The benefits of service-learning for both students and the community have resulted in the rapid expansion of service-learning programs on college campuses across the nation.
"I started a service-learning project when I was 17 years old and have been passionate about involvement in real and defined community needs ever since," says Des Marais, who has 16 years of experience in education and non-profits and maintains an adjunct faculty position at the Minnesota School of Business and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, this growth is mainly due to the powerful impact service learning has on participants, both students and in the community. In the service-learning process, students work with others, applying what they learn and reflecting on their experience. The combination of action and contemplation results in a deeper understanding of the community and increased skills for the student, and often achieves real objectives for community or business participants as well. Sometimes these experiences are part of a classroom assignment for credit, and other times they are strictly about community service and volunteerism.
These varied motives are the reason Anoka-Ramsey is approaching the program from a civic-learning perspective initially. Des Marais will facilitate partnerships with faculty members who are giving students credit-based assignments in the community, as well as with students and employees who want to volunteer or organizations seeking volunteers or interns.
The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement reports that the Midwest region touts the highest volunteer rate in the nation among people ages 19 to 25 with college experience.
A 2006 study by the Center showed services included a wide range of activities for a wide variety of organizations. Examples of activities included tutoring, teaching and mentoring; general labor and transportation; fundraising and selling to raise funds; food, craft or clothing collection, preparation, distribution and service; artistic, musical and theatrical performances; general office services; counseling, medical care and protective services; and professional and management assistance.
The types of community organizations that participated in civic learning projects were equally diverse, ranging from religious community service to children's educational, sports and recreational activities to healthcare and to businesses.
Civic learning has occurred at Anoka-Ramsey for years. Once such example is the collaborative field research project initiated by Anoka-Ramsey biology faculty member, Jennifer Braido. In this project, Braido's students collected data on park raptors for three months, prepared a project proposal, developed a hypothesis and presented their findings. Des Marais will assist with documenting existing projects, such as the raptor project, and finding new needs and opportunities to organize a comprehensive program.
"I am here to work with faculty, staff and the community to make service the common experience of all Anoka-Ramsey students and to increase the college's connection with the community through the involvement of as many students as possible," says Des Marais.
Any business or community agency interested in working with Anoka-Ramsey students, faculty and staff may contact Des Marais at 763-433-1674.