Service-Learning Volunteerism Reboot: A Case Study of a Funded Community-Engaged Scholarship

Service-Learning Volunteerism Reboot: A Case Study of a Funded Community-Engaged Scholarship

Hannah Park (University of Kansas, USA) and Jana Roberta Minifie (Texas State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2208-0.ch011
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How universities adapt SL varies almost as much as the number of universities that offer those programs as SL can vary from volunteerism to internships. Seventy-seven SL administrators participated in a survey on the perceptions of the U.S. colleges on the definition of SL activities. The survey results indicated the participants less likely consider an academic community engagement project as a SL when it is paid by the community partner. This chapter examines the importance of including funded community engagement scholarship in SL activities. Following the survey results, the chapter further addresses how funding from community partners may strengthen the definition of SL by introducing The Design Laboratory, The Lab, from Memphis College of Art as a case study. The Lab was a student-driven design agency that provided SL activities to the students and communities. Most of The Lab's SL activities were funded by the community partners.
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Service-Learning (SL) programs are an integral part of university/college engagement with communities. SL has been widely acknowledged as a pedagogy that benefits students, faculty, and community partners. Through SL, students can increase their understanding of the class’ learning objectives and related social issues in the communities, gain real-world work and networking experience, and develop work ethics and civic skills. Faculty can promote students’ active learning and provide opportunities to the students to be more involved in community issues. SL also allows community partners to gain additional help to achieve organizational goals and increase public awareness of key issues. (University of Minnesota, 2019)

Accreditation agencies, like the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International (, are looking for measurements that support that students are engaging with and making an impact with those communities. Students are being taught using innovative teaching methods to ensure the understanding of academic learning objectives. SL courses provide the means of bringing innovation into the classroom, engaging students with communities, and making an impact in those communities.

The scope of SL is widely ranged from volunteerism to internship (See Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Range of Service-Learning


The definitions of SL in the literature are generally similar (Becket, Refaci, & Skutar, 2012): “Service-Learning (SL) is a specially designed learning experience in which students combine reflection with structured participation in community-based projects to achieve specific learning outcomes as part of an academic course and/or program requirement.” Historically, SL has been viewed as a theoretically based form of experiential learning that is focused on academic growth while promoting civic engagement. (Welch & Koth, 2013)

However, how universities adapt and apply the definition of SL are varied almost as much as the number of universities that offer those programs. (Furco, 1996) The University of Washington (2019), for instance, perceives SL as only academic degree program: “Service-learning refers to learning that actively involves students in a wide range of experiences, which often benefit others and the community, while also advancing the goals of a given curriculum.”

On the other side, Texas State University (2019) recognized any learning activity that includes faculty and students as SL: “Our MISSION is to enrich the collegiate learning experience by encouraging civic engagement, compelling student reflection, and fostering meaningful community relationships. We assist faculty and students find opportunities to serve that enhance academic understanding while also strengthening the San Marcos community and beyond.

While the authors of this chapter studied how universities in the US define SL, they recognized a tendency that each university may have different standards on how they adapt SL activities that are funded by community partners. None of the universities’ SL definitions reviewed addresses whether SL activity should be unpaid or paid.

Based on the authors’ bricolage, the paid SL opportunities were under-emphasized or not even considered as SL by many universities. For some universities/colleges, the “service activity” to the community should be unpaid or voluntary, while for others, SL includes paid work. Unfortunately, despite the amount of literature in SL, it is challenging to find any literature that SL must be unpaid or paid. To examine and verify the potential gaps among the current perception of unpaid or paid SL activities, the authors conducted a national-wide survey.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Academic Program: The composite of academic courses and other activities that meet the requirements for a degree program; or a formal organized event that supports the goals of a degree that does not have a credit value associated with tuition costs.

Pro Bono: Not charging a fee for completing work for another person or community partner.

Accreditation: External regulators that certify that a course, degree program, or university meets an established set of standards.

Volunteerism: Providing community services through the use of volunteer labor.

Community Partner: Any organization (for-profit, non-profit, government entities/agencies, schools, private corporations) that a student(s) provides community service, usually as part of an academic course.

Internship: A student that works for an organization in order to gain work experience.

Academic Course: A formal organized unit that is recognized by an educational institution for meeting an educational requirement that has a credit value that tuition is calculated.

Design Thinking: A creative process for human-centered problem solving which emphasizes on empathy, systems thinking, and prototyping.

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