By Leigh Perkins Brown
Rollins has long been a leader in providing opportunities for service (hundreds of courses have had some element of civic engagement in the last decade), but the College sets a new standard by now offering courses with a service component integrated into the curriculum: CE courses, for community engagement.
“Experience is the only teacher in these matters,” said Laurie Joyner, vice president for planning and dean of the College. “You need to take your formal knowledge and transform it. This kind of high-impact practice not only engages students more deeply in the act of learning, it helps them meet the pressing needs of our community.”
Consider a course on poverty.
There are lessons best left to the professor—extrapolating data from a census, articulating public policy, exploring the history of scarcity.
Then there are lessons students need to learn on their own—knowing privation by living on an underserved person’s weekly wage or empathizing with a homeless person’s experience by listening to their stories or by meal sharing at a local shelter.
Joyner said such experiences help students “discover their own foundational values.”
In CE courses, students apply what they’re learning in class to local nonprofit organizations through 15 to 30 hours of community-based work or research. In addition to the connection to coursework, what sets CE apart from volunteerism is reflection on the underlying issues and the focus on progressing toward solving those issues so charity is no longer necessary. “This is how to transition from being a student to being a global citizen,” said Micki Meyer, director of community engagement. “Empowering these students to apply their academic knowledge to addressing global issues will provide them with a path and a purpose to put their education into action.”
Ian Wallace ’12, a senior who took the CE course International Economics, researched artisans in Indonesia for Ten Thousand Villages, a fairtrade gift shop in Winter Park. “We take the theories we’re learning in class and put it to work the next day, putting important data and research back into the community. It helps you apply what you’re learning in the real world.”
“That first community engagement experience can unlock a lifelong passion for service and advocacy,” Meyer said. “It can provide a road map for where your life leads you with the goal of making our world more focused on change.”
Since 9/11, there has been a sharp increase in student service nationwide, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. It reports that 30 percent of college students volunteer. However, the Rollins ethos of service has resulted in a near tripling of the national rate, with 89 percent of seniors having participated in community service while at Rollins.
Joyner says this approach to education creates a “communiversity,” where the academy gains as much as it gives to the community. “The ultimate goal is to help our students become more human,” she said. “That’s our entire purpose—educating the heads and hearts of students.”