David K. Scott was Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, 1993-2001.
This is an archive of the Chancellor's Web site during his tenure.

UMass Office of the Chancellor

Filling in the Moat around the Ivory Tower

By Vachel W. Miller and David K. Scott

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Over the past one hundred and fifty years, higher education in America has undergone fundamental changes. After a long emphasis on teaching, the idea of service to society re-oriented higher education in the mid 19th century, highlighted by the creation of the land-grant universities. Then, over the last century and particularly after the Second World War, the focus shifted toward research, and academic subspecialties proliferated. Now the university finds itself with a tri-partite mission and a sprawling accumulation of autonomous units–a multiversity–with no deeper forces of integration guiding its evolution. The splintered forms of inquiry we have inherited from the past do not serve well those who live in a world in which complex problems are not neatly packaged according to academic disciplines.

In response to the fragmentation of our era, the third transformation of higher education, we submit, will involve the formation of the Integrative University, with deep dialogue among disciplines and rich connection with diverse constituencies in government, business, and communities. In this pending transformation, the university will become a more dynamically networked ecology of learning.

One of the most fundamental questions we face as we enter the twenty-first century is this: how can we preserve what is best of our pluralistic society while overcoming the fragmented human isolation of modernity? At the University of Massachusetts, we believe that we can answer that question, not through a return to the past or through a descent into relativism or nihilism, but through the bold step of embracing the complexity of our world–by creating new methods of inquiry for dealing with our seemingly intractable social problems and finding new forms of learning that can foster both community and diversity.

The Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land Grant Universities recently introduced the idea of the Engaged University (Kellogg Commission, 1999), a concept closely related to the Integrative University. For a university to become deeply engaged with society, which is central to the idea of service learning, we believe society must also be engaged with the university. There must be outreach and inreach. But the engagement is more likely if the university is also engaged internally--across disciplines, across cultures, across organizational units. As the barriers are overcome in one dimension, it becomes easier to cross the boundaries in other dimensions. Often we tend to tackle each boundary in isolation, whereas we actually need to unfreeze the organization and let it flow to a new level. This movement of energy and ideas across old boundaries is what we mean by filling in the moat around the ivory tower and creating an Integrative University.

The most promising pedagogical practice for the formation of the Integrative University may prove to be service learning. This chapter will briefly outline the contours of the Integrative University, then discuss the role of service learning in preparing students for engaged citizenship in an integrative age. We will describe the structure of service learning at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, focusing on several innovative service learning programs.

Creating Conversations and Social Capital

At a recent conference on spirituality in higher education and worklife held here, poet David Whyte and organizational visionaries Margaret Wheately and Peter Senge spoke about the power of conversations as a force of change: conversations bring us together to share worldviews, concerns, and visions for the future. Change leaders are those who know how to convene communities around conversations of shared significance.

One hallmark of the Integrative University will be conversations that flow in all directions, across all institutional boundaries–both within the university and between the campus and the community. Service learning is one catalyst for such conversations, since students move between classroom-based and practice-based learning about issues of common concern. "What does your world look like?" is a fundamental question service learning teaches students to ask, a fundamental question of deep dialogue.

The value of connections forged by service learning is underscored by the concept of social capital. Social capital refers to the level of reciprocity and voluntary associations between individuals in a community. A good stock of social capital makes it more likely that people in a community will assist each other in times of need and trust each other in business dealings. Thus, social capital is seen as foundational to economic prosperity (Fukuyama, 1995). In the United States, many analysts feel social capital is lacking due to the decline of voluntary association in communities (Putnam, 1995). In his recent book, The Fourth Awakening, Robert Fogel (2000) writes that the most intractable maldistribution of resources in rich countries like the U.S. are in the realm of spiritual and immaterial assets, which are the central assets in the struggle for self-realization, self-confidence, self-esteem and a vision of opportunity.

Social capital accrues as a result of engagement, and service learning increases the potential of relationships to form between students and the larger world. As pointed out by Eyler and Giles (1999), service learning connects people in multiple ways: student to student, student to campus, student to faculty, student to community, and community to university. Service learning, then, can be seen as a key means by which universities can enrich themselves and their surrounding communities by expanding the stock of available social capital.

One of the most direct benefits of service learning is students’ encounters with difference. In service learning studies, students consistently note that service learning brings them into contact with people whom they would not otherwise meet. Service experiences encourage students to confront their generalizations about people different than themselves (Rhoads, 1997). Thus, service has the potential to transform stereotypes and biases. Research on altruistic behavior offers a further insight into the impact of service: we value those we help and are more likely to help them in the future (Staub, 1989). Learning to value others, students who serve often develop life-long service orientations. They enjoy the positive feelings of self-worth that result from service (Eyler & Giles, 1999). Caring about the welfare of others becomes part of what they value in themselves: service can "compel students to rethink their lives in terms of connection and relationships with others" (Rhoads, 1997, p. 94).

In a society marked by persistent racial and ethnic divides, this is an important outcome of service. According to a comprehensive study of over 3,000 students by the Higher Education Research Institute, an increase in civic responsibility was one of the strongest changes associated with service learning (Sax & Astin, 1997). Students with service experiences had a strengthened commitment to promoting racial understanding and participating in community action programs. In a longitudinal study, the same researchers found that, regardless of pre-college service experiences, service in college was positively associated with life-long commitment to volunteerism and community action.

In the Integrative University, preparing students for positive social engagement must become a more intentional goal. It would be naïve to imagine that students, after years of schooling that disconnects them from community life, would leap into community service after graduation. In order for a service-orientation to become an enduring dimension of learning outcomes in college, we must model community engagement, value community engagement, and provide structured opportunities for community engagement. In short, without service learning, it is unlikely that students will learn to serve.

Learning for an Integrative Age

Service learning develops in students the learning arts of an integrative age. Traditional pedagogies in western universities have assumed that motivation to learn arises from the desire for individual achievement, mastery, or economic gain. In contrast, service learning emphasizes that learning occurs in community. This position is gaining support from studies of learning in organizations. Cognitive researchers now believe that the social context of learning is critical because we learn what enables us to contribute to a community, a community which values our activity and informs our identity (Wenger, 1998). Against the institutionalized bias toward individualized learning, runs a strong desire for learning in community, for reciprocal relationships, for partnership.

Historically, the national mood and with it, organizational culture, swings between periods of community caring and periods of great individual selfishness. In The Cycles of American History, Schlessinger (1986) describes this phenomenon as shifts between centralization and diffusion of energy. He was building on an idea of his father in an essay entitled "Tides of America Politics" (Schlessinger, 1939). From 1765 onwards, there have been periods of community ascendancy, lasting for about 16 years, followed by comparable periods of individual ascendancy. These swings transcend political parties and reflect reactions of society to either extreme.

During this century, for example, Roosevelt’s accession in 1901 heralded the sweep of reform measures comprising the Progressive Era and the Square Deal. Another two cycles of community ascendancy were the New Deal in the ‘30s and the New Frontier/Great Society in the ‘60s. Schlessinger (1986) predicted that, at some time in the ‘90s, another burst of innovation and reform would take place. The rhetoric of reform is certainly present. President Bush called for a "kinder, gentler nation," and Clinton spoke of a "new covenant with society." Today we hear about "compassionate conservatism." Slogans, by themselves, are merely "words marching across the landscape in search of an idea." The idea may be discernible on college campuses, which are often the bellwethers of imminent transformation.

In the book, When Dreams and Heroes Died: A Portrait of Today’s College Student, Levine (1980) also describes periods in universities and colleges of community ascendancy which are future-oriented and ascetic, and periods of individual ascendancy which are more present-oriented and hedonistic, more concerned with duty to self than to others. In a more recent work, Levine and Cureton (1998) analyze student activism during the century by using data gathered from measures of organizational strength, viability of student publications, and participation in demonstrations. The high points of these movements coincide with the swings in national mood described earlier. These historical cycles predict that we should now be in a period of community ascendancy; but this time, a greater transformation may take place. As Tarnas (1991) has suggested, humanity may be gathering for a climatic denouement, a unification of knowledge, of cultures, of faith and reason, of matter and spirituality, of art and science and religion, which have been increasingly fragmented and separated for almost 300 years. In light of collective frustration with such fragmentation, transformative perspectives on higher education have attracted great interest (see, for example, Kazanjian and Laurence, 2000). People everywhere are searching for greater meaning, wholeness and relatedness in their lives and in their interactions with others.

Our organizations are modeled on the industrial, machine age. Indeed, to some extent our universities and educational paradigms are also. The modern university has its genesis in the middle of the last century when rational, scientific approaches to knowledge began to emerge in all fields and a mechanistic worldview prevailed. Our education prepares us to function in an organization that is mechanical and ordered. However, modern science has long moved from a mechanistic model of the universe to one that is more holistic, more organic–a web of connections. How would our educational paradigm change if we prepared students to function successfully in a living, breathing organism in which everything is connected? The idea of service learning set us on the path to more holistic knowledge.

Management theorists, taking inspiration from the natural sciences, are pointing out that living beings desire greater connection: life seeks partners and membership in larger wholes in order to make more life possible (Wheately & Kellner-Rogers, 1996). By providing ways for students to learn through active participation and partnership with a community group, service learning taps our deepest motivations for the kind of learning which transforms us and our worlds.

Service learning is more attuned than traditional practices to a holistic understanding of the way the world works. Whereas traditional pedagogies are grounded in an understanding of knowledge as a rarified commodity extracted and refined by experts for consumption by amateurs, service learning seeks other grounding in an understanding of the world as interconnected, as a place where knowledge arises out of relationship, engagement, and mutuality. Indeed, service learning brings students into a dialogic relationship with the world. They cannot stand objectively apart from the subjects of inquiry; service entangles students in the social, economic, political complexities of knowing and, in turn, reveals who they are as knowers to themselves and others.

Toward Situated Learning

As universities have matured over the last 150 years, we established a pedagogical approach grounded in the separation of the university from society. At the same time, we espoused the belief that, ultimately, the mission of the university is to improve the world and enable people to live better and more fulfilling lives. The approach to knowledge embedded in higher education has typically involved the assembly of facts and databases, from which theories are derived and applied to society. Following the tenets of modernism and the Enlightenment, this approach insists that knowledge should be sanitized: the world and its confusing problems must be excluded from the processes of knowledge production. Meanwhile, we see that outside the university, there is another orientation, one concerned with the messy problems of life and policies that can be applied to remedy them. Service learning begins to bridge the two worlds and creates the possibility of building a better and a wiser world more rapidly. This approach to knowledge is based on wisdom in conjunction with rational inquiry (Maxwell, 1984; Scott & Awbrey, 1993).

Service learning suggests a fundamental question: are we teaching students simply to play the "game of school" (Resnick, 1987)–to function well within a closed academic system–or are we preparing them for success in the more open learning systems of adult life? We often forget that, after students graduate, they continue learning. They learn in many ways: by doing what matters to them and their communities, by conversing with friends, and by asking questions they want to answer. They may consult subject experts, of course, but such experts are only one type of resource available for forming new knowledge.

From this perspective, service learning provides students with practice in the kind of learning they will undertake once they leave the university. Embedding knowledge in practical contexts, service learning helps overcome the problem philosopher Alfred North Whitehead identified as "inert" knowledge, i.e., information stored in memory but unavailable for application to new situations. Following Whitehead, Eyler and Giles point out that "if knowledge is to be accessible to solve a new problem, it is best learned in a context where it is used as a problem-solving tool" (1999, p. 64). With a strong blend of conceptual learning, experience, and reflection, service learning can help students gain knowledge that is more richly indexed and linked with other learning.

Service learning invites us to broaden our notions of learning and bring new voices into campus discussions of accountability. How well are we preparing students for community engagement? How well are we addressing the pressing questions of the diverse communities around us? Taking the perspective of communities into account can open new dialogue about the purpose of learning: for whom and for what is higher learning? Service learning makes it possible for students to create knowledge of consequence to communities, moving beyond the traditionally passive role of knowledge consumers.

In this light, rather than seeing service learning as a special form of pedagogy, we might view it as a turn toward a more integrated mode of learning that we are beginning to reclaim as we develop an Integrative University.

Service Learning at the University of Massachusetts

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the value of engagement in local communities is central to our land-grant mission. As we become a more integrative institution, we see engagement not merely as helping those outside the campus, but entering into transformative relationships of mutual learning. We value what Rhoads calls "critical community service", i.e., service grounded in reciprocity and reaching toward constructive social change (1997, p. 216). The goals of the service learning program here are indeed transformative:

  • Develop social consciousness, foster civic responsibility and a better understanding of democracy, and develop and nurture the future community leaders of the Commonwealth and the nation;

  • Meet community needs and appropriately connect the University to its communities within the context of the University’s overall outreach efforts;
  • Enrich and enhance classroom-based courses and programs through the process of reflective practice and community-based learning.

At the University of Massachusetts, there is a powerful interrelationship between the three goals. They are complementary, emphasizing the relationship of the university and students to its social ecology. Service learning at the university is understood as a means of transforming lives and organizations.

Program structure

Like other such programs, service learning at UMass grew out of the vision and passion of committed faculty. After several years of growth, the structure of the service learning program is more networked than centralized, more organic than pre-designed. Emerging from different parts of the campus at different moments over the past several years, service learning efforts have connected with each other to form a dynamic system.

The components of the program are detailed below:

  • The Provost’s Committee on Service Learning. This group provides overall leadership for the Community Service Learning Faculty Development program. It is comprised of faculty, deans, other administrators, and graduate students.
  • Service Learning Faculty Fellows Program. As of fall of 2000, there are fifty-six Service Learning Faculty Fellows, faculty members from every school and college who have participated in service learning training and seminars. Fellows are selected by the Provost’s Committee to receive $2000 awards in support of the integration of service into their courses. Fellows meet monthly to discuss shared curricular and pedagogical questions.
  • Faculty Initiated Service Learning Courses. A recent survey indicated that there are close to seventy-five service learning courses offered by faculty each academic year. This list includes courses offered by the Service Learning Fellows.
  • Departmental Fellowship in Community Service Learning. To enhance the influence of the work of individual Faculty Fellows on departmental curricula, a one-year pilot is being tested during the 2000-2001 academic year. Departments were invited to submit proposals for incorporation of service learning as a major departmental learning strategy. Nine departments applied, and two (Communication and Marketing) were selected for funding. Each received about $10,000 to fund faculty release time, a teaching assistantship, or other costs.
  • The UMass Office of Community Service Learning at Commonwealth College. Created as part of the new honors college, Commonwealth College, in the 1999-2000 academic year, and staffed with a full-time director and a group of graduate assistants beginning in the fall of 2000, this office serves to support service learning both within the honors college and across the entire university.
  • University Community Service Learning Resource Center. Housed in the Center for Teaching, the Resource Center is a collection of books, syllabi, faculty reports, student papers, proposals, and other materials on service learning for use by campus faculty and staff.
  • The Citizen Scholars Program. This two-year program, supported by Commonwealth College, includes at least five service learning courses, a minimum of 60 hours of community service in each of the four semesters students are in the program, and a summer service project or community or government agency internship. Fourteen students began the program in fall, 1999, and 16 more joined it in fall, 2000.
  • IMPACT! The First Year Service Learning Community
    To build upon the growing community service movement within high schools, a new initiative was launched in academic year 199-2000. IMPACT!, which is available only to first year students, will aid recruiting by positioning the campus as a place to continue the integration of learning and serving and will serve as a feeder program for the Citizen Scholars program. Students belonging to this learning community live together in a residence hall, take a service learning course together each of their first two semesters, work together to process the role of service in their lives and plans for the future, and design and implement service projects in addition to the service they perform through their courses.
  • Curricular Alternative Spring Break. Led by faculty mentors, student teams travel to American communities (in 2001, rural Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama–and Holyoke, Massachusetts, 20 miles away from our campus) during spring break to engage in direct service with local community development groups as an integral component of a comprehensive academic course. Over one hundred students participated in these trips during the 1998-1999 academic year. The success of the alternative breaks has fostered creative new programs and partnerships. Recent innovations include "reverse alternative spring break" in which high school students from partner communities come to our campus as guests to learn about college life, as well as "alternative summer break," a week-long summer camp for youth in a Virginia community.

Program Development

Service learning took root at UMass Amherst in December of 1993 with the formation of the Provost’s Committee and extensive collaboration between student and academic affairs. The first set of service learning courses emerged in 1994-95, and the program has flourished in recent years. During the 1998-1999 academic year, 1,000 students enrolled in service learning courses offered by Service Learning Fellows and 2,400 students participated in a co-curricular community service activities, offering an estimated 165,000 hours of service to local communities.

With initiatives such as the Service Learning Fellows and Department Fellows programs, UMass has attempted to create conditions supportive of the spread of service learning. It has also maintained a vibrant system at a relatively low cost, thriving on the goodwill, enthusiasm, and extra effort of faculty and staff. In recent years, the program has had a budget of approximately $50,000, which supported publications, memberships, gatherings, faculty grants, and graduate students.

To ensure its sustainability, university resources committed to the program have increased over the past two years. The program made a great stride forward when the Dean of Commonwealth College established service learning as a core value of the college. By centering service learning within the new honors college, the University has affirmed its academic legitimacy and enabled linkages with departments across campus.

Commonwealth College has strongly supported service learning, committing funds to hire a full-time director, as well as providing financial awards for the Citizen Scholars. In 2000-2001, a budget of approximately $50,000 supports the Citizen Scholars Program. Another $100,000 supports the Office of Community Service Learning (with a director and two graduate assistants) and the Departmental Fellows in Service Learning. These resources are currently augmented by Massachusetts Campus Compact, which is providing two VISTAs, and the Corporation for National Service, which has given a "Learn and Serve" grant of $125,000 for support including three additional graduate assistantships and funds to compensate each of four core partners for joint planning and supervision of service learning students.

At the level of executive leadership, the new Vice Chancellor for University Outreach has been appointed, signaling that the idea of service is given the same visibility and administrative focus as research and teaching, although with emphasis on the increasing integration of all three. In order to make service learning an integral part of the university, systemic changes like these are essential.

Another systemic change involves the convergence of learning communities and service learning. Learning communities come in many forms. They may involve a group of students who live together and study issues of common interest; alternatively, learning communities may refer to groups that gather around shared activities such as a student business. In their varied forms, learning communities can be a powerful vehicle for integrative learning, nurturing connections among students and disciplines. Such communities provide practice in working with others, focusing on the social ecology of learning and action. At the University of Massachusetts, one of our goals is to enable every first-year student who would like to join a learning community to do so. At present, about one-third of all first year students belong to some form of learning community. Although service is not yet a standard feature of living/learning communities at UMass, there is interest in this direction and one service learning community has been created.

Ultimately, both learning communities and service learning enable students to live their learning. Rather than centering learning exclusively on an academic discipline, they focus learning around the formation of community. In the future, as we move toward greater integration in our thinking and working, we should always ask ourselves: what are the conditions that support shared inquiry and action? Gathering a community around compelling problems, visions, and ideas, we nurture the roots of life-long and integrative learning.

An Education in Engagement: The Citizen Scholars Program

Among the many outcomes of service learning, one of the most important is a strengthened capacity for meaningful participation in democratic society. If we deeply value social engagement, how might undergraduate education be redesigned to promote both learning and service? What are the elements of a transformed and transformative experience? How do we train leaders for an integrative age?

The Citizen Scholars program at the University of Massachusetts is designed to equip students with a full toolbox for the practice of engaged citizenship. It prepares students to become community leaders who have the commitment, the competence and the experience to solve community problems through citizen action.

The program emerged in 1999, as a response to the limited capacity of the traditional academic course structure to provide students with deeper critical understanding of complex social issues. Although semester-long service learning courses introduced students to local problems, they did not provide opportunities for a variety of service experiences or sustained, systemic analysis of the underlying social and political dimensions of those problems. Students were unable to generate a collaborative project or policy proposal aimed at problem solving. To overcome that limitation, the Citizen Scholars is designed to be a comprehensive leadership development program, enabling students to explore multiple perspectives on complex issues over an extended period within a supportive learning community.

The two-year program includes several related features: 60 hours of community service each semester, five service learning courses, a major research paper, a collaborative service project, and an integrating seminar. These elements are described in further detail below:

  • Courses. Participants take a minimum of five service learning courses. "The Good Society" is the first course and asks students to think creatively and critically about the elements of an ideal society. During the semester, students study and analyze current and past community efforts in the U.S. and abroad to achieve social justice.

In addition to service learning courses offered by departments across campus, students can develop service learning independent study projects in collaboration with a faculty sponsor and community agency that can substitute for one of the courses. "Public Policy and Citizen Action: Leadership in Community Service" is the capstone course taken during the final semester of the program. During the course, students are challenged to develop strategies and skills to enable them to translate their ideals into realistic program in collaboration with others. Part of the course will analyze the failures as well as the successes of programs intended to promote social justice. In each service learning course, students will keep journals reflecting on their service and on its relationship to the course content and classroom discussions.

  • Service. Students are expected to engage in 60 hours of service each semester. The bulk of this commitment can be completed in conjunction with service learning courses. In addition to direct service, the program expects students to participate in intensive "immersion" experiences such as alternative spring break trips. Further, students are encouraged to complete a summer internship, ideally working with the director of a community agency to learn about the challenges of raising funds, recruiting volunteers and trying to meet community needs with a limited budget and staff. Such an internship, combined with four semesters of direct service, gives students a broader perspective on the financial, legal, administrative and public policy aspects of solving community problems and serving the needy.
  • Research paper. East student is expected to prepare and present a paper examining local, state, and national policy related to their community service and to a major public policy concern.
  • Service project. Based on their research and service, teams of three to five students will work with a community agency to identify a project that they can implement. The project is to be designed, implemented and evaluated in close collaboration with a community partner. Alternatively, students may prepare a draft proposal dealing with an issue of social justice in collaboration with a state legislator to be considered by a committee of the Massachusetts House or Senate.
  • Integrating Seminars. Each semester, citizen scholars will participate in a bi-weekly seminar that will both supplement and complement their courses. The seminars have three foci: first, they introduce students to representatives of local community agencies; second, they introduce students to faculty from diverse disciplines who teach about critical social issues; third, students will meet local and state legislators and government officials who can discuss how individuals and groups can influence legislation and government action. In addition, the seminar will give students the opportunity to share perspectives on their individual service assignments and to collaborate on their research and group service projects.

By combining these five features, the Citizen Scholars program offers a unique, comprehensive approach to educate and support students who plan to become effective leaders in community service. According to Citizen Scholars program co-director David Schimmel, "community service will not be an atomized part of the student’s experience but for at least two years will be infused in much of what the student does. The multiple components of the program enable the student to break free of the compartmentalized atmosphere of the University to approach the question of justice and citizenship holistically and consequently much more effectively."

The Citizen Scholars program is distinctive in its integrative approach to educating students for citizen action. By involving students in direct service, indirect service, and policy work, it trains students analytically and practically for effecting change on multiple levels. It makes students aware of the multi-faceted nature of service and helps them find ways to incorporate service within different career paths. Whichever career path they ultimately choose, we expect graduates to be sensitive to the needs of their community and to take a leadership role in mobilizing private and public resources to meet those needs.

Because the citizen scholars program is new, it has not been formally evaluated. Studies of other service learning programs suggest that the program’s goals are realistic. Based on extensive survey data and intensive interviews of students across the country, Eyler and Giles (1999) found that service learning extends students’ abilities to solve complex, unstructured social problems. Experienced service-learning students had far more sophisticated analysis and convincing approaches to change than other students. They were sensitive to the value of community voice, of assessing available resources, and respecting the limitations of action. Unlike some students without service learning experience, they did not espouse a strategy of creating change by simply "telling people what to do." In their study of service learning outcomes, Sax and Astin (1997) also noted gains in students’ understanding of community problems, acceptance of differences, cooperative work, and sense of leadership.

Challenges and Opportunities for Change

One of the most important directions for the program in upcoming years is to strengthen its sense of partnership and reciprocity with the community. The program is thinking carefully, in the words of new director John Reiff, about "how the energy and intellectual resources of the university can be applied to community needs, and how the leadership and wisdom in the community can contribute to the learning and development of students as citizens."

With funding from the Corporation for National Service, the program will have the capacity to nurture core partnerships with local organizations and actively involve them in program development. The question now being asked of agencies is this: how can the University contribute to your work? Through this dialogue and active co-planning, the University intends to better support the objectives of local agencies and provide reliable information about volunteer support from students. The program also is interested in assisting community agencies gain access to university resources, especially research related to pressing concerns, and bringing agencies into discussion of research agendas. The program believes that transformative conversations and actions can occur when faculty and community partners have time to talk together.

Overall, it is important for universities to think more carefully about the conditions of reciprocity they offer to community partners. How does the University acknowledge the costs agencies incur in mentoring our students? How do we honor their role as "community teachers"? How might the vast learning resources of the university–the computer laboratories, libraries, classrooms–become a shared resource for community-wide learning, especially in a digital age in which physical barriers to the movement and storage of information are shrinking daily?

On campus, barriers remain to the wider promulgation of service learning. The endorsement of service learning by the Provost and other academic leaders at UMass has signaled its importance to the faculty. Nevertheless, preparing service learning courses is hard work for faculty, and many wonder how such effort will be evaluated in tenure reviews. In a research-oriented academic culture, service learning has not yet won widespread respect as a valuable form of outreach scholarship. It is interesting to note that the schools and colleges such as education, nursing, and public health are those most deeply engaged in service learning. The more traditional areas of knowledge and the "core" areas of academic inquiry are those that tend to be most deeply involved in the traditional approach that developed over the last centuries. For service learning to continue making inroads, faculty from the higher prestige disciplines must be engaged in the conversation about the social application of knowledge and more integrative, situated forms of knowing.

Another challenge the program faces–a challenge to the entire service learning movement nationally–is recruiting a more diverse group of student participants. Historically, service learning at UMass has been the domain of white students, especially women. For the Citizen Scholars program, it is especially important that different experiences of race, class, and gender enter into the dialogue about the formation of a "good society." The program has worked intensively to recruit men and students of color. Of the fourteen students in the first cohort, 31% were students of color and 21% were male.

Transformative Service Learning for Newcomer Communities

In response to the challenge of diversity in service learning, a highly innovative form of service learning for engaged citizenship has arisen from the Center for Immigrant and Refugee Community Leadership and Empowerment (CIRCLE). This program, known as Students for Education, Empowerment and Development (SEED) links refugee and immigrant students to newcomer youth. The CIRCLE initiative originated in 1994, as a collaboration between three campuses of the University of Massachusetts system, with funding from the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants. The SEED program evolved as an alternative service learning model at UMass Amherst, through the efforts of faculty and graduate students at the Center for International Education. Program staff worked with newcomer undergraduate students and local communities to shape the program and develop courses to institutionalize it within the School of Education.

The SEED program addresses a key problem faced by typical service learning programs: how to attract non-majority students. Rather than assuming identity has no relevance, this program acknowledges that refugee and immigrant students have a different relationship with the institutions and identities of mainstream American higher education than do majority students. The SEED program affirms students’ identities and offers opportunities for intensive sociocultural reflection and engagement with local community issues. As noted by the founders of CIRCLE, "Redesigning a service learning program or course to be relevant and appropriate to immigrant students requires an alternative model that educates and empowers them to become active citizens and builders of their own communities as well as the large society" [italics theirs] (Arches, et al., 1997).

Unlike conventional service learning, this program is grounded in the more radical participatory research and critical pedagogy traditions. Rather than prescribed academic material, students’ lives and the concrete realities of their communities are the subject matter of the courses. Taking an ethnocultural perspective, this program invites students to reflect on issues of identity and cultural values. For many, it is the first time in college they have been able to explore the complexities of bi-cultural or bi-racial identities and the tensions between the demands of their familial cultural traditions and the expectations of mainstream youth culture. They have space to explore their roles as both cultural insiders and cross-cultural mediators. In many other university courses, newcomer youth might be perceived as lacking the "cultural capital" to succeed academically. In the SEED program, however, students’ lived reality becomes a valued source of knowledge and space of action.

Parallel to the focus on identity is an emphasis on mentorship and leadership. In class, students learn the skills of facilitation, conflict resolution, and teambuilding. In the community, they work with youth at local social service agencies to help youth explore their own questions of identity and develop projects such as photographic collections, scholarship funds, and ethnic dance performances.

The SEED program is built upon multiple layers of mentorship and collegial connection. A faculty member mentors a team of graduate students who teach the courses; graduate students mentor the undergraduates enrolled in the courses; the undergraduates mentor local youth, who, in turn, form new layers of relationship with their families and friends. Thus the program nurtures dialogue and learning-rich relationships, affirming that all participants are teachers and learners. In a tightly woven web, the program combines community research, skill building, self-knowledge, and action for social change.


In an integrative age, the educational outcome perhaps most urgently needed is that of wisdom. We believe that service-learning is a powerful means of moving the university toward the cultivation of wisdom. As philosopher Nicholas Maxwell (1984) states:

We urgently need a new, more rigorous kind of inquiry that gives intellectual priority to the tasks of articulating our problems of living and proposing and critically assessing possible cooperative solutions. This new kind of inquiry would have as its basic aim to improve, not just knowledge, but also personal and global wisdom–wisdom being understood to be the capacity to realize what is of value in life. (p. 3)

He goes on to point out that "a basic intellectual task of philosophy-of-wisdom inquiry is to help all of us imbue our personal and social lives with vividly imagined and criticized possible actions, so that we may discover, and perform where possible, those actions that enable us to realize what is of value."

Service-learning enables students to discover what is of value–to themselves and to the communities they serve. It prepares them for public deliberation about complex issues and for taking full responsibility for the well-being of the whole community. When focused on engaged citizenship, as at UMass, service learning can also equip students with the tools of wise action–the insight into identity and the understanding of community dynamics and political processes necessary to take real steps toward the formation of a better and wiser world, and the development of more complete and integrative human beings. These outcomes are, after all, the high purposes of a university and always have been.


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