Nathan Gower, Staff Writer
Warren Wilson College’s Service Learning Office has begun a lengthy reevaluation process of the Triad’s service requirement after numerous student concerns were voiced.
The SLO is not acting solely because of students’ complaints, but as feedback grew consistently critical of the 100-hour graduation requisite, Dean of Service Cathy Kramer felt the timing was right for reassessment.
After two interim deans of service and a revolving door of student staff, Kramer feels the SLO has diverted from their transitory nature and is stable enough to consider changes. Kramer and her staff started looking outside the Warren Wilson community for suggestions.
The SLO surveyed a diverse pool of 16 colleges with reputable service programs and from there began an internal inquiry into what works and what does not.
The results will be shared by the 13-person Service Learning Advisory Committee, comprised of five Student Caucus representatives and seven faculty and staff.
The college survey is just one of the many planned events for gathering information over the remainder of the academic year.
Among these events is a series of focus groups in which Service Learning’s student staff have been trained as facilitators. From there, a Student Caucus meeting is to take place on April 5. Shortly thereafter, on April 10, a campus-wide survey is to be conducted. A conclusive report of the office’s efforts will be revealed on April 26.
In a recent interview, Kramer questioned whether “the 100- hour requirement is the right way to measure.” Broadcasting the general consensus of student concerns, Kramer said, “[some students] feel like checking off 100 hours isn’t motivating, particularly in their senior years when they just want to get it over with.”
Furthermore, Kramer expressed interest in learning why some students serve well over the minimum requirement while others barely manage to meet the 100-hour requisite for graduation. This will be one focus of the informational meetings arranged by the SLO.
While Kramer does believe it to be absolutely necessary to consider the students’ concerns and include them in the reevaluation process, she is also keenly aware that many have found the system to be entirely functional.
Warren Wilson conducted an alumni survey in the the middle of the last decade, sending the survey to approximately 1,500 alumni that graduated between 1969 and 2002. Of the 600-or- so responses, 74% reported they had engaged in voluntary service within a year prior to receiving the survey. Additionally, 44% found service to have played a significant role since graduation while 43% found it somewhat significant. Only ten percent found service not at all significant and the remaining three percent answered “not applicable.”
A major concern of the SLO seems to be in the student omission of one major word from the service requirement: learning. Many students seem to be “ticking off” hours, according to Kramer. Regardless of if change does or does not come to the Service Learning Office, Kramer would like more students to be educated why a particular issue is important, how they can help, and what the lasting impact of their service would be.
The political and social connections are often overlooked, said Service Learning Crew members juniors Ana Baranda and Kate Page.
“People don’t make that connection: you doing community service is changing your coun- try,” said Page. “If you don’t get involved in politics, who’s going to write [the policies],” Page asked?
Baranda and Page, both transfer students in their first year at Warren Wilson College, agreed that some current provisions of the Service Learning Office were not being properly used by the Warren Wilson students.
Both students agreed that one system could be developed more fully and put to use more often: issue workshops. These workshops are semester-long service agreements that involve students in planning and education in addition to direct service in the community. “If more students were involved in the educational and planning process, like in issue workshops,” said Baranda, “they would understand why we do service.”
Building on this notion, Page expressed her desire for developing a passion for the local community Warren Wilson College aims to serve.
“A lot of freshman coming in haven’t had time to look at what makes them passionate, what issues will be important to them,” Page said. “Because most people that go here are not from North Carolina, [they] are not interested in doing community service. Coming in as a freshman, it may take time to get that passion flowing and understand that this community can be their community.”
Many students agree that complete eradication of the service aspect of the Triad is not the proper outlet, but feel that, when combined with work and academics, service can be overwhelming. The Service Learning Crew members in particular feel the added stress.
“It’s a heavy load to carry that leg of the triad and still function as a student and as a server of the community and as a worker,” Baranda said.
Of the recognized colleges that constitute the Work College Consortium, Warren Wilson is the only one that features an interdisciplinary service requirement outside of the classroom.
This distinction carries a dichotomous weight: on one hand, Warren Wilson’s service requirement is distinct and difficult to mirror, while on the other hand many individual courses at other colleges require semester-long service of somewhere around 25 hours on average. So why aren’t other schools reevaluating their programs? If nothing is wrong with the current system, what could be done to improve its efficiency?
Baranda and Page suggested incorporating service into the classroom, as many other colleges do. While not an end-all solution, it would more likely cater the interests of the student if, similar to academic prerequisites, certain service requirements were instituted into each major. Allowing service relative to a student’s area of study is something that would solve the aforesaid problems of relating one’s service to their education and interests and educating each individual on the impact they make in their community.
Additionally, it was suggested that more students take advantage of service in their hometowns and cities. Kramer suggested the United Way as a starting point should one find service opportunities at home overwhelmingly difficult to find. The Service Learning Office is open for questions and encourages students to stop by with inquiries related to service.
Kramer, Page and Baranda wanted to emphasize that, “we’re not this evil office that’s trying to make you do service” and that “a lot of people are nervous about coming into our office,” when they shouldn’t be. Page suggested Administrative Assistant to the Dean of Service Learning Karen Kyle has a particular weakness for cookies, should students find the task of stopping by the office daunting.
Should the Service Learning Office find the intensive pool of information deem change necessary, a proposal will be submitted to the college in the 2011 fall semester. Pending approval, the Service Learning Office would then spend much of the 2012 spring semester on transition is- sues. Assuming all runs smoothly, the new service requirement would be implemented in the fall semester of 2012.