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 Page Created By: Dorothy Milovac, Jack M. Smith, and John Snee

Service Learning: When Helping Others Helps You 

Imagine a program where you could help the less fortunate, gain valuable real-world experience within your major, and get credit hours towards your degree. A program like this sounds too good to be true, right...? Wrong. Service learning -- a relatively unknown part of the W&J curriculum -- lets you take hands-on courses outside the traditional classroom setting. Typically, service learning is offered in the form of senior capstone courses or Intersession classes. (And yes, it does provide all the exciting opportunities mentioned above!)
On the surface, service learning has a lot in common with its more well-known cousin -- community service. Both service learning and community service are altruistic endeavors where students volunteer their time to make the world a better place. Both activities also come with intangible rewards: by helping others you feel like a "good person" and fulfill your sense of civic responsibility.
However, service learning has two unique benefits that community service can't claim. Since service learning courses are designed and organized by various departments at W&J, they both give you real-world experience in your field of study and count as credit hours towards a diploma. Opportunities for incorporating service learning courses within a major are virtually limitless: political science majors may help prepare pro bono court cases, environmental studies majors may work to improve ailing habitats, ITL majors may help nonprofit organizations set up their own websites, and so on and so on.
Recently, Dr. Alice Lee created an Intersession service learning course that let five lucky elementary education majors teach nutrition classes in local schools. When asked about the class, Dr. Lee responded, "We want our students to enjoy being educators. We want them to be comfortable and confident so they can do these hands-on experiments in a classroom. As for the elementary school students, they are excited and their parents are excited. This is just a way to give back to the community." Her statement highlights service learning's greatest strength: the work performed through this activity helps both the community and the student.

Related Links:

W&J Intersession: This is the section of W&J's website dedicated to  
Intersession -- the time when most service learning courses will be offered.

Dr. Lee's Service Learning Course: This article provides an in-depth
summary of Dr. Lee's service learning course for elementary education majors.

Kayla Galbraith, one of the elementary education majors selected to
participate in Dr. Lee's service learning class, works with two students at
Trinity North Elementary School.                                                                              

Wonderful Ways to Pay it Forward

Individuals who enjoy spending their extra time by lending a helping hand may be surprised to know that Washington & Jefferson College is home to various organizations that take part in volunteer activities.  G.I.V.E., or Getting Involved in Volunteer Experiences, is probably the most established service organization on campus.  Holiday for Humanity is just one of the group's most important projects.  Each year around the holidays, GIVE members volunteer their time in conjunction with the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate to give families in need a place to call home just in time for the holiday season.  This event is especially important due to the fact that it is the only philanthropy that has campus-wide support. Each organization at W&J is asked to fund a gift for members of the family.  Another event sponsored by GIVE that sets the organization apart from the others on campus is the Spring Break College Challenge.  Each spring, members who have tallied the most volunteer hours are able to travel to warm destinations and volunteer their services for Habitat for Humanity.  The trip is almost always fully funded by the college.    

Along with GIVE, Washington & Jefferson College has several other organizations connected with some form of volunteerism that individuals may be unaware of. Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society (S.A.A.C.S.), the Chemistry Society, not only works with the table of periodic elements.  The members of this organization also serve as tutors for local school children on Saturdays.  Newman Club, which is affiliated with the local Presbyterian Church, creates several service opportunities.  Also, while some may not realize it, the Women's Rugby Club joins forces with the Hellbenders, the Juniata Women's Rugby Club to combat violence and abuse among the female population -- while wearing prom dresses!  IFC and the Panhellenic Council, the governing bodies of the Greek organizations at W&J, participate in various philanthropic events including charity walks, such as the March of Dimes and the M.S. Walk, and also raise money throughout the year for various other causes.  Another service opportunity has been made available through Special Olympics.  The organization which aims towards helping the mentally challenged participate in team sports while at the same time aiding them in forming emotional strength and bonds is an excellent and rewarding way to spend your time!

Washington & Jefferson College clearly offers a plethora of service opportunities to its students.  Whether you're looking to join a club strictly devoted to service or would  just like to find a place that suits any of your interests, W&J has something for you!  Stop by the Office of Student Activities and find an organization or club (or many!) that is right for you.  What are you waiting for?  Get out there and lend a helping hand!

Related Links:

Habitat for Humanity:  This national website further explains the Habitat for
Humainty program and provides links to local affiliates.

Chemistry.Org:  The Website of the American Chemistry Society
describes the responsibilities of student affiliates and also
provides various links to other webpages pertaining to S.A.A.C.S.

Bethany Almquist and Alexandra Castro stand with the Holiday for Humanity family. 

Bethany Almquist: Thoughts on Community Service

Bethany was interviewed by Jack Smith on April 11, 2007 and her interview was used to compose a personal narrative.

"If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking" inspired me to participate in community service. During my four years at Washington and Jefferson I have participated and led many community service opportunities:

My volunteer experience started in high school when I  realized that the boundaries of volunteering were unlimited and even a kid could impact someone's life. I learned I could start my own volunteer activities and do things that I care about and enjoy.

I think Washington & Jefferson College offers numerous volunteer opportunities that students will relish: if a student can't find a volunteer activity they would enjoy at Washington and Jefferson College they can easily search for things in the surrounding community. Personally I would try to utilize all the information volunteer services has to figure out what community service project to get involved in.

Volunteering is a great way to help the community and with careful selection of a volunteer position can be a fun and rewardingexperience. I chose to work with the Special Olympics because I loved sports and I always loved to help people who are in need of assistance. I know my work with Special Olympics is the best ongoing experience of my life; the bound that was formed between the Special Olympic athletes and I was wonderful. The athletes enjoyed every moment of practice and made me feel like I was helping them.My experience with the Special Olympics and other community service projects was very rewarding and the only way to have such a magnificent experience is by getting involved with community service.


Washington and Jefferson Volunteer Services

Alpha Phi Omega

Corporation for National and Community Services (A public-private partnership that engages Americans of all ages in service to the community.)

Office of Community Services(A partnership with states, communities, and other agencies aimed to provide a range of services and activities to ameliorate the causes and characteristics of poverty and otherwise assist persons in need.)