Community Partner Keys to Success

Service learning is receiving unprecedented recognition for its value to students, higher education and community. Service learning programs consist of four main roles: the student, the college instructor, the service learning program staff and the community. The importance of the community service site cannot be underestimated. In fact, successful service learning is largely dependent on the level of partnership and collaboration between community agency and educational institution.

Becoming a Quinnipiac University Service Learning Placement Site

A service learning site should be willing to do the following:

  1. Become familiar with this Quinnipiac University Service Learning Agency Handbook.
  2. Arrange a site visit by a member of the service learning team to discuss service learning opportunities.
  3. Complete the "Service Learning Position Description" form including your agency’s mission, specific service learning opportunities, orientation/training procedures and any special conditions or requirements. This form is advertising that your agency is interested in potentially developing a service learning partnership with a Quinnipiac faculty member. Send this to the Quinnipiac assistant director of community service and experiential learning (contact numbers can be found at the end of this guide).
    Note that this is not the same thing as requesting an "intern" from Quinnipiac University (see details below). Keep in mind that faculty are looking for community partners that show promising ways to integrate service with the academic content of a course. Service learning does not typically involve as many hours as an internship and may involve different kinds of supervision and monitoring than an Internship would. The aim of service learning is usually less "vocational" than an internship and more focused on giving students an opportunity to get more engaged in civic affairs.
  4. If there is a Quinnipiac University faculty member that is interested in developing a partnership with your agency, you will need to meet with this person and perhaps also the Quinnipiac assistant director of community service and experiential learning.Then you will begin the preparation for having a service learning partnership with this faculty member.

Preparation

  • Understand the background of service learning courses
    Typically, faculty members incorporate a service learning component within their class curriculum, either as an option or as a requirement. Service learning offers a continuum of possibilities ranging from a one-time service experience (e.g., a half day beach clean-up), to working with the same agency for two to four hours a week over the course of a semester (e.g., tutoring at-risk youth one afternoon a week for 12-13 weeks). The range of appropriate placements is circumscribed by the specific content of the particular course. Helping a YMCA increase the number of children served would be a very appropriate placement for a marketing class, while tutoring at risk youth would not.
    The faculty member works with the service learning point person to carefully choose a limited number of agencies whose needs are related to his or her teaching objectives. The faculty member also sets a minimum number of hours to be completed and develops a reflective component that may include assignments such as journals, readings, class discussions, writing assignments and class presentations about the service experience.
  • Be realistic with your time commitment expectations with students. Think semester!
    Remember that you will have to be aware of the semester schedule and adapt accordingly. Offer training sessions during the early part of the semester and expect students for only 12-14 weeks at the most.
  • Plan ahead!
    Clear, well thought-out service-learning position descriptions outlining tasks, responsibilities, and skills needed must be prepared and worked out with the Service Learning faculty partner (and eventually, with the student). Often a needs assessment with key staff will allow you to more effectively and creatively use service–learners within the framework of your agency. Are there tasks that you and your staff are now doing that could be divided up and given to one or several students? Is there a project that you’ve always wanted to do but never had the time to organize? Positions that carry some degree of responsibility and involve client contact are ideal.

Beginning the Course

  • Interview and orient the students
    At the beginning of each semester, the faculty member introduces the Service Learning component to his or her class. Students fill out an application and are given information about placement options by the service learning faculty partner and/or the service learning point person in Career Services. Students choose one of these "approved" placements based on their interests, schedule, and location. The student then calls the agency contact to set up an interview and orientation.Often the service learning course will involve teams of students in your agency, so it may be more effective to give them a group orientation.
    Interview service learning student candidates to clarify the responsibilities of the placement and to evaluate the students' abilities and appropriateness with respect to these responsibilities. Make sure that you get the student's contact numbers (or e-mail) and also that you have the faculty member's contact numbers in case there are any questions.
  • Be aware that some students may not meet your needs. Be selective!
    Although the service learning faculty member or Career Services will refer student service learning candidates to your agency, you will make the final selection. If a student’s qualifications and/or motivations are not in harmony with your needs, it is your right and obligation to request a different student.

During the Course

  • Be an involved educator and mentor for our students!
    Throughout the assignment the supervisor should help the student interpret the experience and the relationship between what he/she is doing and the work of the agency and others. The student-supervisor relationship is one of the most significant parts of the student’s experience and often determines the success of the placement. The supervisor is truly a partner in the student's education and should view him or herself as an "educator."
  • Talk to us!
    Keep the service learning faculty partner (or Career Services representative, if appropriate) informed of any concerns, problems, successes or other pertinent issues. We are here to facilitate the entire process and ensure that all parties are satisfied.
  • Remember, service learners are students, not volunteers, and are not pre-professionals!
    Supervisors must always keep in mind that not only do service learning students want to help meet important community needs, but they are also using the experience as the basis for understanding their college course. Students are receiving academic credit for learning through their service efforts. Help students think about what the experience means to them, the organizational context, and overall societal issues and impacts. Remember too that their motivations will differ from traditional volunteers in that they are at the site at least partly for a course credit and not purely out of altruism. Finally, realize that service learners, unlike interns, may not consider office tasks as "learning." Make sure they get plenty of opportunities to interact with clients, to carry out meaningful projects and to see the direct benefits of their work to the community.
  • Orient, orient, orient…Train, train train…Supervise, supervise, supervise!
    Students require carefully structured orientation you agency, staff and clients. This should answer such questions as “Where do I fit in? How do I get things done? What do I need to be aware of? What is expected of me? How do I get information/support if my supervisor is not available? What do I have to learn?” Do not assume service learners will automatically know the answers to these questions. Introduce them to your staff, give them a tour of the facility and make sure they feel comfortable and welcome. Students should also be familiarized with your mission and key community and societal issues facing your agency, i.e., “the bigger picture”… why you do what you do, and how the student can contribute to this end.
  • Say thanks!
    Like everyone, students want to be welcomed and appreciated. This may take many forms from letters of recognition, to a thank you note, to a simple acknowledgement of a job well done. They also need to see how their work is important to your agency’s mission. Ask the students how they’re doing and what can be improved upon.
  • Talk to us!
    Keep the Service-Learning point person and/or faculty member informed of any concerns, problems, successes, or other pertinent issues related to the placement and/or student. We are here to facilitate the entire process and ensure that all parties are satisfied.


Assessment
If the faculty partner asks for it, complete a brief end-of-semester evaluation of the service-learning experience. Sometimes the faculty member only wants a general assessment, sometimes a written evaluation of each service learning student in your agency. In any case, it is a good idea to have a final de-briefing with the faculty partner at the end of the semester to go over successes, shortcomings and to plan better service learning projects in the future.

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