Maya Miller, AmeriCorps VISTA
In March, faculty members from universities across Montana came together to share their experiences and explore new academic service learning opportunities. Salish Kootenai College(SKC) recently hosted “Service Learning: Engaging Hearts and Minds”. For two days, faculty members from a wide variety of disciplines identified practical strategies for future coursework and shared success stories, while others learned about the benefits of academic service learning for the first time! Verdis Robinson, the director of National Campus Compact, visited Montana for the first time to attend SKC’s conference. He presented noteworthy programs across the United States and explained the ways in which both students and their communities reap clear benefits from service learning initiatives.
Engaging Hearts and Minds showcased the many exceptional partnerships that exist across Montana. Through my research, I have met with faculty members and discussed the programs they have created on their campuses. Universities across Montana have started to implement high impact practices (HIIP’s) into their core curriculum. High impact practices are experiential, interdisciplinary learning experiences that allow students to study a field beyond the scope of their classroom, and “have been shown to be beneficial for college students from many backgrounds” (George D. Kuh, 2008). These teaching styles target the skills local organizations need.
For example, Carroll College in Helena provides a noteworthy course called “Math in the Mountains”. This course collaborates with local businesses and organizations to identify the mathematical needs of day to day jobs. The course work is then tailored to teach students skills that directly benefit the needs of local and national organizations. The ability to apply knowledge learned in the classroom to the outside world makes students more successful in the workforce and in their day to day lives.
“The academic credit is for learning, not for service”. It is important for nonprofits to understand the credential aspect of academic service learning to ensure that students experience professional skill development (Peter Buchanan, Personal Communication 4/8/2019). Successful partnerships should be beneficial to both the university and the community partner with clear, established goals and expectations in place. As I continue to lead MNA’s academic service learning initiative, examples of service learning curriculum from our eight target communities similar to “Math in the Mountains” will be compiled into a toolkit of best practices for partnerships between universities and nonprofits. This toolkit aims to provide higher education institutions with strategies for building strong, sustainable partnerships with nonprofits. These nonprofit partnerships encourage the expansion of academic service learning programs across Montana.
If you, or your organization, is interested in helping us discover more great programs, we would greatly appreciate your participation in our academic service learning survey. Stay tuned to find out what academic service learning programs are going on across Montana!