sealPurdue News

Embracing our civic trust: Service Learning

Purdue is sending a message throughout its West Lafayette/Lafayette hometown, to communities throughout Indiana and beyond state borders: "We want to be involved and do our part."

Download Photo Here
Photo caption below

The University is undertaking a determined effort to elevate its role as community servant and seek new ways to be a vital, responsive and helpful "citizen" in the many communities it touches.

Mindful of its primary charge to educate students, Purdue is approaching its citizenship with a commitment to do work and solve problems in ways that help students learn and enlarge their thinking about their lifelong duties as citizens.

"There's a lot of service already happening among student organizations and in many classes," says Mike Piggott, director of community relations and co-chair of the recently formed administrative Committee on Service Engagement. "It's just not pulled together yet. Once we take stock of what's being done and help to organize new efforts, there's no limit to what we can do."

Piggott and committee co-chair Marne Helgesen, director of the Center for Instructional Excellence, are leading the effort to pull campus service programs together. They also are working to create and foster links between Purdue's various schools and departments with community organizations in need of solutions that Purdue faculty, staff and students can provide.

One of Helgesen's main roles in the effort is as an educational facilitator, helping develop curricula that incoporate community involvement and service -- what traditionally is known as "service learning."

Download Photo Here
Photo caption below

Helgesen says that not all faculty should be expected to adopt service learning in their classes and, in fact, not all could.

"If you stop and think about that, you soon realize that the students couldn't handle it in every class and the nonprofit agencies couldn't handle the huge influx of student volunteers either -- they'd be overrun," Helgesen says. "If this works the way it's intended, we will find logical links between agencies in need and the faculty and students in various classes and academic programs."

EPICS, Engineering Projects in Community Service, is one such program that has been duplicated in at least seven other colleges and universities. It recently was honored by the Corporate and Foundation Alliance for its "exemplary efforts" to improve teaching and learning in undergraduate science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. The alliance's recognition program honors projects that have achieved significant, sustainable results, and have the potential to be replicated or adapted nationally and improve over time.

EPICS matches teams of engineering undergraduates with community organizations that need the students' engineering know-how to solve various problems or implement projects.

Listening to needs and brainstorming solutions with community leaders already has led to intriguing ideas.

One would send Purdue upper-level Spanish students into Lafayette elementary schools where they would tutor the growing population of Hispanic children.

"This is a perfect example of service learning," Helgesen says. "The Purdue students would be immersed in the Spanish language while working with the children, so they would be adding to their education, and the elementary students would get help on their school work from college students who are supportive mentors and positive role models."

Download Photo Here
Photo caption below

Piggott cites another possible "town and gown" collaboration that could revitalize the football field at Lafayette's Jefferson High School.

"The field is in terrible shape and resources to fix it are limited. Purdue can step in and help to solve the problem by putting students to work using what they're learning in class," Piggott says. "Students in associate professor Zac Reicher's turf class, for example, could be brought in to work on diagnosing the turf problems and proposing solutions. Construction management students could develop designs for new stands and then build them, while public relations students could develop programs to promote the project to the public and drum up financial support."

Piggott, who also serves as president of the board for Lafayette's Hanna Community Center, is planning to work with the Purdue Society of Business Engineers to employ student expertise to tackle tasks at the center. Students will be asked to work on computers that need attention and to address the center's overall space use so that the facility can best use its limited square footage.

"The students will be challenged; they'll get the satisfaction of doing a job that's appreciated in the community, and they'll get to put the project on their resume -- something that they really look for," Piggott says.

Leadership with a capital 'L'

Find a student devoted to unselfish service, and you'll find a leader. Many personnel managers looking to hire college graduates with strong leadership potential are well aware of this, so they examine student resumes for extracurricular service -- the service students do because they want to.

"At the top of the leadership model I use in my `Leadership Across the Organization' curriculum, is 'leading for the greater good,'" says Michael Sheahan, associate director of Krannert Executive Education Programs in the Krannert School of Management.

"Materials developed at Harvard also suggest that leaders achieve sustained greatness by attending to people first through personal humility and professional will," Sheahan says.

Sheahan says research on leadership also indicates that empathy for others is another quality of good leadership.

"To be empathic, you strive to see the world through the eyes of others and you work to recognize and respond to all your colleagues' emotions," he says. "This is a key component in what we term emotional intelligence -- an intrinsic quality in excellent leaders."

The commitment begins at the top

The University's thrust to organize and formally support faculty, staff and student service and community involvement is a logical outgrowth of the strategic plan's commitment to be engaged locally and beyond.

It is by design that the higher-level emphasis on community involvement comes during the administration of President Martin Jischke.

While still president of Iowa State University in the late 1990s, Jischke chaired the Engaged Institution Committee for the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities. His committee wrote a report called "Returning to Our Roots: The Engaged Institution."

The 59-page report includes seven guiding characteristics for Universities to aspire to:

  • Responsiveness. To listen to communities, regions and states. To offer services in the right way at the right time.

  • Respect for partners. To recognize that universities don't have all the answers and through collaboration we have almost as much to learn as we have to offer.

  • Neutrality. To stay neutral as a facilitator and information source when contentious public policy issues are at stake.

  • Accessibility. To help potential partners outside the institution negotiate its complex structure so that what we offer is readily and easily available.

  • Integration. To integrate the service mission with the educational mission and provide incentives for faculty and student leaders to participate in, and advocate for, community involvement.

  • Coordination. Where there is integration, there must be coordination of service activities and various units on campus.

  • Resource partnerships. Establish partnerships with government, business and the non-profit world to explore novel ways to financially support involvement and service efforts.

    The report also lists three key accomplishments necessary for a university to consider itself "engaged":

  • It must be organized to respond to the needs of today's students and tomorrow's, not yesterday's.

  • It must enrich students' experiences by bringing research and engagement into the curriculum and offering practical opportunities for students to prepare for the world they will enter.

  • It must put its critical knowledge and expertise to work on the problems the communities it serves face.

    During a talk to members of the Indiana Mid-America Association of Educational Opportunity in May, Jischke spoke of his commitment to helping Purdue faculty, staff and students be scholars, leaders and community servants.

    "We are developing more programs that will teach students about leadership and about the great needs in our community that are crying out to be met," he said. "These are programs that will instill in students a lifetime appreciation for the rewards that flow from devoting our time and energies to helping other people.

    "One of the greatest needs of the United States in the 21st century is a new generation of young people dedicated to service, scholarship and leadership."

    Sports help youths experience campus

    Part of being involved and engaged in the community is being accessible - something Purdue accomplished in a big way this summer through its first annual National Youth Sports Program.

    Download Photo Here
    Photo caption below

    More than 200 10- to 16-year-olds from the Lafayette area who were identified by their schools as candidates for the free summer camp, came to campus for five weeks of swimming, tennis, soccer, physical fitness and health education classes. The program was supported, in part, by a federal grant.

    "Their camp counselors will follow up with the children through the year and encourage them to come back again next year," says Piggott, who helped facilitate the program. "Our hope is that the children will begin to see this University as something other than this unreachable place across the river, and imagine themselves as students here some day."

    Jeannie Burke, NYSP director of youth sports, says many program participants had never been exposed to higher education before the camp, even though they live relatively close to campus.

    Stories by Amy Raley

    Emily Placke, Erin Jones and Mark Ramsey, seniors in landscape architecture, team up on a semester-long service learning project for the Central Michigan Avenue Association of Chicago. Seven student teams created streetscape designs for Michigan Avenue in Chicago's Loop.

    Senior Sarah Heeter presents her team's project to the audience of Chicago-based urban design professionals.

    Senior Leigh Ann Nawrot (right) listens as Purdue honorary doctorate recipient and Mooney Foundation founder, John David Mooney, comments on the Michigan Avenue plans during a critique session in Chicago.

    National Youth Sports Program counselor, Lamar Crane, a Purdue sophomore, helps a camper float during swimming lessons at the Boilermaker Aquatic Center. More than 200 children attended the five-week camp, which ended July 24.