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What is Service-Learning?

Service-Learning is a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and development. Reflection and reciprocity are key concepts of service-learning. (Jacoby, Service-Learning in Higher Education, 1996)

Service-Learning at USF

Service-learning courses are an integral component of the University of San Francisco’s undergraduate curriculum, providing students with community-based lessons about social justice issues and their own potential to be agents of change. Since 2002, all USF undergraduate students have been required to complete one or more of these courses in order to graduate. The University’s service-learning requirement offers a central mechanism for achieving the mission of the university.

The Partnership Process

Faculty teaching a service-learning course at USF typically research and contact organizations that relate to the topic of their class (i.e. ethics, housing policy, food policy, etc.) before the beginning of the semester. Students enrolled in the class work with the faculty and the organization to determine how they can best benefit the organization and fulfill their course requirement.

The McCarthy Center serves as a liaison between faculty and community partners, helping to cultivate relationships in which course objectives and organizational goals are reciprocally met. Center staff regularly visit community organizations to learn about their work, and host networking events so relevant faculty and nonprofit staff can explore mutual interests and potential partnerships. The McCarthy Center also offers consultations with partners to develop service project ideas and identify compatible USF courses, develop problem-solving knowledge, and cultivate a shared sense of advocacy between faculty, students, and community partners.

Benefits of service-learning for local organizations

  • Specific products that students produce (for example, resource guides or data analyses)
  • Long-lasting relationship with USF faculty who teach service-learning courses helps guarantee a certain number of volunteers from the university every semester.
  • Students commit to work for the organization for at least a semester, if not more.
  • Students are great advocates: they recruit their friends and tell people on campus and in the community about the organization where they work.
  • Students are held accountable by their professor for their work at the organization. They have to complete their hours there in order to pass the class.
  • Access to people (administrators, staff, faculty) who can serve on boards of community organizations or participate meaningfully on community planning, advocacy and service coalitions, task forces, and collaborations
  • Expand resource base and grant opportunities
  • Allows for personal and professional development
  • Increase visibility and more effectively reach goals
  • Because service-learning incorporates a lot of reflection work, service-learners tend to be very thoughtful and respectful in their contribution to the organization. They regularly discuss with their professor, classmates (and if the organization is willing, with the organization) the issues the organization and its clients are dealing with, as well as the high points and barriers they have experienced.

Host an Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE)

An added advantage of hosting service-learners is that organizations working with USF can have a student work as liaison between them, the university and the students as an Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE). ACEs help supervise the service-learners at the organization and conduct reflections with them throughout the semester. In order to be able to host an ACE, a supervisor at the organization should participate in the Community Partner Seminar offered by the McCarthy Center twice a year.

Getting an ACE is also dependent on your capacity to host multiple students and offer experiences that are relevant to multiple academic disciplines. The community partner must demonstrate engagement in sustained partnerships with USF and a commitment to institutionalizing service-learning at their organization. Once an organization receives an ACE, they must attend ACE supervisor training and participate in biannual evaluations and debriefs.

Contact Andrea Wise at awise@usfca.edu for more information about working with an ACE or call (415) 422-5662.