For 25 years, the Office of Community Service Learning has been connecting Redlands students to an ever widening array of opportunities to grow and learn through service. It doesn’t matter what their majors are, what clubs they are in, or what sports they play—at the University of Redlands, every student is united in service.
By Catherine Garcia ’06
Illustrations by James McClung
Since the University’s founding, giving back to the community has been part of the fabric of campus life. This year, the Office of Community Service Learning (CSL) is celebrating its 25th anniversary, as committed as ever to its mission of recognizing and promoting the educational benefits of learning through service, encouraging University of Redlands students to build healthier, stronger communities. The CSL office oversees several different programs and projects, including Community Service Learning Activity Courses (CSAC), volunteer outreach, work study and America Reads, children’s programs, gardeners in residence, and spring and May Term service travel excursions. Throughout the year, it also hosts special events, like the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
“It’s been a privilege to work at a university that values serving the community so much that it requires it as part of the undergraduate experience,” Director Tony Mueller says. “We would not be able to introduce students to the non-profit agencies and schools if our local partners didn’t also believe in having college students participate in civic engagement and for that we are very grateful.”
During the 2015-2016 school year, students logged 120,634 hours of service. Some of the hours were fulfilled individually, and others by Greek organizations and clubs working together during service projects.
Part of the culture
Service is “such a part of the culture,” Associate Director Erin Sanborn says. “Students have always been heavily involved, and recognize the importance of serving the community and being connected. They are accomplishing things they want to see happen.”
Before there was the Office of Community Service Learning, the University launched the Office of Community Service in 1989. Open part-time, it was housed in a storage room in Willis Center, and primarily connected students with volunteer opportunities. In 1990, after a year of food drives, AIDS awareness programs and getting a campus recycling program off the ground, Associate Dean of Students Joe McGill, ASUR President Vonda Koch and Johnston Complex Director Chris Fullerton received a Fund for the Improvement of Secondary Education (FIPSE) grant. With that funding, the University was able to open a full time Office of Community Service, connecting students with work study job placements at nonprofits and schools. Mueller was hired as its first director in 1991.
Hundreds of work-study jobs had been created by 1993, and Mueller developed something new, a class called “Into the Streets” that encouraged students to make a difference through service. The name of the office was changed to Office of Community Service Learning, and in 1994, it became a requirement for University students to enroll in a 3-unit CSAC course, selecting and contracting to serve a nonprofit agency or school.
“We’ve had ongoing support from our university presidents, alumni and great friends of the University who help us proceed with our programs each year,” Mueller says. “We’ve had a lot of recognition for the quality of our student-led programs from Washington, D.C., and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, so considering we started out in a one-room storeroom in 1991, we’ve come a long way. With service, there’s just always a lot to be done and we intend to be a part it. It makes absolute sense to include college students in the process.”
Anthony DiMartino ’11 was involved with the CHAMPS program while he was at U of R, and was a recipient of the Taylor Family Community Service Award. Today he is a California State Assembly fellow, working as a legislative aide to Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D).
A memorable CSL moment: “The smiles on the faces of other volunteers and the kids that I worked with always reminded me that no matter where you are in your life, you can always make a difference.”
How CSL shaped him: “My work is all about relationships and connecting with people. Through my opportunities to serve at Redlands, I gained valuable experience and met amazing people that challenged me and nurtured my ability to empathize and build relationships.”
80 hours to engage
“We value the relationship we have with our partners in the community and Inland Empire,” Sanborn says. “They really understand our program and what our students are doing. They have 80 hours to have an engaging experience, and hopefully bring their skills to the agencies.”
Students are able to utilize their skills at agencies that may not have a lot of resources; graphic design students can help create logos and websites, while students interested in communications can work on newsletters or social media. They work with a variety of schools and organizations, including those that help animals, children, the homeless and the hungry.
“Every student who serves evaluates the agency, so we get feedback for the student experience there,” Sanborn says. “There’s a lot of talk about volunteering, but that’s not really what CSAC service at Redlands is about; it’s really about the learning component and reflection and critically thinking about what you’re doing and how you’ve contributed. Sometimes they have a negative experience, when the agency isn’t true to their mission or the student doesn’t understand what they’re doing, and that’s a great discussion. The goal of our office is to make the connection.”
Tianna Langham ’97, a screenwriter and filmmaker, focuses on true stories with a social justice angle—she has put the spotlight on the refugee crisis in Australia, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and discrimination against the Dalit population in India.
A memorable CSL moment: “I organized a concert with a popular local band called Sages of Memphis to benefit children in need. We had a great turnout and raised a bunch of money. It was a wonderful and deeply rewarding endeavor.”
How CSL shaped her: “Tony gave me a lot of freedom to explore my ideas and interests within the scope of service. The experience inspired me to think deeply about what I wanted to do with my life and make sure it was something I would continue to love throughout it.”
The academic angle
“Our faculty often build service into their courses as a vehicle to teach and learn,” Mueller says.
“It can be a win-win-win relationship. The agency receives service and the students learn about critical issues and problems that can be addressed and even solved in our community.”
Philosophy professor Kathie Jenni has taught an experimental course in animal ethics for 15 years, combining a seminar ethics with hands-on work at animal shelters and trips to a horse sanctuary, wolf rescue and wildlife rehabilitation center. Student interest led Jenni to initiate the creation of the University’s human-animal studies program, and she credits Mueller with inspiring her to combine academics with an experiential component.
“He knew that many students were hungry for such an experience and knew that I might
be able to make it happen,” she says. “Doing so has changed my teaching and scholarship dramatically, and the experience has been profoundly important to my students.”
Several students have used the course as a springboard to internships at rescues and sanctuaries they visited during class trips, while others have gone on to work in animal rescue and care.
Liliana Narvaez ’95 was the Office of Community Service’s first intern. Narvaez has spent 20 years with the Los Angeles Unified School District, and today
is the principal of an elementary school in Highland Park.
A memorable CSL moment: “As a first year student in the field of education, I was involved with Redlands Day Nursery for my fieldwork. I created an event in which the preschoolers and the staff were invited to trick-or-treat on campus. Students greeted the youngsters and distributed treats.”
How CSL shaped her: “Listening to, learning with and understanding leads one in the direction of being purposeful in one’s work. It is also important for me to build the capacity of those in the community through leadership. The only real way to know that leadership has been effective is if it continues in some form in the community once the initial leader is gone.”
Children’s programs are always popular with students, with some spending all four years participating in such programs as Jasper’s Corner, a homework tutoring group; Roots & Shoots, an after-school program dedicated to teaching kids about animals and the environment; and CHAMPS, which mentors high school students.
“Some of the children in our first programs are now nearing middle-age,” Mueller says. “Some of our first Little Buddies are getting close to 40 years old and we hope that they remember they came from a community where the hometown college wanted them to succeed and further their education regardless of where they ended up.”
Each Community Service Learning program has a student director, who oversees running the operation and assumes a great number of responsibilities.
“We have a really strong student staff,” Sanborn says. “We empower them to make decisions for their programs, and sometimes the work they do while here is pretty phenomenal, in addition to their academic course load and work study opportunities. They’re working with parents, developing policies and training mentors, and it’s incredible.”
Vice President and Dean of Student Life Char Burgess has watched the Office of Community Service Learning grow, and says the students and staff fully embrace their motto of “Learn from yesterday, serve today and change tomorrow.”
“Because we have such a strong Community Service office, we draw people to the University who are service-oriented,” she says. “People who enjoy helping people, and people who are committed to making this world a better place. That makes our institution better because, after all, an institution is made up of its people.”
James McClung, illustrator
The illustrations that accompany this article are by James McClung, a Redlands based artist whose mural work appears on walls around town—including The State, Parliament Chocolate, Augie’s Coffee warehouse and The Orange Space.
For these illustrations (based on actual photos), McClung used a mix of ink and gouache on paper stained with coffee (from Augie’s). The bold shapes represent different themes—the square indicating structure, the circle symbolizing the mind and the sunburst showing growth—that emerged for McClung as he thought about community service learning at Redlands.
To see more of McClung’s art, go to www.jamesmcclungart.com.