Gonzaga University junior Sarah Higginson spends weekends working with Camp Fire children.
Sophomore Lisa Hunter writes public relations material for the American Diabetes Association in Spokane.
The two GU students are part of a trend in colleges to make community service part of regular classroom work.
“My first reaction was, “How am I going to find the time?”’ said Higginson, a pre-law junior working her way through college.
Her business ethics class requires 20 hours of volunteer work on top of more traditional studies.
“It was so rewarding,” she said about a project that taught her that making money in business isn’t the only consideration. Being a good citizen is part of it, too, she said.
“You have to see the needs of the community,” Higginson said.
In the past year, Gonzaga students donated 12,000 hours for class projects.
At $5 an hour, the contribution would equal $60,000, most of it for charitable agencies that serve poor people, children, the elderly, sick and abused.
Gonzaga isn’t alone. Colleges throughout the Northwest are plugging into the concept of service learning.
Although the idea of service learning has been around a long time, it got a boost in the mid-1980s when some leading college educators started looking for a way to dispel the notion that students were apathetic.
A nationwide umbrella organization called Campus Compact was formed and now lists 520 member colleges.
According to the organization, a half-million students nationwide donated some 20 million hours as volunteers in the 1993-94 school year, said Marie Troppe, a Campus Compact director.
“It was such a wonderful opportunity,” said Gonzaga’s Hunter, who spent 30 hours volunteering for her introduction to public relations class.
For the American Diabetes Association, she wrote a news article for a weekly publication, organized public relations material and set up a campaign for donations.
The experience gave her connections to the professional world, and taught her how to work with the media, she said.
The students are well-received.
Theresa Boschert, the director of the diabetes association, said Higginson was a big help for her agency, which thrives on donations and volunteers. Hunter brought youthful enthusiasm to the non-profit office, she said.
At St. Margaret’s Hall in Spokane, a Gonzaga student established a reading program for children staying in the shelter for abused women.
Another student volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and then did a class presentation on the problems of homelessness based on the community work.
A graduate business student rounded up computers for the Union Gospel Mission from companies that were buying newer models.
“It’s not only service, it’s how the students see themselves as citizens of the world,” said Associate Professor Joy Milos, who requires volunteer projects for her religious studies classes.
A few years ago, only a handful of classes at Gonzaga required students to volunteer.
During the school year that ends this week, the number of classes increased to 29.
Part of the reason for the growth came from the hiring of a campus coordinator for volunteer projects.
Gonzaga is holding a conference this month on service learning, and many of the state’s colleges and universities are expected to send representatives to it.
Terry Brown, the chief executive of the Community Colleges of Spokane, said service learning brings a new dimension to academics, and helps students become members of their communities. He is speaking at the conference.
Sima Thorpe, the GU coordinator, said students frequently make intellectual discoveries that aren’t available in a textbook or classroom.
“They can confirm or challenge the concepts they learn in class,” Thorpe said. “They are learning about ethics. They are learning about community connectedness.”
Many GU students come from comfortable homes in nice neighborhoods where they’ve had limited exposure to the problems troubling people in poorer areas and inner cities, said Associate Professor John Kohls.
Those students show up at the university with the notion that the poor are to blame for their own plight because they don’t work hard enough, he said. Service learning frequently shows the students that’s not the case.
“They meet people who work very very hard and who are still extremely poor,” said Kohls, who teaches the business ethics class.
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