3 ways colleges can motivate students to serve

By: | Issue: October, 2018
September 27, 2018

The wreckage left behind by super storms is motivating students to contribute more than money.

Philanthropic and community initiatives give students the chance to gain credits along with invaluable experience. Following are three ideas institutions can adopt to encourage such efforts.

1. Organizing opportunities

Leaders at Barry University encourage the entire Florida campus to engage in service work. The Center for Community Service Initiatives, or CCSI, is Barry’s clearinghouse for community engagement.

Offering course-based service learning and cocurricular volunteer service, it also posts opportunities for collaborative service on its Community Engagement Management System, an online portal for students, faculty and staff, says Glenn Bowen, the center’s executive director.

SIDEBAR: CUNY Service Corps’ Puerto Rico program

“When disasters occur, the CCSI monitors the needs of affected communities and coordinates relief efforts with support from campus ministry, the athletics department and other university units,” says Bowen.

The center collects nonperishable food items, bottled water, personal hygiene supplies, flashlights and batteries for disaster relief agencies such as Catholic Charities.

Sometimes, the center’s volunteers will deliver donations to storm-torn areas themselves, as they did during a 2017 trip to northwestern Haiti.

Recently, 120 Barry volunteers provided direct service to communities as part of three post-Irma relief projects in the southern Florida counties of Miami-Dade, Monroe and Collier.

2. Connecting career development to service

The CUNY Service Corps encourages students to explore civil service jobs under managers at nonprofits who provide career development support. Some 650 participants from eight City University of New York campuses work 250 hours per year, earning $15 per hour.

Participants are screened rigorously, as 2,788 students applied for 200 spots in the Corps’ Puerto Rico relief initiative, says Curtis Dann-Messier, director of continuing education and workforce programs.

Applicants participated in individual and group interviews, and in a construction project. They were evaluated—by volunteers—based on work ethic, teamwork, commitment to service and experience.

3. Taking student demographics into account

For many participants and the CUNY community, the Puerto Rico relief effort felt particularly personal. Several Corps members speak Spanish, and come from families that experience the same financial struggles as the people they met abroad.

“Forty percent of our students are born in another country and many already feel like they belong to two worlds when they arrive at CUNY,” says Dann-Messier.

“Given Puerto Rico’s long-standing relationship with New York City, this program was more of a recommitment to service between these communities than the beginning of a relationship.”