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WMU launches service learning center

April 22, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University has launched a new Center for Service Learning that will serve as a clearinghouse to connect area agencies with campus students and organizations looking for service opportunities.

The University's new center was introduced to the community during an April 16 campus meeting that attracted nearly 70 community organization leaders and Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell, as well WMU Provost Tim Greene and some 30 faculty, staff and administrators from across the University.

Housed in the Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations and sharing Welborn Hall office space with that unit, the new center is charged with coordinating service work campuswide. The center's coordinator for service learning is Kathy Purnell, who was hired in February. She has spent her initial weeks on the job networking with WMU faculty and students as well as community leaders.

"Service learning has been going on at WMU for a long time," Walker Institute Director Timothy Ready says.  "What is new is the facilitation services to be provided by the Center for Service Learning. The center will serve as an information clearinghouse, a matchmaker between community leaders and university faculty and students, an advocate for community-engaged learning, and a resource center promoting best practices."

Launch of the center, Ready says, is the start of a major push to increase the civic engagement opportunities for WMU faculty and students in a way that meets the learning needs of students and the needs and interests of the communities the University serves. Service learning, he notes, is a core element of WMU's new Strategic Plan for Academic Affairs.

According to Ready, the primary difference between volunteer service projects and service learning is that service learning involves reflection and learning, usually incorporated into course curricula. Service learning projects need to meet both the educational objectives of instructors and the needs and interests of community partners. To be successful, service-learning partnerships typically are the result of careful planning and development.

That planning and development work will be the responsibility of Purnell, who has a background in law, human rights, foundation relations and political science. She earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1991, a doctoral degree from Cornell University in 1999 and a law degree from DePaul University in 2008. She previously has taught in WMU's Department of Political Science as an adjunct in 2008-09, and at DePaul from 2003 through 2006. She also has worked the University of Chicago where she was associate director of foundation relations.

In addition, she is the founding director of the Human Rights Project of Michigan, a nonprofit organization devoted to human rights issues. Purnell was admitted to the federal bar, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan in 2010, and she recently completed work for the ACLU Foundation of Georgia as its Immigration Detention fellow.

For more information about the Center for Service Learning, contact Kathy Purnell at (269) 387-2139.

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Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
(269) 387-8400