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Impact of Service Learning

Since the inception of Eastern’s INST150 course, Introduction to Faith, Reason and Justice, first-year and transfer students have been required to complete at least twenty hours of what is called “service learning.” The concept of service learning projects began when Tony Campolo worked at Eastern as a professor. As a requirement for his classes, Dr. Campolo took students into the city, working to develop Eastern into the activist-oriented university that it is today.

The logistics of service learning are complex, but those who organize the many service sites believe the benefits outweigh the costs. One such organizer is Andy Horvath, Eastern’s Director of Christian Formation. In an interview about the goals and hurdles of service learning, Horvath explained just how complicated organizing service learning can be. Over 400 students a year need to complete twenty hours at sites that are off campus. According to data from 2011, provided by the Office of Faith & Practice, 423 students served about 8,500 hours. To see the full impact of the amount of hours being served, consider that a single worker would need to work for four years at a standard eight hour, five days-per-week job, with no vacation days in order to fulfill the 8,500 hours completed by Eastern’s students in a single term.

Further statistics show that over 90 percent of students in INST 150 in the Fall 2011 term reported that they completed all twenty required hours. This reveals an increase from the Fall 2007 term, when only 88 percent of students reported to having finished the required hours. However, attendance and fulfillment of required hours are not the only aspects of service learning that Eastern is interested in. The goal of the requirement is to satisfy the justice component of Eastern’s mission statement, as well as awaken students to realities they may never have seen before, and to foster an environment for spiritual growth in the students. “There’s something wrong with the world when children hear bullets outside the window,” Horvath said. He continued, saying that service learning is akin to a window that reveals what we might be called to do, and being reminded of our own personal status can be very uncomfortable. As Horvath said, “It’s humbling to be served.”

Operating at over twenty-one sites, students have many options to choose from to complete their hours. These sites are carefully chosen by the Office of Faith & Practice and offer a broad range of issues that reveal fundamental injustice. Each site can be chaotic; they are chosen because they are in need of resources, and not every individual at the site will welcome assistance with open arms. However, the impact on the service learning sites is not the sole interest in gauging how beneficial service learning is. At the end of their service learning experience, students are asked to complete a survey about their time. Judged on a five-point scale, with five meaning “strongly agree,” students indicated that service learning helped them “understand and identify with God’s passion for justice” (avg. 4.10), showed them how their “attitude became more positive” (4.13), and that they had an “overall positive experience” (4.33).

The transformational process that service learning hopes to foster extends to both the students and the people and communities assisted. Julie Elliott, who works with the INST 150 classes, said that service learning “enhances [and] enriches the learning that takes place inside of the classroom, and even more importantly, it extends that learning out beyond the classroom. For some students, their service learning experience has clarified their vocational choices, too.” Elliott continued, “Of course, there are some students who complete the requirement and rarely think about it again. But more often than not, students are moved by what they see and learn through service learning.”

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