By Brandon Gillet
You probably know about the many extracurricular volunteer opportunities offered through the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement. But did you know that the centre has a program that offers opportunities to help a community-based organization as part of your coursework?
Community Service Learning (CSL) offers stimulating volunteer placements— as well as course credits. In other words, students not only engage in valuable experiential learning but also make progress toward their degree.
CSL program staff at the Michaëlle Jean Centre work with professors to create 30-hour community placements that students can do instead of writing an exam or completing a course project. Students must produce reflections on the experience, so professors can gauge what they are learning.
“It’s a credited educational experience, with placements pre-approved by a professor,” said Alexandra Baril, manager of community engagement at the centre. “Where the CSL option is offered, any student can apply for a placement.”
Last year, the program offered 2,000 placements in 147 courses across seven faculties.
“A placement is intricately tied to a particular course,” Baril explained. “For example, an introduction to social services course will offer placements related to frontline service work. Or students in a fourth-year Telfer course on corporate social responsibility will work with organizations to develop relevant strategies.”
Telfer professor Daina Mazutis, who teaches a course on ethics and sustainability, says CSL placements allow students to put into practice core concepts from the course. “Students can apply strategic consulting skills to a project with a meaningful impact,” she said. “It’s immensely motivating and rewarding to think that their work might one day help our community partners achieve their sustainability goals.”
In most cases, students can choose either the CSL or regular course option. Sometimes, such as in the two-year education program, a CSL teacher education practicum is a mandatory.
Applying for a placement is a multi-step process facilitated by centre staff, who give presentations on the program to participating classes. Supervisors in the community organizations support students during the placement, with the help of centre staff and professors.
The benefits don’t stop in the classroom — students can also add the experience to their centre-issued Co-curricular Record of volunteer work. Participants have used their Co-curricular Record when applying for scholarships, graduate studies and even jobs, Baril says.
Michelle Tabor, now doing a master’s in social services at uOttawa, completed three CSL placements during her bachelor’s. These included placements at a seniors’ residence and with an association for children with special needs.
“My service learning experiences allowed me to discover different resources in the nation’s capital,” she said. “Indeed, by being exposed to the non-profit sector, where you always have to do more with less, I learned how to be creative and to adapt.”
Marie-Ève Chartrand, a conflict studies student, worked for three hours a week in the office of a senator last spring as part of an organizational communications course (CMN2548). She worked with the senator’s staff to conduct research and craft communications strategies.
“I was thrilled to have enjoyed such privileged access to Canada’s political arena and to gain valuable research skills, which have also helped me set goals,” she said.
The program also benefits the community partners for whom students work, including some at the University. For example, students placed with the Office of Campus Sustainability drafted a plan to turn uOttawa’s empty rooftops into green spaces.
“The program essentially connects the dots between what students are learning in the classroom with what’s actually happening in the community,” Baril said. “It also allows them to build their networks, dive deeper into their learning and, of course, gain work experience.”
Watch out in November for the winter 2018 course list.
Learn more: Community Service Learning