The Undergraduate Experience: Making Service a Priority

by Tobin Perry

You will find many preconceptions about the undergraduate experience in popular culture. Some might imagine captivating lectures; others picture late-night study sessions around a piping-hot pizza. Meanwhile, others may anticipate exciting sporting events and fun social engagements.

But if you have spent any time reading up on Azusa Pacific University or visited its campus, you likely have something else to add to your expectations of the undergraduate experience: Service.

“Service is one of the Four Cornerstones that APU was founded on, focusing on the importance of community engagement and preparing graduates who will go out into the world and make a difference,” said Michelle LaPorte, MEd, director of the school’s Center for Academic Service-Learning.

That’s why, regardless of their field of study, nearly every student at APU is given an opportunity to perform community service as part of his or her academic preparation. Here’s what you need to know about making service a priority during your time in college.

You Have the Chance to Be a Difference Maker

The focus that Azusa Pacific University places on helping others dovetails nicely with the trend of Generation Z students (those born after 1995) becoming more service-minded. For example, one study showed that 77 percent of individuals in this age group report being “extremely interested” in volunteering.

LaPorte says service-learning gives students more than just a warm and fuzzy feeling for volunteering. They are given the chance to apply the professional skills they are learning in the classroom to real-world situations. “We’re not keeping students on campus in a bubble,” she noted. “We’re giving them opportunities to grow themselves and have experiences that help them pursue their calling today and after they graduate.”

During the 2017–18 academic year, APU students served more than 46,000 hours in the community as part of 185 courses (or sections of courses) in 24 academic departments.

These volunteer hours didn’t just help the students grow as individuals and students. They also provided much-needed help to the broader Azusa community and created an opportunity for the community to participate in the education of students.

There Are Many Opportunities to Serve Locally

One example of how this works is at the Neighborhood Wellness Center, which is a joint venture between Azusa Pacific University and the city of Azusa. Here, nursing students get an opportunity to serve their neighbors from the surrounding community by promoting healthy lifestyles and disease prevention. The center provides free seminars, referrals, screenings, as well as assessments to the Azusa community.

Education students also have a number of opportunities to put what they are learning in the classroom into practice. Through the program Azusa Reads/Writes/Counts/Calculates, students provide free, one-on-one tutoring to elementary-age children within the area. In partnership with the Azusa City Library and the Azusa Unified School District, APU students help children develop their reading, writing, and math skills.

In addition, the C.H.A.M.P. program allows APU students who are taking the course “EDLS 405 Diversity in the Classroom” to serve as college mentors to fourth-grade students in the community. Students use the C.H.A.M.P. curriculum to walk kids through some of the basics of college life (such as college admission, financial aid, and career exploration).

For music education students, the Azusa Conservatory of Music provides an opportunity to teach music to children who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get a formal music education. An ongoing instrument drive provides instruments for families who can’t afford to purchase or rent them.

With service-learning programs in 24 different departments, these are just a few of the larger opportunities. Of course, LaPorte says all of the options are significant. “The significance is experienced by the community and also the education of the students,” she said. “They get to see that their education matters.”

Are you passionate about helping others and making a difference? You’d fit right in at Azusa Pacific University. Apply to become a part of the APU community today.