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Guest column: Service-learning and career development: making the connection by Lillian Wichinsky

Submitted by Victoria Hickey on March 28, 2016 – 9:37 amNo Comment

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is working to provide “high impact” learning experiences for students. One such experience is service-learning. Service-learning is an approach to teaching that integrates community service with classroom instruction and reflection. Service-learning provides students with a broader and deeper understanding of the course content, fosters their sense of civic engagement, and sharpens their insights into themselves and their place in the community.

The concept is a simple one: Students provide service in their community that is directly connected to their academic coursework, and the community provides an educational experience for the student. So much of what we do in life is experiential and service-learning often helps students practice new found skills, understand theory and test innovative ideas all in a real world setting.

Students often ask me why should they take a service-learning course when it looks like more work? I reply, “Did you learn to drive a car by reading just the manual?” No, of course not. You got in the driver’s seat of the car with a parent, or instructor and practiced those skills (hopefully in a safe place). The same can be said about choosing a career. Would you want a doctor performing surgery on you without having practiced these skills?

Students participating in service-learning at UALR: help local children learn to read, serve as mentors for high school science programs, write grants for local nonprofits, organize food drives for our pantry, carry out written oral histories with the elderly in nursing homes or build houses for homeless people.

Students have: developed financial and marketing plans, conducted voter registration drives, created databases for local agencies, produced public service announcements for community based organizations, designed publications or carried out health screenings. These are just a few examples of service-learning projects that our students have carried out.

These activities allow students to practice skills they may need in their chosen career and at the same time provide service to the community. Through reflective activities (which are an essential element of service-learning) students are able to critically think about their experience and the implications for the future.

According to Deborah Bloch, a career development specialist at Western Carolina University, career development occurs through participation in the interweaving networks of education, occupations and needs of the community, among other factors. Service-learning interweaves education with community needs, allowing students to participate in networks and explore occupations.

Service learning supports career planning and professional preparation. Through their participation in these projects students learn teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, communication and leadership, which are all vital for success in any workplace. It also helps students gain marketable experience and a competitive edge. Many students have reported they landed their first real job at places where they did community service.

So, the next time you enroll in a course that involves service-learning, embrace the opportunity. Take advantage of the learning experience to practice your newfound skills while giving back to the community. It will make a difference in your own learning and career choices while making a difference in the community.


Lillian Wichinsky Ph.D., LMSW


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