Learning that has an Impact
By Lori Putnam
Learning isn’t limited to the classroom, and through CSU Channel Islands’ commitment to service learning, students have the opportunity to broaden their knowledge through a variety of service projects within the local, national, and global community. Creating health campaigns, tutoring homeless children, and investigating air quality of communities adjacent to agricultural areas are just some of the ways students are involved in solving community problems as part of their academic work.
Helping to connect students and faculty with community organizations and service projects is the University’s Center for Community Engagement. The Center is one of four centers that support the University’s mission and contribute to the creation of the curriculum. Led by faculty director Andrea Grove and Assistant Director Pilar Pacheco, the Center currently partners with more than 35 community organizations including the Boys & Girls Club, the Westminster Free Clinic, FOOD Share Inc., and the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy.
“Partnering with the community plays a critical role in the ability of the University to meet its mission,” said Pacheco, who has been involved with the Center since it was established in 2006. “It has resulted in an integrative teaching approach, increased opportunities for students to learn, and maximized resources.”
Some students participate in projects outside Ventura County, with recent projects including visits to New Orleans and Mexico. This year Pacheco expects more than 500 students to participate in service learning projects, contributing up to 7,000 service hours.
According to Grove, the Center seeks to collaborate with others on campus to promote an education that is informed by experiential learning and community engagement. She would like to see students engaged in this mission as early as freshman year and encourages participation from a broader base of disciplines, including science and engineering.
“To me, service learning is where students in the classroom learn about social problems and theories, and then go out in the community and do work that addresses what they are learning about,” said Grove. “The key is they reflect on both experiences and put the two together.” A few months ago CI was named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in recognition for its commitment to service learning and civic engagement. This distinction is the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service learning, and civic engagement.
One Center project, the Bracero Oral History Project, represents a partnership between the Center for Community Engagement, the Center for Multicultural Engagement, and Chicana/o Studies. Working in conjunction with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the project seeks to document the experience of Mexican workers brought to the U.S. to provide farm labor during and following World War II. CI Art and Chicano Studies students interviewed former Bracero workers, interviews which are part of a Ventura County Bracero exhibit to be unveiled in the fall along with the Smithsonian’s national traveling exhibit, “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964”.
Service learning also encourages students to be civically engaged, according to Pacheco. “CI and the Center are committed to developing students that are actively engaged in the civic life of their surrounding communities—whether volunteering in a soup kitchen or attending a town hall meeting.
Our program contributes to developing socially responsible citizens who can participate in a global economy.”