WMU service-learning, community work wins national praise

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President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll With DistinctionKALAMAZOO—The Corporation for National and Community Service has named Western Michigan University to a select list of the nation's colleges and universities that earned a slot on the 2013 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll With Distinction.

The Honor Roll recognizes higher education institutions that reflect the values of exemplary community service and achieve meaningful outcomes in their communities. The honor roll was announced in Washington, D.C., this week at the American Council on Education's annual national conference.

Just 100 schools around the nation earned "with distinction" status in the annual awards program that was established in 2006. In Michigan, only three schools earned the recognition. In addition to WMU, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor also were honored. Kalamazoo College was singled out as a finalist for one of five Presidential Awards this year.

"This is a marvelous community that has embraced service learning and helped us build that concept into our academic and extracurricular programs for students," says WMU President John M. Dunn. "It is no coincidence that both WMU and Kalamazoo College have been able to build a culture of service on our campuses. This is an area in which we will continue to seize opportunities for the benefit of both our students and the communities we serve."

WMU's selection for the honor roll was based on a number of specific initiatives as well as the overall culture and record of community service compiled during the 2011-12 academic year. For that year, the University recorded:

  • A total of 18,200 students involved in some kind of community service;
  • 632,408 total community service hours performed by students; and
  • 5,200 students engaged in academic service-learning experiences.

The Corporation for National and Community Service oversees the Honor Roll in collaboration with the U.S. Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development, Campus Compact and the American Council on Education. Honorees are chosen based on a series of selection factors, including the scope and innovation of service projects, the extent to which service-learning is embedded in the curriculum, the school's commitment to long-term campus-community partnerships and measurable community outcomes as a result of the service.

Highlighted in this year's application were several initiatives that both provide measurable service to the community and opportunities to train the next generation of professionals. They include:

  • WMU's Children's Trauma Assessment Center, which provides more than 3,000 screenings and 270 assessments annually on children from 11 counties to assess the long-term impact of trauma, while also providing practical training to 40 WMU students in the health disciplines;
  • The Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, which for 11 years has provided affordable counseling for community members and enhanced training for master's- and doctoral-level students, while serving about 300 clients annually; and
  • The Fort St. Joseph archaeological project, which since 1998 has seen WMU students and faculty members partner with the city of Niles, Mich., to uncover and offer the public an opportunity to explore the once-lost site of one of the region's earliest colonial outposts, a military and fur-trading fort on the St. Joseph River.

According to Shawn Tenney, WMU's director of service learning who submitted the application for the award, service-learning opportunities have been rapidly expanding, and the campus culture of service has strengthened in recent years. The campus has made a commitment to educating its students to be global citizens, and service is an integral part of the University's strategic plan.

"Service-learning is decades old at WMU," Tenney points out. "Establishing the Office of Service Learning has helped centralize service efforts, and good communication allows us to better share our story."

This is the fourth time WMU has been named to the overall President's Honor Roll and the first time it has been honored in the "with distinction" category of honorees.