Searching for the "Whys" of Service-Learning

 After hearing two of our Service-Learning Advocates conduct a professional development presentation on leading with the “why,” I was motivated to question many things. They showed a part of the TED Talks by Simon Sinek called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” which discussed how leading from the inside out and not from the outside in is what is best.  In other words, they begin by believing that what they do is meaningful and can describe “why” that is, then decide “how” to best do their work and are informed as to “what” they do. The most effective and inspired organizations begin with their “why.” The SLA’s then facilitated a discussion based on Sinek’s presentation by asking the question, “What is the “why” of Service-Learning at APU?” A rich dialogue resulted, yet it left a bit of curiosity for myself. I wanted to find out what each SLA thought about their “why” behind being an SLA, as not all of them shared during the discussion. I interviewed each SLA by asking the following question, “Why is Service-Learning meaningful?” and found the following themes: the importance of service, its faith integration, and the opportunities it provides students to grow in professional and personal ways. 

Many spoke about the significance of service in shaping society for the better. Service-Learning is one method where students can serve in nearby communities and work with a wide variety of populations. For instance, Business 350, a Service-Learning internship course, gives students an opportunity to partner with the Enactus program, a non-profit organization that seeks to create an environmentally friendly world and change others through entrepreneurship. Some students take part in the Green Project aimed at fostering a more environmentally friendly culture at APU. They have implemented a recycling project that consists of providing a space where students can recycle their ink cartridges and cardboard in the dorms, and they are advocating for more light sensor installations around campus in order to conserve energy. Business 350 and other courses with similar goals fulfill the needs of the community through transforming lives and neighborhoods.
Service-Learning is also an effective way for students to integrate their faith into their coursework. When asking about the “why,” many said that serving people in Azusa and its nearby communities reflects Christ’s love and patience for us and how one demonstrates these values through service.  To illustrate, APU students in TFT 274 Story and Character were able to connect with the elderly who live at an independent living center through listening and learning about their partner’s most memorable life stories and then gave a thoughtful presentation that reflected on their narrative to residents and their families. Through this course, students are given the opportunity to show their senior buddy how much their stories matter and that they are valued and most importantly loved. 
The SLAs also noted that Service-Learning encourages both personal and professional growth. Students do not have to go to other countries to serve and find their sense of purpose or direction. Serving in Azusa and other local cities can provide an experience that affects and benefits them on countless levels. Students frequently gain experience in working with diverse populations that gives them an opportunity to increase their multicultural skills. Student can figure out if they like or dislike working in a particular industry and/or affirm their future career choice.  Gaining personal insights is another possibility, because a student can be delighted and proud to know that he or she contributed to a child’s learning of a new concept when serving in a classroom. Developing a new perspective as a result of the service-learning project may happen through the interactions with business leaders, teachers, students, elderly, etc. Experiences like these and numerous skills can bring about an improvement in one’s self-confidence too. 
I enjoyed getting to know the SLA’s perspectives on “why” Service-Learning is valuable. Their “whys” definitely hold true to the positive benefits Service-Learning can provide to students as it allows students to put their faith into action, make a difference in nearby communities, and foster their own personal and professional growth. My “whys” are similar to the SLA’s thoughts; service is especially important in making a difference. When working with programs like CHAMP and the 8th Grade Majors Fair, I am reminded of the important contributions Service-Learning makes towards the community. Many of Azusa’s youth would be first generation college students and I can relate to their experiences. I could have benefitted from learning about scholarships, financial aid, co-curricular activities, as well as being introduced to the endless variety of careers available to pursue at an earlier age.  Reflecting on our collective “whys” has created new insights that continue to inspire my work in CASLR. I will look beyond the surface and seek answers from within to be reminded of why I am so passionate about higher education. Why do you think Service-Learning is meaningful?
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.