Welcome to the first installation of Missouri Campus Compact’s monthly SPOTLIGHT blog! Our goal is to highlight individuals, programs, and initiatives that exemplify service-learning and civic engagement on our member campuses.
For our first SPOTLIGHT piece, we’d like to introduce you to Debbie Corson, Coordinator of Academic Service Learning & Civic Engagement at St. Louis Community College. Debbie has held this position since January of 2013 and has worked in the office for the past 5 years. She actively engages students in civic engagement and service-learning programs and is passionate about creating educational and transformative experiences for them.
We recently asked Debbie to share some of the goals of service-learning, civic engagement, and volunteer programs at STLCC. These are (among others) to enhance student learning by joining theory with experience and thought with action, to promote student retention by helping students feel a part of something larger than themselves, to fill unmet community needs through direct service that is meaningful and makes a difference, to empower students to generously help others while building caring relationships, and to boost student self-esteem and self-confidence.
We asked Debbie to tell us in her own words what she likes best about this position, what draws her to the work and keeps her motivated, and we asked her to describe some of the programs she administers. Her answers are below.
What do you like best about this position? The best part for me in this position is working with students to find the fulfillment of planning and giving service. I find that students generally want to help others and even the ones who don’t like the idea of doing a service learning project often come back to tell me that they ended up loving it. I like the way service changes the lives of students and sometimes the direction of their education. I also love planning events and making connections with people in the community. You just never know where a new idea will merge with the need of a professor.
What program(s) do you administer? In our service learning program we have several approaches to get students engaged. Of course, we have professors that do service learning in its purest form, by having a class project with a community partner. My role with these is one of support, which can be anything from finding a good partner for the teacher and introducing the concept of service learning to the class, to just collecting data at the end of the semester. I also run the Semester of Service program on our campus for Missouri Campus Compact. It has really helped us get more students engaged. I line up several projects each semester based on our seven campus themes and create semester of service calendars to give students lots of options. We also maintain a community partner catalog on line so that students may find projects that interest them. Last year we started a partnership with the United Way of Greater St. Louis called, Service Works. It is a professional development program to give students skills, practice and resources to plan and implement community service. We have turned this program into a club, with the first semester being the United Way training and during second semester students plan a variety of volunteer projects.
What draws you to this work? What keeps you motivated to continue the work?
What draws me and what I like best about the job are similar. The students are number one because I learn so much about their attitudes, curiosity, struggles, and determination. Solving problems and making connections also keep me going. I love hearing the stories of how a service project really made a difference. Helping students see that making a difference in our world can happen in many ways and does not have to be earth shattering is so rewarding!
Please share a few words of advice to inspire those (faculty/staff/students) who strive to enrich their communities through civic engagement and volunteer service: One needs to persevere in this work and try every possible way to get students and faculty involved. If one idea gets knocked down, you just think of a different approach. Think of something that you are passionate about and go for it. If students complain, encourage them to get involved anyway. If faculty members are too busy to do service learning, think of a project that intrigues them enough to take a chance.
Thank you for taking the time to connect with us, Debbie, and for all the inspiring work you do on your campus!
One of the most important pieces of the service-learning/civic engagement “puzzle” on our campuses are the faculty and staff members who implement these programs and administer them to the student body. What would civic engagement look like on your campus if it weren’t for the dedication and passion of these individuals who commit their time and energies to building and sustaining service-learning and civic engagement programs? They work tirelessly as educators, motivators, and organizers and are indeed the backbone of various programs which strengthen the relationships between institutions, students, and the communities they serve. We applaud the efforts of all of the dedicated faculty and staff at our member campuses.