Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Positive impact of service learning

Evan Sahagian/Collegian File Photo
Evan Sahagian/Collegian File Photo

Incorporating community service and volunteer work into a monthly schedule is common among students and adults. There are many positives to volunteering besides the intrinsic motivation to be happy about helping to better the community. You gain professional experience if you volunteer in your field, meet new people and learn about yourself and the world around you.

Learning is a large aspect of service. Volunteers learn about those who they are helping, how to become more engaged in the organization or community and how to do something different or new. Service and learning coincide because you essentially learn from everything you do, but what makes the term that combines those two words, service learning, different?

According to the University of Maryland, service learning’s intention is to “equally benefit the provider and the recipient of the service as well as to ensure equal focus on both the service being provided and the learning that is occurring.” The learning can occur outside a classroom, but involves group discussions and outside work to make it both curricular and co-curricular. The University of Massachusetts Civil Engagement & Service-Learning (CESL) encourages the outcomes of this type of work. The broad outcomes are that “students can develop knowledge, skills, attitudes and perspectives in three different domains: academic, personal, and civic learning.”

Academic learning means that the concepts learned through the service in the community can be related to education and involves expanding one’s views for both the service and academic area of study. Personal learning is similar, but the service affects an individual’s view of his or her own strengths, weaknesses and values, which they then have the opportunity to self-evaluate and work on through the community service project chosen. Civic learning means that students learn about the perspectives of those around them with different backgrounds and identities.

Community service and service learning are both hands-on and rewarding, but I prefer service learning because it allows me to think more deeply about how I am affecting the world around me. The analytical thinking required for the project also allows me to reflect about how the work and setting affect me.

I have volunteered through community service projects for most of my life, but this winter, I experienced my first service learning project. I traveled to Maghar, Israel, with 12 other students on a trip through UMass Hillel and Yahel Israel Service Learning. When I began the trip, all I really knew was that we would be immersed in the Druze culture, a small religion that has communities in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, to work on a project and live in people’s homes.

Rachel Olstein Kaplan, Associate Director of Yahel Israel Service Learning and one of the leaders of the trip, believes in service learning “because I see it as a much more sustainable form of service, both for the recipient communities and for the participants in the program,” she said. “By framing traditional service projects with in-depth discussions as well as historical and cultural context, everyone is able to gain much more from the experience and understand the implications and effects both in the immediate future and in the long term.”

The program as a whole was an incredible experience because the UMass group and many students from the community transformed a trash and weed-filled area of land next to a high school into a community garden. We became close with the Druze youth who helped us work in the garden and with the families we stayed with. Every day presented active learning opportunities not only in the garden, but also in group learning sessions for about two hours afterwards.

The learning varied based on the day, but consisted of learning through Torah passages, about Israel, about different forms of service and other areas related to the culture we were immersed in for 10 days. Learning allowed us to deepen our understanding of the labor we participated in. We had varying learning goals day by day, but all enhanced the experience in the garden. It was sort of a built-in, high-intensity daily debrief, and it allowed the group to get to know each other on a different level. We knew each other in the setting of doing laborious work, deep conversation and learning and social settings.

Hands-on work and being immersed in a culture is very different from reading about it. I don’t think you can really understand something until you experience it. You may hear about a certain group of people, area or concept, but until you have a chance to engage in it, there is no personal relation to allow you to build reputable knowledge.

“Service learning, when done right, inspires participants to a lifelong commitment to service, energizes grassroots communities and facilitates connections among diverse groups of people,” Kaplan said.

You don’t need to go on a trip to another country or even somewhere far from where you live to participate in service learning. Taking part allows you to develop your own knowledge through the enhancement of any segment of society. It can be for a long or short period of time. UMass offers service learning classes and programs to accommodate for what you may want. Many people learn best by doing, and the field experience is what provides you with background knowledge to be your best at a career or hobby.

Karen Podorefsky is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • G

    Genghis KhanFeb 6, 2014 at 9:20 am

    Mazel Tov on your community spirit, and thank you for doing something for Eretz Yisrael.