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UMass wins grant to promote community service

John Reiff, director of Commonwealth College’s Office of Community Service Learning, received word that the joint proposal for the Learn and Serve America grant had been won by the University of Massachusetts on August 19.

The five UMass campuses collaborated to earn the $471,000 grant, intended to engage students across Massachusetts in community service learning in response to needs brought on by the economic downturn.

Reiff, a co-author of the grant, said, “In a way I have been working on this grant for the past ten or 15 years.”

The funder, the Corporation for National and Community Service, is a federal agency that provides funding for a whole range of community service initiatives. This includes a set of programs aimed at community service learning in higher education.

In the 90’s Reiff was part of a program funded by the corporation, and when an opportunity came along three years ago, a group of faculty representing the five UMass campuses got together to write a proposal for the Learn and Serve America grant. Unfortunately, they were turned down and had to wait another three years to reapply for the grant.

“We thought this was so good, talking to one another. Let’s see if we can figure out some things that we can do to build on this relationship we have established across the five UMass campuses,” Reiff said.

The group of faculty decided not to let go of doing collective work together, so they received a small amount of funding from a state agency, Massachusetts Campus Compact, which provided funding for service learning. The group also received money from the UMass President’s office to fund undergraduates on each campus to research college access programs.

“That was our first success in the UMass system-wide college access mapping program,” said Reiff.

After being designated by the Carnegie Foundation as the only multi-campus public University to earn the Community Engagement Classification, the group of faculty decided to build on their successes and write another proposal for the Learn and Serve America grant, which they won.

Reiff expressed that the ambition of grant money is, “To share information with the goal of finding ideas that we can build on to create more opportunities at each campus for service learning, better opportunities to improve what we’re doing and to give more students the opportunity to be involved.”

Over the three years of the grant, the flagship campus will receive $74,000 to engage more students in community service learning. One of the focuses of the grant will be to expand on the Springfield initiative.

“UMass should be doing more to contribute to economic development and the general well-being in Springfield,” said Reiff.

Chancellor Holub has appointed John Mullin to direct this initiative. Mullin was given four priorities to work on, but Reiff said, “The priority that interests me most is the idea of working with Springfield Public Schools to set up a program that will increase the numbers of Springfield students who apply to, are accepted by and graduate from UMass… I see service learning to play a huge role in making that happen.”

Through building a community between undergraduates at UMass and students in Springfield, Reiff hopes that Springfield students will see that a University experience could be a part of their own life experiences.

Currently, programs resulting from the grant will only be available to Commonwealth College students. However, throughout the three years Reiff hopes “the grant could be available to support the growth of students from across the campus not just Commonwealth College students,” he said.

Recently, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act passed in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. Named after the late Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, a longtime public service advocate, “the legislation will increase and enhance opportunities for Americans of all ages to serve,” according to a press release from the Corporation for National and Community Service.

“Because of this legislation, millions of Americans at all stages of their lives will have new opportunities to serve their country,” said President Obama in a statement to the press.

Hannah McGoldrick can be reached at hmcgoldr@student.umass.edu

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