Lillian Huerta, M.A.Service-learning consultant and author"Students have the opportunity to become "agents of change" ... You have to be involved in the community"
How did you get your start in service-learning?
I've been involved in volunteer work since I was 10 years old! I remember how excited I was when I raised the most money in my hometown for the Muscular Dystrophy Association by taking pledges door to door. Later, I helped raise funds for Teach the Children, a wonderful organization that helped provide school supplies for underprivileged children. I also volunteered in Senior Citizen homes by reading to patients and visiting with them. In some form or another I was always involved in my community. I credit so much of this involvement to my success in college. It was so fascinating that my every day interaction with the community through volunteer work brought such relevance and connection to my field of study which was Sociology and then later with my graduate work in Bicultural-Bilingual Studies. At that time the "connection" that I was experiencing was just an added value to my studies. Thus, when I had the opportunity to actually coordinate a service-learning program, it was like Wow! I have done this before but this time the volunteer (service) part will actually be linked to the course of study in a more structured way than I had experience.What is the biggest challenge of getting a Service-learning program "off the ground?"
The biggest challenge is the fact that the program is "grant-funded". Essentially you --(the Project Director and/or Coordinator-- have to "sell" the program to faculty, students and administration, especially if there are other grant-funded programs trying to get institutionalized. However, I see this challenge as an exciting opportunity to really show how unique your program is and the positive impact it can have on the community, students and faculty. Also, you have to work hard to gather "buy in" from an overworked faculty and shorthanded staff.What are the benefits of Service-learning especially for students?
The major benefits include: the student learns to develop leadership skills, and as a result, personal growth and self-confidence increases. Furthermore, students have the opportunity to become "agents of change." Students will be empowered to go back to their communities to contribute. For example, students in an Economics, Urban Sociology and/or Public Administration class can work with city officials in creating a program that will benefit a local neighborhood in combating issues such as gang violence. I think anyone in the business of Education will see the value of service-learning-the benefits are endless. In regards to faculty, service-learning will allow them to engage their students in a more stimulating way. Instead of just lecturing, faculty can have students apply what they are learning and as a result, students will be able to contribute to class lecture in a more critical thinking manner. Of course community agencies (nonprofit agencies) will benefit in having college students apply their skills that they may otherwise have to pay for. For example, students majoring in say Computer Science can create and maintain a web site for a nonprofit agency.What is your educational background and how did you get into the field?
My background includes a B.A. in Sociology and a M.A. in Bicultural-Bilingual Studies from The University of Texas at San Antonio. Like I mentioned earlier, I have always been involved in the community in some form or another. So when the Alamo Community College District in San Antonio, Texas received a grant from The National Corporation-I knew I had to apply! I was told after I got the job of service-learning coordinator by the late Mayme Williams (Project Director of the Service-Learning grant) that I was hired because of my "...knowledge of the community and the passion and respect I have for volunteer work..."What kind of advice would you give to a professional interested in getting into the service-learning field?
I firmly believe that you have to be involved in the community. So, my first suggestion is that you get involved. I mean there is so much work to be done for the community. Secondly, your educational background in higher ed, ethnic/multicultural studies, Sociology and other type of human services based education will hone your skills in understanding the diversity that a community represents. Which brings me to my last suggestion, KNOW your community. What needs to be done? Does your local park need some flowers to be planted or does the lake need cleaning? Always practice your civic responsibility!Any advice for students/
Again, get involved and practice your civil awareness and responsibility! Visit with your professors and find out if service-learning is an option. If not, find out how you can start the service-learning movement on your campus. The most successful programs comes from the students themselves.A Service-Learning Guide for Faculty, Students and Community Agencies
is filled with helpful tips and insights. Pick up a copy today.