Service Learning for First-Year College Students

By Hallie O’Neill, Intern with Volunteer Iowa.  Hallie is a Junior at Drake University studying anthropology, sociology, and writing. She is part of the Drake Writing Internship Program. 

For incoming college first-years interested in service learning, an opportunity to coordinate both academic advancement and service is offered by Des Moines’ very own Drake University in a program called the Engaged Citizen Corps (ECC).

The ECC experience features a unique combination of specialized curriculum and an internship-like commitment at a local service organization. Besides taking regular courses at Drake, the student member must complete eight to ten services hours each week at their organization of placement. Past placements have included organizations like Habitat for Humanity, DART, Des Moines Music Coalition and more. The skills learned through the individual’s service work will then be applied to the assignments and activities of three courses plus a year-long seminar with other members in the program.

Relatively new, the ECC was first officially implemented in the 2016-2017 academic school year. The program is tied to AmeriCorps, and at the completion of their year of dedication to community service, each student is awarded an AmeriCorps Education Award valid for use towards tuition costs.

Current ECC member Jamie Rusan at his community service placement Children and Family Urban Movement, or CFUM.

Amanda Martin, the ECC program coordinator, is an AmeriCorps VISTA alum herself. She stressed that involvement in the ECC grants first-year students advanced skills not normally attained in the first year of college.

“They make connections with community leaders and organizations and learn about opportunities to take advantage of during their remaining years at Drake and beyond,” Martin said. “They are also able to work with and create a community of peers to rely on for support and increased learning with the other members of the Engaged Citizen Corps.”

The program is highly selective, and Martin receives more applications that she can accommodate. Even so, she’s expecting the numbers to grow exponentially, especially since this year’s applicant pool reached a record number.

For an already academically challenged first-year student, the time commitment required by this program is serious. However, the experience allows students to explore the social justice issues they are most passionate about while also serving the greater Des Moines community. Plus, it’s not a bad addition to a young academic’s resume.

“Students have the opportunity to challenge pre-conceived notions and perceptions,” Martin said. “They come to better understand the root causes of various social issues and social injustice, and learn various techniques to create social change.”

Despite its very recent conception, the ECC has already seen plenty of success. In 2015, ECC’s value was solidified when it was selected as a winner of the national contest Service + Higher Ed Innovation Challenge, an initiative that recognizes the incorporation of service years into the post-secondary experience.

“The Service Year Alliance, which was one of the organizations that selected this program as a winner of the Service + Higher Ed Challenge in 2015, believes that incorporating a service year into the post-secondary experience better prepares students to complete their degree, attain employment, and becoming lifelong engaged citizens, and we agree,” Martin said.

The ECC program was first implemented into Drake’s curriculum during the 2016-2017 academic year.

Though the experience only lasts for each student’s first year at Drake, they are considered an AmeriCorps member for life, according to Martin.

Martin and her team are currently recruiting partner agencies to host admitted ECC first-year students for the 2018-2019 year. More information for organizations interested in partnering up with Drake University can be found on the ECC web page.

Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks to hear the student perspective on Drake’s ECC from current Drake Community Engaged Citizens Jamie Rusan and Brittany Freeman.

Photos from Drake’s Engaged Citizen Learning & Service blog.

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