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Published: Sunday, 7/31/2005

Service projects infuse civics with campus life

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Stefan Faerber, a Defiance College senior, says he enjoyed his service project so much he continued it beyond its scope. Stefan Faerber, a Defiance College senior, says he enjoyed his service project so much he continued it beyond its scope.
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College student Stefan Faerber has never taken the time to tally up all the volunteer hours he's worked on service projects while at Defiance College.

There were weeks of travel in Guatemala and Cambodia. And the hours spent snapping photographs of Guatemalan landmarks and schoolchildren, pictures he eventually used for producing two books. Now, he's selling one of the books and sending the proceeds - about $5,000 so far - back to the same Guatemalan school.

"This was kind of extra," Mr. Faerber, 21, said of his efforts. "My original proposal said I'd create some type of educational material for them. But I really fell in love with the project and wanted to keep going with it."

Service projects like his are increasing in popularity on college campuses across the nation. Campus Contact, a nonprofit group that studied volunteer time offered by college students and time required by colleges as part of service-learning instruction, estimates this free "civic engagement" was worth an estimated $4.45 billion to communities worldwide last year alone.

It's a staggering figure, but one that doesn't surprise many college officials and students who've experienced the benefits of having a campus community focused on service. The volunteer push reflects a change in direction for higher-learning institutions, experts said.

"I would say the fundamental reason for that is we've discovered [volunteer service] is good education," said Gerald Wood, president of Defiance College, which is considered a national leader in service-learning programs for students. "But second, I think there's a growing understanding in the nation that this is something that's needed, that's lacking."

Mr. Wood added that the type of service work being performed is changing as well, from those one-time instances of picking up trash for a day to the longer-term humanitarian missions of building homes or working to improve the economies of impoverished countries. Defiance College, for example, has created its own school of humanity that focuses on improving the lives of others.

"The movement itself has really progressed," Mr. Wood said. "It's way beyond the community service of go out and sweep the street."

Based on responses from more than 400 colleges and universities, Campus Compact's survey found a strong five-year trend of increases in civic engagement activities among U.S. colleges and universities. Specifically, the percentage of institutions with an office dedicated to coordinating such service efforts rose to 92 percent last year, up from 75 percent in 2000.

There were increases in other key areas as well, including the number of full-time faculty members per campus teaching service-learning courses or classes that include service as part of the curriculum. That number jumped to 40 percent, up from just 14 percent.

Dane Copti, an assistant professor of business at Lourdes College in Sylvania, is one of those instructors who requires a volunteer service component from his students. For example, those enrolled in a 400-level business ethics class are required to work in the community and write a paper about it as part of their grade.

The Lourdes business ethics students spend part of the semester - during their own time, not class time - volunteering at local schools through the Junior Achievement program.

There, they sit down with youths and play games that convey messages about things like money, business, and marketing.

The experience is invaluable to the college-aged students, Mr. Copti said, in part because they continue to learn as they teach.

"One thing I find with my students is an experience like that really rounds them," he said.

The individual hours given on campuses and the money raised by some volunteer efforts also can be impressive. At the University of Toledo, which on Sept. 19 will celebrate its first outreach and engagement week in school history, volunteers logged more than 6,000 hours of community service in a year. And that estimate is low because it does not yet include hours worked by members of student organizations, said Sudershan Pasupuletti, the service learning and engagement director at UT.

Bowling Green State University students raise several hundred thousands of dollars each year for charity as part of one fund-raiser alone, the Dance Marathon that's held every March. BGSU also is in the midst of establishing a faculty recognition and reward system as it relates to community engagement.

In northwest Ohio, some of the same schools have formed a consortium and plan to hold regular meetings - the next one is at Defiance College in October - to discuss issues related to volunteer service learning. The consortium includes Lourdes, BGSU, UT, Defiance, Ohio Northern University, Mercy College of Northwest Ohio, the University of Findlay, Heidelberg College, and Owens Community College.

Torie Front, associate director of Ohio's Campus Compact, said northwest Ohio is a leader in the state with the consortium, which she hopes will help in developing ways to incorporate classroom service learning into a wider ranger of disciplines. Results of the group's work will be shared across the state, she said. For other students, though, service work was not introduced and instilled in the college classroom.

Richie Martin, 22, a recent graduate of Heidelberg College in Tiffin, organized an annual Relay for Life event on his campus years ago. A cancer survivor who battled non-Hodgkin's lymphoma as a teenager, Mr. Martin said he started the local event because he saw a need for it on the campus.

Mr. Wood said he believes today's college-age students like Mr. Martin are reflective of the new "millennial generation," or Generation Y.

He said they tend to be people who want to work in groups and also have a concern for family and community.

Mr. Martin said he was driven to volunteering partly because of his experience with cancer and a larger part because of his parents' involvement in community work.

"It's a part of my life. When I was in school, I wasn't doing it for class [credit]," Mr. Martin said. "I was doing it because I thought it was important."

Contact Kim Bates at: kimbates@theblade.com or 419-724-6074.



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