in allowing students to enhance their social and civic responsibilities, it is a program that is, quite unfortunately, not well-advertised.

If Columbia hopes to get more students involved in the program, awareness is key. This means spelling out exactly what is to be expected of students in the course descriptions on Oasis. While these classes are great for engaging students in stronger leadership roles, it’s important for students to know what kind of workload will be expected of them, especially when they are juggling other classes and part-time jobs.

In addition to being more clear with service learning in course descriptions, the college could also be more transparent when it comes to where the grant money for the service learning courses is going.

Currently, Columbia is in pursuit of the Learn and Serve America Grant, a $195,000 government grant that is to be disbursed over a period of three years.

In the same article in The Chronicle, Paul Teruel, director of community partnerships for the Center for Community Arts Partnerships (CCAP), stated that some money from the grant would be earmarked for programs like Critical Encounters and Faculty Fellowships, both projects in the office of Student Engagement, as well as salary support.

Though a stronger sense of transparency would be helpful, we recognize that faculty members should be compensated for their efforts in launching this program, especially when it is completely voluntary.

There’s no question that service learning in the arts is something students across the college can benefit from. Volunteering is an invaluable skill that will instill leadership skills students can use outside of the classroom. But in order for everyone to fully reap the benefits, Columbia needs to invest some serious time in spelling out every detail of the program.