February 5, 2010
By Kris Foster
Options for students during February reading break, depending on cash flow, range from a trip to Mexico, to catching up on term work. Community service-learning (CSL), programming offered by the University Learning Centre (ULC), presents another option for students: alternative reading week (ARW).
“It is experiential learning, based on the knowledge-action-reflection cycle, that links the university, our students and our community,” said Phaedra Hitchings, co-ordinator, CSL. “Students work, unpaid, with partner organizations—usually not-for-profit or charitable—to address community-identified needs. The knowledge they gain from the experience, through formal programming, is then tied to students’ lives and classrooms.”
It is a great situation, explained Hitchings, because all partners involved benefit. “Students learn from real situations, gain experience and become more aware; partner organizations, and those they serve, get some help and a chance to share their knowledge; and the university gets to expand the breadth and depth of the education offered.”
CSL programming started from a joint partnership between the College of Arts and Science and Student and Enrolment Services Division (SESD) in 2005. Funded by the Provost’s Committee on Integrated Planning, it was launched to “mirror the broad education offered by arts and science while adding to the student experience,” said Hitchings.
Since launching alternative reading week as a pilot project, CSL has grown in both the number of programs offered and student participation. CSL now offers one-day service events, like Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and Project Serve.
“There are many reasons students take part in CSL,” said Hitchings. “There are educational reasons, looking for other ways to learn or to solidify academic goals; altruistic reasons, wanting to get involved in community and make a difference; practical reasons, like being able to add those experiences to a resume or college application; and some just want to meet new people and get to know the city better.”
While CSL is not new to the U of S, it is gaining traction on campus and across Canada, said Hitchings. “Colleges offered CSL or something like it before it became a formal program in the ULC,” she said. “The difference is that the ULC can offer these programs to students in all colleges. This is the ultimate goal, to make it truly interdisciplinary so that we can work beyond separate colleges and learn from each other—on and off campus.”
Hitchings would also like to see CSL programs eventually reach beyond Saskatoon to the rest of Saskatchewan to “honour our name—the University of Saskatchewan.”