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What's a service learning program?

Oklahoma City University’s service learning program became a part of the general education requirements for all undergraduate students in Fall 2003. Since its beginning, OCU students have donated over $1 million in services to more than 60 community organizations. It's an integral part of the student experience at OCU. But what exactly is service learning, and why is it important? We asked Dr. Mark Davies and student Addison Saviers to share their unique experiences with the program:

Dr. Mark Davies, Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics

Dr. Mark Davies

Q: What is your role with the service learning program?

A: I am the Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility, and I oversee the service learning program at Oklahoma City University. I help recruit faculty to teach service learning classes and oversee the evaluation of the program.

Q: How has the program evolved over the years?

A: Service learning started as a pilot program in 2002 with three courses funded by a grant from the Kerr Foundation. The next year, it became an ongoing program, and since 2004, service learning has been a requirement of the general education curriculum, and every undergraduate student completes at least one service learning component before graduation.

Q: What kind of projects are happening this semester?

A: We have ongoing projects with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma (Food Ethics and Environmental Ethics) and Commonwealth Urban Farms (Food Ethics and Environmental Ethics). We work with Blue Thumb to test water quality in our Biology program. Our Dance program works with Positive Tomorrows School to provide Halloween costumes for children experiencing homelessness. Our nursing students have worked with a number of community clinics to provide healthcare assistance to the surrounding community. Our World Religions courses partner with the Buddha Mind Monastery, the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, the Jewish community, and the Interfaith Alliance to promote interfaith service and understanding. Our biology program has also included service learning in their study travel trip to Alaska.

Q: What adjustments had to be made last semester?

A: This past year, much of our service had to be online, supporting organizations through social media, online educational programs, and other ways to promote the mission and work of the service partner organizations.

Service learning students from BIOL 2851 working on stream assessment

Q: Why was it important to ensure the program was able to continue?

A: Service learning provides an important way for students to apply what they are learning through service in a community-based setting. This experiential learning helps the students see how what they are learning has an impact on the world and community around them. The work also benefits the important mission of our community partners to help make Oklahoma City a more flourishing community.

Q: What have you enjoyed most about the program?

It has been a joy to hear so many students talk about how meaningful service learning has been in the experience at OCU. It truly helps OCU fulfill its mission of promoting both scholarship and service.

Addison Saviers, Senior Religious Education Major

Addison Saviers

Q: What projects have you been involved with?

A: I have been involved in several service learning classes, including Environmental Ethics, Ministry with Children and Families, Honors World Religions, and Food Ethics, just to name a few. Some of the projects I have been involved with are volunteering at Exodus House OKC with children and their families, creating a promotional video for Commonwealth Urban Farms, volunteering with various religious organizations to showcase at OCU’s World Religions fair, and raising money for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

Q: What have you enjoyed most about the program?

A: Being given opportunities for meaningful involvement with the local community and interacting with people/organizations that I would not know existed if it weren’t for this program. I appreciate interacting with people of diverse cultures and lifestyles as well as having an increased civic responsibility to care for those in my own community.

Q: Do you feel like it has better prepared you for your future after graduation?

A: I absolutely feel that OCU’s service learning program has better prepared me for my future post-graduation. Service learning gives extremely valuable career experience and guidance as well as makes students more competitive candidates for a variety of jobs, graduate programs, and all-around beneficial work experience. I also feel that the hands-on skills I used during the program increased my knowledge and application of academic coursework, something that I value moving forward.

Q: Why was it important that the program continue despite COVID-19?

A: The program has so much to offer both students and the supporting organizations even without a “full” experience. Like I stated previously, I would not know some of these organizations existed without the service learning program. With decreased ability to be out-and-about in OKC these past semesters, I would have had no clue these organizations existed, let alone be able to help support their missions. Additionally, COVID-19 has brought upon new challenges that service learning programs can help support. My current service learning course, Food Ethics, is helping the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma raise money and food supplies, which has doubled in need since the start of the pandemic with folks out of work and experiencing food scarcity. OCU’s service learning program is vital to pairing students with community organizations that allow for both meaningful community involvement as well as commitment to service, one of OCU’s values.

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