Dominican's service learning program began in 2003 after the University received two planning grants from the Marin Community Foundation totaling $33,000. The following year, the University received a $45,450 grant from the foundation for the 2004-2005 academic year.
"The service learning program strengthens the bridge between our institution and the community through an integration of academics and hands-on work oriented toward building an awareness in our students of social and environmental responsibility," says Julia van der Ryn, Dominican University's service learning coordinator.
Through the service learning program, Dominican students have worked with more than 30 community groups, including the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, the Center for Nonprofit Leadership, The Bay Institute, Marin AIDS Project, Marin Abused Women's Services, Meals of Marin, Homeward Bound of Marin, Canal Alliance, Senior Access, Marin Link, and the Halleck Creek Riding Club.
"The community projects in which students are engaged support Dominican's educational mission to promote reflection, community service, ethical responsibility, and respect for all cultural traditions," says Harlan Stelmach, chair of Dominican's Humanities Department. "We look forward to strengthening our service learning program this year and expanding it to enhance Dominican's role as a vital, active partner in the community."
During the 2004-2005 academic year, two service learning classes titled Self, Community, and Service were designed and implemented through the Department of Humanities. The classes passed the curricular review for General Education status and now fulfill an ethics/moral philosophy GE requirement. A third Self, Community, and Service class became a required GE course in the Honors Program curriculum.
Students in the Self, Community, and Service classes first work in the classroom studying philosophers and activists of the past and present, and then take these ethical values into the workplace. Each student volunteers at least 28 hours per semester in the community. Last year 35 students participated in the Self, Community, and Service classes. An additional 25 students in the religion GE course Spirit of the Earth performed service projects at a variety of local environmental agencies.
The 2005-2006 support from the Marin Community Foundation will enable Dominican's service learning program to begin to implement the service learning pedagogy across all disciplines. Van der Ryn will initiate professional development workshops for Dominican University faculty and community partners about service learning. Community outreach will be ongoing as the University continues to develop working models for partnerships. The University's Service Learning Advisory Council, which is comprised of faculty, administrators, students, and representatives from community organizations, will create and implement an action plan to fully integrate service learning into the campus curriculum and culture. The University also has become a member of Campus Connect, a national organization with state offices that is dedicated to promoting service learning and civic engagement in higher education.