The Western New York Service-Learning Coalition (WNYSLC) is a collaboration of colleges, universities and community organizations. We are committed to sharing resources, knowledge, and practices related to service-learning and community engagement in an effort to strengthen reciprocal campus-community partnerships to promote student civic responsibility.
What is Service-Learning?
Service learning is “a credit-bearing educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs (in partnership with a non-profit agency) and reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of the course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility.” (Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. Implementing Service-Learning in Higher Education)
Unlike extracurricular volunteering, service-learning is a course-based experience that produces the best outcomes when meaningful service activities are related to course material through reflection activities. Unlike internships, the experiential activity in a service-learning course is not necessarily skill-based within the context of a student’s major or minor.
Service-Learning for Students
Service-learning is an educational experience that goes beyond volunteering. Service-learning connects students to the community by integrating academic curriculum with active participation in service, offering structured opportunities for students to reflect on their experiences, and striving to ensure that the service placements are mutually beneficial to students, the organizations and the community as a whole.
Networking & Rich Cultural Experiences
The WNYSLC is a collaboration that engages community organizations and higher education institutions in dialogue, educational events and collaborative projects focused on service that directly benefits our community. The coalition offers a model of effective collaboration between higher education institutions and community organizations. Service-learning encourages college students, many of whom do not originate from Western New York, to stay and begin a career here. Students are exposed to community organizations, networking and job opportunities, rich cultural experiences and the quality of life available in our region.
Resourceful Network for Community Organizations
There are benefits to community organizations that participate in the Coalition. WNYSLC meetings, events, list serve and website provide a resourceful network to promote student opportunities. Representatives from organizations are given the opportunity to meet with and learn from others about effective student recruitment, supervision, retention strategies and share expertise.
Beneficial for Faculty
There are benefits to faculty and service-learning administrators who participate in the coalition. Through events, workshops, meetings and online resources, service-learning directors and faculty are able to share ideas and best practices related to service-learning in the curriculum and in co-curricular activities. The WNYSLC offers opportunities for developing collaborative projects and inter-institutional courses, research and grants. Local colleges such as Buffalo State College, Canisius College Daemen College, Erie Community College, Hilbert College, Medaille College, Niagara University, and Trocaire College are active member institutions.
WNYSLC Impact Statement Regarding Service-Learning during the Pandemic
We are undoubtedly facing challenging and uncertain times, yet we are presented with opportunities for creativity, innovation, and transformation. While we may need to re-imagine the ways in which service-learning is facilitated, nonetheless, it is still a powerful way for students to learn academic content.
Not only is service-learning a high-impact educational practice that enhances student learning and retention, it is also a critical component to higher education’s civic mission. As institutions of higher learning, we have a responsibility to ensure students have the skills, values, and knowledge to be able to bring about positive changes in our communities.
Service-learning provides benefits to students, community partners, and faculty, as well as to learning institutions. Students who participate in service-learning gain an enhanced understanding of their course content, while developing critical thinking, problem solving and leadership skills. Through these activities, students acquire an increased sense of social responsibility and a commitment to service in the community. These experiences foster their relationships with one another, their faculty members and the institution as a whole and have a profound effect on retention.
The connection of academic content to community-based projects is a vehicle to engage students in the vitality and future of the Western New York region. Through these activities, students can begin to explore and address challenges and solutions within their education programs.
Benefits to Students and Faculty include:
• Deepens students’ learning of course materials
• Improves students’ ability to apply what they have learned to the real world
• Impacts academic outcomes such as problem analysis, critical thinking and cognitive development
• Strengthens student/faculty relationships
• Reduces stereotypes and facilitating cultural and racial understanding and diversity
• Creates a spirit of civic responsibility by connecting students to their community
• Promotes a positive and responsible public image
• Removes geographical limitations and time constraints for non-traditional students
Benefits to the Community include:
• The development of lasting partnerships resulting in ongoing opportunities
• A link to connect students with their communities and the beginning of a long-term involvement in community service
• Provides community agencies with energetic, enthusiastic college students to meet educational, human services, safety and environmental needs
• Provides a vehicle for a transformational process where students, educators, and communities continue to grow in unison
Faculty and Campus Leader Testimonials
“Through service-learning experiences students become active citizens. By applying curricular concepts to meet community needs, students reflect on their impact on education, culture, social change, and aspects of daily life. Through the community-engagement lens, students acquire desired 21st century skills while educating and modeling others.” – Joy Guarino, Service-Learning Faculty Coordinator, Buffalo State College
“The Visual Communications Technology Department participates in the Service-Learning Initiative at SUNY Erie through the annual calendar project. The project provides opportunities for students to develop skills by working in groups and producing visual communications. Service-learning is important to students because of exposure to community awareness.” – Roberta Schlehr, Department Chair, SUNY Erie
“Student development is enhanced when we create service-learning opportunities across the curriculum and co-curriculum. Student Affairs and Academic Affairs working together have a unique challenge and opportunity that captures students’ talents and ways to cultivate and model learning for a lifetime.” – Gregory Roberts, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students, Hilbert College
“Trocaire College’s mission statement influenced me to pursue personal enrichment through the wisdom of the Sisters of Mercy that I helped during my community service. I found that doing for others is a necessary part of discovering one’s self worth. There is only so much that one can learn from a book and while clinical provides in the field experience, it is not until one steps into the community that the bigger picture is seen. Completing Trocaire’s community service (at Mercy Center) has provided me with life learning experience. The reinforcement of knowledge that the service experience provided me was in the area of therapeutic communication. I discovered that this is a quality that can be used universally within my community.” – Marie Panzer, Student, Trocaire College
“I thought this project was a lot of fun! I spent quality time with my family all while taking in the beautiful art! My mom even got in on the fun! I am thankful my professor assigned this project; I learned a lot about illustrator and had a blast while doing so!” – Shyanne Failey, Student, Visual Design Basics, SUNY Erie
Community Partner Testimonials
“Over the past five years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to host and coordinate countless Service-Learning students and groups from all over Buffalo and Erie County. In each of my years as a Non-Profit Volunteer Coordinator, Service-Learning has been an integral component in my strategic planning. Service-Learning students brighten the atmosphere at our agencies by bringing a fresh interest in our clients, as well as a personally and academically fueled drive to help-truly help—our agencies in the ways that WE need and ask for. Service-Learning students are unique in that they have chosen to engage in a Service-Learning course based on their interests, in which they are trained on cultural humility and other key aspects of community engagement before beginning their fieldwork. I am truly grateful for the WNYSLC, and for all of the college faculty and staff members who keep Service-Learning alive each and every year.” – Sierra Johnston, Volunteer Coordinator, JFS Buffalo & Former Volunteer Coordinator, Compass House Emergency Shelter for Runaway & Homeless Youth