The University of New Mexico’s Office of Community Engaged Learning and Research is working with students to incorporate volunteering into class curriculums with hopes that students will gain a wide variety of benefits that come from helping the local community.
“I think New Mexico has a really rich history of activism,” said Monica Kowal, the associate dean of CELR.
Their efforts are focused on getting students to apply their knowledge from the classroom to a “high-needs area within the community,” Kowal said.
To challenge the traditional teaching style, service learning programs allow faculty to incorporate community work into their syllabi, giving students the chance to volunteer using the skills taught in their classes.
“I think it is a really giving thing,” said Tabitha Rodges, a third year communications major at UNM currently taking a service learning course. “It’s a time to give, of course, but also a time to appreciate what you have and to reflect on how some other people’s lives really are.”
UNM sees great strengths in community engagement, Kowal said.
In the past, service learning has impacted anywhere from a few hundred students to a few thousand a year, she said — and she and hopes to see that number grow.
In order to see a growth in student-volunteers, CELR is implementing a Civic and Community Engagement minor.
“Students can now minor in a program where they focus on community engagement,” Kowal said.
To pique faculty interest in service learning opportunities, CELR hosts “matching events.” These events help raise awareness among faculty and help them find the right organization to embed into their class curriculum.
CELR creates its database of organizations by partnering with Community Link and by helping organizations that come to them find the right volunteers.
Community Link works with CELR and a variety of different offices within the University in an attempt to resource nonprofit and social service organizations with volunteers, Executive Director Greg Hallstrom said.
“There is a high correlation between volunteerism and employment,” Hallstrom said, adding that volunteers are generally more positive and happy and tend to make better employees.
Volunteerism offers benefits outside of the classroom and workplace. Through volunteering, students should “really accept and acknowledge that we are all in this together, that this environment is ours to share,” Kowal said.
“My dad would always stress the importance of helping people and being there for people,” Rodges said. “I am excited to be able to benefit and help someone else. Even if it isn’t giving them money or clothes, it’s something that lasts, you know?”
CELR helps to match students who are seeking to volunteer for a few hours each month with an organization that fits their schedule and matches their interests.
Kowal said CELR is a “good place to start” for students who are interested in volunteering. She said that her office is not the only place to find volunteer opportunities.
The Community Engagement Center offers opportunities for students to get involved with the UNM Service Corps and other long term volunteering.
“(UNM Service Corps) is very much like a full-time gig,” Kowal said.
UNM is unique in the way that the majority of students are also full-time workers so offering volunteerism as a part of a class can allow students the opportunity to give back, she said.
“At first I was worried about (the volunteering), because I work full time, and I go to school full time,” Rodges said. “But it’s a good way to get involved with the community, although you have to do it for your class, it’s like a way to put your foot out there.”
“I think the real kind of soul of what we do is getting students to understand what it means to be a civic-minded college graduate,” Kowal said.
Getting students to understand what it means to be a citizen within a nation full of divisiveness is a big motivation for offices like CELR, she said. “We can’t separate ourselves, because the problems we really have effect so many different people. We have to come together.”
Madison Spratto is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Madi_Spratto.