From “service” to “reciprocal learning”: University of San Francisco shares 11 years of practice

Monday, April 7, 2014

NNSP’s regional event on March 19, 2014, hosted by San Francisco Friends School, brought together leaders from 15 schools and organizations around the Bay Area. For many at the event, service learning is a key component to a larger community engagement strategy. We asked leaders from the University of San Francisco’s McCarthy Center for Public Service and Common Good to lead a discussion about how to build and sustain partnerships that facilitate service learning.

Since 2002, all USF undergraduates have been required to complete a service-learning course. The McCarthy center opened its doors the same year to serve as the nexus of support where community organizations, faculty and students could further individual and shared goals. Today, between 43-45 courses per year integrate service learning into the curriculum.

“What may have started as ‘service-learning’ has now grown into reciprocal learning,” said Star Moore, Director of Community-Engaged Learning at USF, who led the discussion. Moore shared what she, her colleagues, partners and faculty have learned in the last decade:

  • Seek out partners who want to be co-educators of students
  • Focus on knowledge attained, not on tasks accomplished by students;
  • Students know when a task has real value to an organization and will calibrate effort accordingly.
  • Investment in training pays off
    • Community partner staff members participate in five, two-hour sessions that help them consider their role as co-educator.
    • USF faculty participate in a seven-part seminar series that is offered each semester
    • Students receive orientation and support throughout the semester
  • The challenge of staff turnover at often under-resourced community-based organizations means that relationships need to be forged at all levels across the school and organization.
  • Know when to say “no” to a partnership
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses 

“We all have this ideal of powerful, transformational relationships that can change the world. We all, always, fall short. Meet people where they are – and then go from there,” said Moore, to many nodding heads around the table and some knowing chuckles. “For a community partner, that might mean taking three students instead of 30. For a nursing student it might mean wrapping bandages, not saving lives during a service project.”

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