Volunteering offers 'real-world' lessons

Monday, July 28, 2008 | 2:20 p.m. CDT; updated 3:09 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 28, 2008

"Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand." - Chinese proverb

These words define the essence of service learning and volunteer experiences. Instead of the typical classroom experience - listening to a lecture and reading a textbook - you can combine what you are learning in the classroom with out-of-classroom, "real-world" experience.

What it's about

Service learning is the formal intergration of community service into student instruction and learning. By applying your academic skills and knowledge, you meet community needs while they meet your needs by offering a hands-on learnining environment.


-Source: Office of Service Learning

Web site:


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There are a number of programs available through the MU Offices of Service-Learning and Community Involvement to engage you in volunteer and service learning. While some offer academic credit, most offer something beyond that. Scholastically, it could be better grades, a beefed-up resume and leadership experience. But it also provides a way to give back while learning valuable lessons.

The Office of Service-Learning is the place to go to find programs that incorporate service-learning with academic credit. They help students match their service interests with an academic plan. The office offers six service-learning programs, each one with a particular focus in community service. Consider the service-learning option if you are looking for classes offering the service-learning component in your academic department. The easiest ways to find those classes are to check for a complete listing in that department, or ask a professor to add a service-learning component to his or her class. The Office of Service-Learning can guide you from there.

David Dubois, professor in the department of psychology says, "Service learning has allowed me to inject the ‘real world' directly into the learning experiences that students have in my classes. The positive effect that I see on the quality and level of classroom discourse, student skills for critical thinking and motivation for advanced study are truly remarkable."

The Office of Community Involvement connects students with volunteer opportunities and service-leadership experiences with local and national agencies. And although students won't receive academic credit for involvement, the time can qualify as a class requirement for service-learning.

If you're interested in getting connected with volunteer opportunities before the school year officially begins, then come to Step Forward Day on Aug. 23. It's a day for first-year students to get to know the Columbia community through various service projects. Organizers provide breakfast and then bus you to various agencies.

Students in the past have worked at the Salvation Army and the Ronald McDonald House, but there are many more opportunities. "It's a great way to get your foot in the door, meet other students and get to know Columbia while you get to know the Office Of Community Involvement," says Mary Jo Ryan, graduate assistant for the office.

Other ways to get involved are through Service on Saturdays and Tiger Hour. Service on Saturdays is an opportunity for those who don't have a lot of time to commit. For two Saturdays a month, students can volunteer for a project. Each project is with a different agency, so it's a good way to try out a variety of projects.

Tiger Hour is similar, but students volunteer weekly. There is a service opportunity available for a couple of hours each day. You can sign up for one day or all five days.

Dave Roberts, senior coordinator of the Office of Community Involvement, said students can volunteer one time, or as many times as they want throughout the year.

"We just want to see students involved," he said. "If they volunteer only one time or want to come back, even better. We want to be able to offer service opportunities for students who don't have a lot of time to commit, but who still want to make an impact on their community."

You can always contact the Office of Community Involvement for opportunities and information about any agency within Columbia. In fact, they prefer that you do so, because the staff can direct you to agencies in need or to a project that matches your specific goals. If you need readily available information about a specific project or agency, click on the Mizzou Service Network's link on the office's Web site. It's an online database that lists every agency in need of volunteers within Columbia. It is updated regularly, with its contact information listed as well.

While there are some core classes students are required to take, service-learning and community involvement courses help to combine those have-to classes with interests outside the classroom while receiving academic credit. And even if you might not receive credit for involvement through volunteer service, you owe it to yourself to get involved.

"We want students to get involved because in the long run, it's going to benefit them, their careers, their lives - everything down the road," Roberts said.


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