The Best of Both Worlds: College Students in Service-Learning
By: Fatima Elali
Through my position in the Center for Academic Service Learning and Research, I have been introduced to the valuable benefits college students receive from taking service-learning courses. So what exactly is service-learning? It is learning to serve and serving to learn. This may seem simple but it actually is more complex than one would think. APU students build scholarship of the service-learning course content through serving in real world settings, such as hospitals, schools, businesses, and libraries. They build community with a particular organization in order to make a difference through their service experience. Student’s service enables APU’s mission and community organizations’ philanthropic pursuits alike to be put into action. This reciprocal relationship is fostered because both the community and students benefit from the service itself. Through engaging in a service-learning course, students learn to serve through their service-learning project and are motivated to gain insight into how they are making a difference and being of assistance to their clients through compassion, patience, confidence, and respect. In this way, service-learning offers many benefits to students.
In my opinion, one of the primary benefits of service-learning is that it improves the quality of academic courses. These courses allow students to take theory and put it into practice or see it in action, so as to create a more enriched learning experience. Students take the knowledge and insights they learn in the classroom and apply it to real world situations through their service-learning projects. For example, various nursing courses allow students to learn about subjects such as the adult aging process, children and young adult health, and restorative nursing by serving at hospitals, senior centers, or health clinics to practice their medical skills and technical knowledge. Many of the Psychology, Social-Work, and Liberal Studies service-learning courses focus on the healthy, holistic development of children and, consequently, gives APU students the opportunity to gain real experience observing and working directly with children in classroom settings or after-school programs. As a result, APU students gain a greater understanding and appreciation for what they are learning.
Service-learning also gives students the opportunity to develop and strengthen their professional skills in the areas of time management, interpersonal communication, and networking. Their time management skills are put to the test as they manage their service-learning hours in addition to their class times, study hours, work and other responsibilities. Students also can learn the importance of being punctual and timely when attending their service-learning site. Additionally, service-learning helps increase students’ interpersonal skills as a result of the invaluable interaction with diverse populations, such as working with the elderly, children, teens, those with disabilities and/or adults from a variety of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. It is these experiences that cultivate students’ skills in working with diverse groups of people; a skill that is exceptionally useful in professional careers. Students also gain exposure and experience working with various professionals and authority figures, such as teachers, nurses, business leaders, and city officials to the point where networking takes place, which can be advantageous in assisting them in reaching their professional goals.
In relation to APU’s motto of “God first,” service-learning offers students the opportunity to integrate their faith in their learning. Some students come into a service-learning course seeing service-learning as a way to apply or practice their faith. They look at how Christ lived His life and are motivated to follow in His footsteps and learn to become social justice advocates through their actions and choices. Some students realize how much their faith has been impacted as a result of the service-learning experience. Similarly, service-learning is a learning style that enacts student’s faith in that it teaches them a way to live out their faith and put their beliefs into action. For instance, APU students can learn about what it means to work with the homeless and demonstrate compassion for their clients. It is serving others in these ways that allow APU’s motto to be seen in action.
In conclusion, I believe that service-learning is a wonderful opportunity for college students to partake in, as it provides them with immense benefits. It is the best of both worlds, because serving to learn and learning to serve incorporates academics through service and spirituality in a balanced and effective method that benefits college students and the entire community. As service-learning students serve to learn, they gain applicable knowledge of theories and an increased skill set, while also learning to serve and reflecting on whom they are as a person and how they can better serve others.
Fatima is a graduate assistant serving at the Center for Academic Service-Learning & Research serving as the 2013-2014 Coordinator for Student Professional Development. She is working towards her Master’s of Science in College Counseling and Student Development.