Every university resides in a community. Whether a small town or large city, universities are surrounded by homes, businesses, schools, community centers, entertainment venues — people’s lives. Collaborating with citizens in these spaces to help improve them has historically been one of the primary purposes of higher education in the United States, and yet is one we often overlook today.
That is why it is time for you, as students, to step outside of the classroom and out into the community through a Community-based Learning course.
Community-based Learning courses (also known as Service Learning courses) are just like any credit-bearing class available at UW-Madison, but are courses that also get students involved in service and real-world experience by including a hands-on project with a local community partner.
More than 30 departments across campus are offering a class for credit in spring 2018. The listing of courses can be found here, and more classes are being added in time for registration.
“Community-based Learning can really be implemented in any type of a classroom, and I believe that it should be,” said Sydney Roberts, a Community-based Learning Intern at the Morgridge Center for Public Service. “We have courses for engineers all the way to artists, and everyone in between.”
Along with traditional classroom learning, each student is expected to engage in 25 hours of volunteer work with the course’s community partner. This volunteer work can come in the form of direct service, project-based service or community-based research that directly complements the course content.
These type of courses emphasize reciprocal relationships — students offer a service to the community partners, while in return, they benefit from the experience and knowledge of the community partner. Students learn about the concepts and theories of a subject, and then go out and experience that subject in the real world, giving them the opportunity to move beyond the classroom and textbooks.
“Community-based Learning courses are important because they teach students in a way that is so much more influential for students’ learning, and they also present the opportunity for the community to benefit,” said Roberts. “These courses bridge campus and community, and I believe they are truly furthering the mission of the Morgridge Center.”
Past Community-based Learning courses include health education students teaching stress management skills to a community group, a Spanish course wherein students provided recreational programs for children in the Latino community and a journalism class that created a website to promote South Madison restaurants.
“I hope that all students take at least one Community-based Learning course while at UW so they can learn about the important concepts that do not usually arise in other classes,” Roberts said. “Some concepts that these courses promote are personal identity, social identity, cultural awareness, savior complex, and power dynamics … the list goes on and on. These concepts are vital for students to understand and these courses are a way for them to be prepared to take part in the community we live in.”
If you’re still not completely convinced, a recent UW-Madison survey found that over 91 percent of Community-based Learning students got more out of their course than a traditional course and 100 percent of past course participants had a positive experience. This is truly your chance to link coursework directly to real-life experience and employment.
“Students should take a Community-based Learning course if they are ready to be challenged and have an experience that could change the way they view the community they live in,” Roberts said. “Through them, students can gain mentors, experience what it is like to work at community organizations and find topics that they are passionate about. They allow for academic learning to happen, but also a chance for students to learn both personally and professionally.”
For more information on Community-based Learning courses, please visit the Morgridge Center for Public Service website to browse a complete list of CBL courses offered spring 2018 or use the course guide to see all the service learning courses offered each semester. Select the term and on the bottom left, click on ‘Special Groups’ and then select ‘Service Learning.’
By Lauren Lewandowski