Western Carolina University students will provide about $4.2 million worth of volunteer work for Western North Carolina communities this academic year as they participate in co-curricular volunteer activities and course-based service learning projects.
That’s the word from Glenn Bowen, director of Western’s service learning department, who recently spoke to a Sylva civic organization about the impact of student volunteerism across Western North Carolina.
More than 30 percent of Western students — about 2,460 people — currently participate in volunteer work and service learning projects, and average three hours of service each week, Bowen said.
“Using the latest Independent Sector figures for the value of volunteer work, which are based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, each of these students contributes $1,684 in service during the 32-week academic year,” Bowen said.
Western’s service learning department, part of the Division of Student Affairs, promotes volunteerism and coordinates traditional community service. An important part of the department’s work is to collaborate with faculty to integrate community service into the curriculum. “Community service connected to the curriculum is what we refer to as service learning,” Bowen said. “Service learning enriches coursework by providing opportunities for students to use their academic knowledge and skills in ‘real-life’ situations.”
The community partners for Western’s service learning program include nonprofit organizations, social service agencies, community-based organizations, local government, nongovernmental organizations, schools, church-related groups and service clubs.
Since the service learning program began at Western about five years ago, the number of its community partners has grown significantly, with a total now of 83, Bowen said.
As an example, Western’s program is partnering with the Rotary Club of Sylva, the Interact Club of Smoky Mountain High School and St. David’s Episcopal Church in “Project Panama,” an alternative spring break trip to work on school renovation and health care in rural communities in the Latin American country. The partners recently began an eight-week series of classes to prepare participants for that trip, Bowen said.
Also, a group of Western students, faculty and staff participated in a Day of Service to commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. by volunteering at the Community Table in Sylva, Bowen said.
The services provided through Western’s service learning program are just one facet of the university’s engagement with the region’s communities, Bowen said.
“The engaged campus is unable to separate its unique responsibility for the development of knowledge from the role of knowledge in a democratic society to form the basis for social progress and human equality,” he said.
“That’s why we value and cherish the partnerships between our campus and the wider community – partnerships involving various centers and departments of the university with organizations and institutions in the community. These are partnerships designed to improve the social, cultural and economic life of our community and our region.”
For more information about Western’s service learning department, contact Glenn Bowen at (828) 227-7234 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.