Anne-Marie Foley, MU director of Service-Learning, is a firm believer that the function of institutions of higher education is not only to educate students but to make them into active citizens.
Foley decided to put this belief into action in 1990, when she began discussing with students and colleagues how to increase community involvement. As a result, the Office of Service-Learning at MU was established in 1995 and now supports more than 2,100 students in 92 classes.
Foley said MU was founded on the principle of training leaders to serve the state and the nation. The Office of Service-Learning, she believes, helps carry out that mission.
“You’re not just becoming an engineer or a journalist, you’re also becoming a citizen ... somebody who gives in all dimensions of your life. It’s a holistic approach to education,” Foley said.
For most classes to be designated as service-learning, students must complete 40 to 45 hours of service during a semester and reflect on their experiences in writing or discussions in class. One aspects of the program is that students who complete these requirements receive a service-learning designation on their transcripts.
In addition, any course can potentially become a service-learning experience. Professors and faculty members can make service-learning an option for students if they so desire.
“It’s exciting to think about how important community service has become to making that a part and an expectation of the education of our undergraduates,” Foley said. “That learning social responsibility, that giving to the community and the state, that developing habits of civic engagement are really an integral part of an MU education.”
Nan Povinelli, coordinator for the office, said the program is successful because it works so closely with community partners to ensure that students get involved in projects that are not only meaningful but will also make a difference in the community. She said she believes that doing service helps students gain more appreciation for diversity.
“Many times this can be a transforming experience and gives students a new career option in which they are committed to making a difference in the world,” said Povinelli.
Before the office was officially established, the Honors College Community Involvement Program began in the early 1990s. The community involvement program began with 15 college students mentoring at-risk teens in the community and, because it was so successful, the idea was taken further and the office was eventually developed, Foley said.
In recent years, the community involvement program has expanded to connect students with Head Start, public health and literacy programs. The office also started placing students in government internships through the Civic Leaders Internship Program. More recently, the office developed a minor in leadership and public service.
Foley was inspired to create the minor, which was approved in May 2003, after becoming concerned that while young adults today are involved in community service, they are not active in public policy, politics and voting.
The minor is primarily based in community service and then expands upon this involvement to include government service and being active in public policy. Foley said the minor can complement almost any major, and between 60 and 70 students are currently working towards fulfilling its requirements.
This past year, Evan Cameron enrolled in sociology in service-learning because he was considering participation in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and had heard that he could also get academic credit for it. He said he encourages freshmen to look into the program and see whether they can accommodate service-learning into their schedules.
Liz Popovich also heard that she could get credit for volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters and saw it as a way to give back to the community and get credit for doing something she already felt passionate about. She sees benefits to taking educational experiences outside of the classroom.
“Anyone who has ever thought about being a Big (Brother or Sister) or doing service should inquire into the program. Not only do you receive credit for it, but you also get the benefit of knowing that you are affecting the life of a child,” Popovich said.
Both Popovich and Cameron are continuing their work with Big Brothers Big Sisters even though their course requirements have ended.
“Through their commitment and service, MU students are sending a strong message to those who may be disenfranchised in our community that they care,” Povinelli said. “This in turn can be very affirming for our youth and can instill a sense of hope and desire to achieve their highest potential.”