It is the mission of Saint Anselm College to provide students with an educational experience that will encourage them to "lead lives that are both creative and generous." The college combines Catholic and liberal arts traditions to produce students who actively seek truth and "challenge resourcefully both personal and social problems." One educational strategy for accomplishing the college's mission is service learning, which invites students to apply their classroom knowledge to address real community needs.
The History of Service Learning at Saint Anselm
Service learning began at Saint Anselm in the fall of 1988 in a social work class entitled Social Welfare (now Poverty and Public Policy.) The learning option was designed to allow students the option to perform 20 hours of direct service in an agency serving low income clients, and to link their experience to course content through a journal and paper. With input from the academic dean, the following service learning criteria were established:
- Service learning would be an educational option, not a course requirement.
- Service learning would represent a relatively small portion of the final grade (10-20%).
- A significant feature of the final evaluation of service learning would be the application and integration of academic content.
- Reflection would be included as part of the experience.
These criteria have served as the framework for all subsequent service learning on campus. Service learning immediately proved to be a valuable educational tool, with multiple benefits, and it was quickly expanded to the other three social work courses.
In the fall of 1989 the social work instructor, Professor Dan Forbes, was asked to direct the newly formed Center for Volunteers (now named Meelia Center for Community Engagement). The center's work opened dozens of new doors for students to engage in significant service in the community, and that encouraged more faculty to consider experiential learning for their courses.
In the spring of 2008 the Meelia Center coordinated service learning for 20 Saint Anselm faculty who taught 19 courses (27 sections) in 11 academic departments. Despite the broad scope of the program, individual service learners and the agencies they serve, receive appropriate attention and support. The Meelia Center is able to provide that support through the able assistance of its student leadership corps.
Student coordination of community relationships was introduced in 1992. In the fall of 2004, the center began training all of its on site student coordinators to intentionally support the academic connections to the service experience. Student coordinators now actively assist student learning through careful assignment of service roles linked to learning goals and the facilitation of site-based reflections.