Service Learning program grows from department into center

What began at Western Carolina University seven years ago as a program of community service quickly grew into a department and is now a center – the Center for Service Learning.

Glenn Bowen

Glenn Bowen

“This classification as an institutional research center reflects our university leaders’ appreciation of the value of service learning as both a pedagogical strategy and an avenue for scholarly research,” said Glenn Bowen (pictured), director of service learning.

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors approved the “center” designation in 2003, and the name was adopted in July when service learning moved from the student affairs division to the academic affairs division.

As a department in student affairs, service learning aimed to promote student participation in organized activities that would serve the community while helping students grow intellectually, socially and personally.

Those activities during the last four-and-a-half years led WCU students to contribute an estimated 775,000 hours of service, from staffing soup kitchens to helping renovate schools in Panama. Last year, service learning was a component of nearly 60 courses, and activities were hosted at 45 different sites in the community.

This year, the updated mission statement for the Center for Service Learning also calls for developing activities that specifically enhance students’ development of career-related skills. Preparing students for careers is a key element of WCU’s mission.

Such initiatives include the center’s collaboration with the College of Business to involve students in a post-disaster community revitalization project in the town of Canton, which was struck by hurricanes Frances and Ivan in 2004.

In another project, students taking health and computer information systems courses will gain practical, hands-on experience through assisting Jackson County health authorities in collecting and analyzing survey data for a community health assessment.

Carol Burton, assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate studies, said service learning provides an invaluable opportunity for students to learn on many different levels.

“Service learning fosters self-awareness, civic engagement, interpersonal development and practical application of theories and concepts,” said Burton, who has supervisory responsibility for the center. “I expect that, given the implementation of Western’s Quality Enhancement Plan that fosters intentional and integrated learning, the Center for Service Learning will play an increasingly critical role in the preparation of our students.”

For more information about the Center for Service Learning, contact Glenn Bowen at (828) 227-7234 or