Service Learning and the First-Year Experience
What Every Student Should Know
Center for Service Learning
Western Carolina University
Updated: December 2010
INTRODUCTIONEvery student at Western Carolina University now has an opportunity to participate in service learning. For first-year students, the opportunities are special.
As a WCU student, you are expected to integrate knowledge and skills from academic and co-curricular experiences to become an intentional participant in your own learning. The process – included in the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) – begins the day you start your higher education journey at Western. As part of this process, you are expected to participate in civic engagement activities in the Western North Carolina community.
Service learning is an effective avenue to civic engagement. At Western, service learning is defined as “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates community service with academic instruction and critical reflection in such a way that students gain further understanding of course content, meet community needs, develop career-related skills, and become responsible citizens.” Emphasis is placed on learning rather than on the service itself.
Over the years, students have reported that their participation in service learning increased their motivation to learn; gave them a deeper understanding of course content; improved their critical-thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills; fostered self-confidence and self-efficacy; enhanced their ability to work with others; stimulated a deeper understanding of complex social issues; helped them apply academic learning to real-life problems; and provided them with valuable work experience.
SERVICE LEARNING PROJECTYou will be required to complete about five hours of service for each credit hour at an approved community agency or service site. (First-year course instructors will try to schedule the service project for the entire class or have students break into groups for this purpose.) Through the integration of community service into your coursework, you will become more actively engaged in the learning process. In addition, you will take steps toward becoming active, responsible citizens as you make meaningful connections with the local community.
The Center for Service Learning has an extensive list of agencies and sites where you may get involved in projects such as:
• helping children learn to read
• serving as a mentor to youth at risk
• repairing or programming a computer
• organizing an informational exhibit
• preparing and serving meals at a soup kitchen
• playing games with elderly people
• building and repairing houses
• collecting litter/assisting with beautification
• taking care of animals
• collecting food and clothes for needy people
• raising funds for charity
• assisting with health screenings
• operating an emergency telephone hotline
• assisting in organizing or running an event
• creating a web site or database
• designing a brochure, newsletter or other publication
• writing public service announcements or press releases
• writing letters to the editor of local newspapers
• preparing a business or marketing plan
• conducting voter registration drives.
Many community service opportunities are available for first-year students.
If you do not have transportation (especially as a first-year student) there are special events held on campus or close to campus that provide transportation. Mountain Heritage Day is held on campus on the last Saturday of September, and Base Camp Cullowhee organizes the Tuck River Cleanup on the third Saturday in April. The Center for Service Learning sponsors Days of Service, volunteer opportunities with transportation provided, throughout the year. Additionally, there are some service sites on campus such as the Kneedler Child Development Center and the Ramsey Regional Activity Center. Auxiliary Services at NCCAT is located across the highway from WCU, and CuRvE (Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor) is another initiative based in Cullowhee.
REFLECTIONReflection activities will help you connect the course content to your community service experience and help you gain a deeper understanding of the experience. Through the process of reflection, you and your instructor will assess your learning and development in relation to specific outcomes.
Student Learning & Development Outcomes
- INTELLECTUAL GROWTH: You will learn to employ critical-thinking skills to address
a social issue in the community, and use complex information from a variety of sources
(including personal experience and observation) to form an opinion or make a decision.
- EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION: You will learn to write and speak coherently and effectively,
listen effectively and be able to engage in controversy with civility, and make a
presentation or give a performance.
- CAREER EXPLORATION: You will learn to articulate your career choice based on an assessment
of your interests, values, skills, and abilities, document knowledge, skills and accomplishments
resulting from community-based learning, and articulate the characteristics of a preferred
- COLLABORATION: You will learn to work cooperatively with others, seek the involvement
of others, elicit feedback from others, and contribute to the achievement of a group’s
- SOCIAL AND CIVIC RESPONSBILITY: You will learn to demonstrate civic engagement in
campus, local, national, and global communities, identify your roles and responsibilities
as engaged by citizens by considering the public policies that affect choices and
actions, and appropriately challenge unfair, unjust, or uncivil behavior in the community.
- APPRECIATION OF DIVERSITY: You will learn to seek involvement with people different
from yourself, challenge appropriately the abusive use of stereotypes by others, develop
an informed perspective on issues of diversity and democracy, and reflect on issues
of power and privilege.