Renewing Service Learning at JFKU

There are many reasons why institutions of higher learning include community service as part of their curriculum. For some, it’s to look good on paper, while others do it to fulfill an obligation to maintain or increase funding and accreditation. It is inspiring to see an institution actually back up its rhetoric of community service with substantive practice.

At JFKU, service learning is interwoven into the very fabric of the institution. It is a requirement for every student to graduate; but more than that, it’s a commitment each individual student makes to be more than just a pedestrian in the environment where they reside.

This sentiment is echoed throughout the university community; so much so that the JFKU Engaged Service Learning Program has undergone a revitalization in order to provide a more intentional and unified approach to service learning across the departments and programs in the university. Last year, a task force was assembled and spearheaded by Legal Studies Program Chair, Lisa Hutton, in order to undertake the task.

“This project included both short term goals and long term goals,” Lisa says. “The first goal was to conduct an environmental scan to learn where community service opportunities existed across all academic departments. Any new process to be developed should build upon what others already do, and call upon their prior institutional knowledge surrounding community service assessment.”

John F. Kennedy University has had a set of institutional learning outcomes in place for quite some time. “Demonstrating a commitment to service to the community is prominent on this list, but previously each academic department applied this outcome differently. This siloed approach made it challenging to accurately measure and report the learning related to students’ community service. It was this quandary that the task force set out to resolve.

Dr. Sheila Bliss Duffy, Service Learning Coordinator at JFK University, was a member of this task force and saw first-hand the need to institute a universalized process to organize and measure the rich and meaningful student learning that grows from community service.

“For every institutional learning outcome, there has to be infrastructure to ensure that outcome is indeed being met, and also being measured,” she states. “Part of that was to come up with a rubric so that every department, every program, and every course across the university is measuring service learning by the same standard.”

The rubric was created by the task force along with input from the faculty body, and four criteria were developed that each student is expected to fulfill by the conclusion of their service learning experience. Each student will be able to:

  1. Identify issues of culture, diversity, and social justice pertinent to one’s community service
  2. Apply academic knowledge and skills to one’s community service
  3. Demonstrate critical self-awareness of one’s own assumptions and values as applied to one’s community service
  4. Conceptualize one’s future role in service to the community

The tenets outlined in the rubric show the university’s commitment not only to community service, but to the personal and professional growth of it’s students within that context. It shows an institution serious about practicing what it preaches.

“We as a university are not just talking,” Dr. Duffy says. “We’re walking our talk.”