What We Do

What Is Service Learning?

Service Learning in the Liberal Studies Division

An Introduction

 In the personal realm, most Americans are thoughtful, caring, generous.  We try to do our best by family and friends. At times we’ll stop to help another driver stranded with a roadside breakdown, or give some spare change to a stranger.  But increasingly, a wall now separates each of us from the world outside, and from others who’ve likewise taken refuge in their own private sanctuaries.  We’ve all but forgotten that public participation is the very soul of democratic citizenship, and how much it can enrich our lives.  

Paul Loeb

When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.

Congressman John Lewis

MIAD has been providing a service-learning opportunity for students for twenty-one years. 

We have seen that learning occurs through active participation and thoughtfully organized service opportunities – including the opportunity for deep and thoughtful reflection.  As a form of experiential education, Service-Learning at MIAD offers students the opportunity to explore and address community issues and needs.   It is particularly well suited for art and design students — who are already practiced in working in this manner.  

Here are some vital motivations and objectives for service-learning:

  • Service-learning reinforces the idea that learning is “transformational” rather than merely “transactional.”
  • New learning interacts with what students already know to transform and deepen their understanding of course materials and community work. When students apply what they know, they develop a more authentic connection with the material and a richer understanding of how academic principles can be put to practical purposes.
  • Students and the college develop a presence in a larger community than just that of school – both students and their school become a more visible and dynamic part of the communities that they inhabit. As such, students are exploring a much more vital model for citizenship and leadership.
  • Service Learning provides authentic preparation for assuming the responsibilities of citizenship; students develop civic literacy through this form of education.

MIAD and Service Learning

  • As part of the humanities curriculum, service-learning is the “capstone” of a student’s study of the humanities and social sciences while at MIAD.  This curriculum, which begins in the 2nd semester of a student’s first-year experience is focused on addressing human and community issues and needs.  It is also focused on social justice.
  • The number of service hours exceeds national averages  – at the various conferences we have attended from the Collaboration to Campus Compact meetings, to Higher Learning Commission conferences, the average is somewhere between 15 and 25 hours. At 35, we exceed those averages, and organizations who have to train volunteers appreciate the commitment of time our students make.
  • Service completed in this course is a required institutional commitment, not an elective. As such, it enacts MIAD’s value for creating responsible and prepared citizens who will take a role as artists or designers in the cultural life of the city.
  • Students may utilize their art and design talents at their placements which causes them to think more deeply about the role that their art and design skills could play in community change and development. While any request for students to provide art or design-related service is vetted to prevent exploitation of their talents, students often perform art or design-related activities on sites that provide beneficial service to the community partners being served. 

Consequences of Service Learning

  • Increased visibility of our students and academic programming around the city.  Students have often been connected with job offers, continued volunteer opportunities, and internships.
  • Professional Development. Due to Service-Learning experiences, students have enhanced prospects for graduate school and job applications – a number have had positive responses to graduate school applications and job applications; hiring and admissions committees cited the service-learning experience as a distinction.
  • Service-Learning benefits faculty as well. Faculty have cited feeling re-vitalized about the role of education; they are provided with the opportunity to craft and teach an upper-level humanities / social sciences elective. They also build their relationship with community partners. Further, they are tapped into a network of like-minded educators who see the possibilities for challenging our students to take a more active role in learning (and to challenge ourselves in that direction as well).
  • Institutional Change. The integration of Service Learning into the curriculum has contributed to an institutional transformation that has featured a growing focus on civic engagement, issues of environmental literacy, sustainability, and social justice. There has been a consequent rise in student involvement on campus and off through campus activities and volunteerism. Service-Learning plays a pivotal role in anchoring different parts of the curriculum throughout divisions and in providing a fulcrum for student experiences.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about service learning at MIAD!

Professor Leslie Fedorchuk, Director of Service Learning

(I want to thank MIAD Professor Barbara McLaughlin
who wrote the first iteration of this essay.)