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Beyond the classroom, into the community

By Melanie Kruvelis, Editorial Page Editor
Published February 11, 2013

“But the fact is, students might be putting more time into this class than any other at the University.”

And when it comes to actually going out to these communities, students and faculty alike realize these classes aren’t exactly a cakewalk.

“It’s a challenge, you know — going out into a community where you don’t understand someone, and they don’t understand you,” said Carole Lapidos, program director for “It’s Great to Be a Girl,” a female-oriented mentorship class sponsored by the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives that pairs Michigan undergrads — or Femtors — with middle school students. “But we really work on preparing our Femtors for their experience, because more often than not, it’s a lot more difficult than they imagine.”

Gearing students up for community engagement isn’t as simple as preparing them for an exam, Waterhouse said. According to Waterhouse, the Ginsberg Center spends a lot of time with students, training them for whatever they might face in their community service.

“We’re not here to go in and save anybody,” Waterhouse said. “Our students get as much out of these experience as anyone else, and it’s important they understand the ins and outs of the community they’re about to enter.”

Lapidos echoed Waterhouse’s sentiments. “IGTBAG doesn’t focus on reaching one particular population. We encourage our Femtors to focus on what they wished they heard in middle school — not just the differences they see in each community.”

Going forward

Though the University currently has no plans to make volunteer service a requirement to graduate, Waterhouse says service-learning experiences will be a priority for administrators going forward.

“Classes with community service components are a particular emphasis under the Third Century Initiative,” Waterhouse said. The initiative, a five-year, $50-million investment in action-based learning, was introduced by University President Mary Sue Coleman in 2011. Focusing on entrepreneurship, study abroad expansion and service-learning, Waterhouse says renewed administrative interest in community service will help expand the reach of the Ginsberg Center.

“Interest in our programs is growing,” Waterhouse said. “Students and faculty are seeing tangible results from our services.”

Some students want to see more of a commitment to community service from the University by adding it as a requirement to graduation similar to LSA’s distribution requirement. Today, the Psychology Department is the only department that requires community service in order to graduate.

“The University should absolutely require community service,” Rheaume said. “You can’t just be an academic when you come here.”

Rheaume paused. “A lecture hall isn’t enough,” she said. “You need to go out and get your hands dirty.”

Robinson cautioned of the challenges that surround organizing these classes as a requirement.

“Setting up the programs is a huge time (commitment),” Robinson said, mentioning the difficulties in coordinating not only with students, GSIs and peer facilitators, but also community organizations. “These classes pay off in the long run. But they don’t come without a serious investment.”