Service Learning is a method of teaching that allows students to implement classroom knowledge into a real-world situation to benefit the community. Members of the Service Learning Academy engage nonprofit organizations to learn about community trends, emerging issues, and opportunities for a collaborative connection to bring students and faculty into some effort the community organization is working on.
Data shows students who participate in service learning do better in class, have higher retention rates, and are better prepared for the workforce. Through service learning, students have the opportunity to apply what is taught in the classroom to serve the community in a meaningful way.
One example Sather noted involved students from the College of Information Science & Technology (IS&T). Students were brought into a school where free and reduced meals were served. But the people overseeing the meal program had to track by hand how many kids and which kids participated.
“The IS&T people figured out how to do card swipes for these kids and then figured out, based on a number, how may were entitled to this benefit,” Sather said. “It was pretty slick and that would cost a fortune if you hired someone to do that. So they appreciated that.”
One of the keys to the Service Learning Academy’s success has been viewing community partners as equals. Community and organizational leaders have a wealth of knowledge acquired through living and working in their communities. Getting a glimpse into these community experiences and challenges serves as an important learning opportunity for service learning students.
A group of UNO students studying to become teachers had one such experience that stuck out to Sather. The university students prepared presentation boards to teach area students about Martin Luther King Jr. Kids from various after school programs across the city were invited, as well as youngsters from local homeless shelters.
“There was all this food: fried chicken, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese, and all these smells. The after school kids came in from all over the city and said, ‘What’s for lunch?'” Sather recalled.
“Then the kids came in from the homeless shelter and this little boy looked up, I’ll never forget it, and he said, ‘Are we gonna eat today?’”
“The university students were shocked. The university professor said, ‘OK, you get it right? That’s a whole different question, with a whole different set of assumptions. He doesn’t assume he’s going to eat today. He doesn’t eat every day.’”
“They were speechless,” Sather said. “I knew they were never going to forget this.”
In 2014, the Weitz Foundation established the Paul Sather directorship for the Service Learning Academy. Sather is retired in June 2017. The directorship includes an endowment, which includes discretionary funds for things that still have value to the Service Learning Academy, but do not fit within any established program. The fund has already been used to bring in two women from Honduras who are traveling the country sharing stories and songs about the oppression they experienced in their home country. Sather hopes the fund will be used similarly in the future.
Campus Commitment to Engagement
Community engagement and service are fundamental components of UNO's identity. This commitment to engagement is reflected in UNO's academics, student body, partnerships, and institutional framework. As an engaged campus, UNO values mutually-beneficial partnerships where information and expertise is shared and applied for the common good.
Share Your Story
Did you organize or participate in a community-oriented project or service? UNO wants to hear from you! UNO is committed to community engagement in its broadest form, and wants to feature your community service story.