The Last Word
Jim Hunt, Provost of Southwestern University
At Southwestern, placing an emphasis on community-based (or service) learning is not a new concept. Generations of Southwestern students have committed their time and talents to enriching the local community and, in so doing, have enriched themselves and their educational experience. What is new is Southwesterns commitment to ensuring that these experiences are more plentiful, intentional and beneficial to Southwestern students and local communities. Why now? Why has Southwestern chosen to move in this direction at this point in time?
First, there is growing realization in the American higher education community that promoting civic engagement through community-based learning experiences should be an essential element of a college education. The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), for example, says its vision of liberal learning includes a strong focus on developing students civic capacities, their sense of social responsibility and their commitment to public action. Further, AAC&U supports a number of initiatives that help campuses to develop avenues through which students learn about the promise and reality of American democracy and develop a commitment to participating in building more just and equitable communities here in the United States and in the global community. Southwesterns longtime commitment to the practice of community-based learning positions the University at the forefront of this national education movement.
Second, Southwesterns commitment to community-based learning is a direct reflection of our core purpose of fostering a liberal arts community whose values and actions encourage contributions toward the well-being of humanity. It is through their community-based learning activities that Southwestern students begin to understand and fulfill this core purpose. Students learn to apply their rich and rigorous liberal arts education in a manner that serves the community and, in turn, deepens their understanding of the world around them. Nowhere is this more evident than in Southwesterns Paideia program. As one of the five strands of the program, community-based learning is a key feature of the experience engaged by the Paideia Scholars. Some of those experiences have been documented in this issue.
Finally, Southwesterns Strategic Plan for 2010 states that we will be known nationally for providing society with graduates of whom an extraordinary percentage are bright, moral and courageous leaders. What better way to produce bright, moral and courageous leaders than to provide our students with opportunities for community-based learning during their undergraduate years? Through these activities students learn that while their accumulated knowledge will be a key element of their future success, the application of that knowledge in community-based learning activities will help them to actualize our core value of encouraging activism in the pursuit of justice and the common good and will be the essential element in the development of just and equitable communities in the future.
Several years ago, I asked Dr. T. Walter Herbert, University Scholar and holder of the Herman Brown Chair, what attributes characterized the ideal Southwestern graduate. He told me he hoped our graduates would possess qualities that would allow them to be effective community leaders. Such qualities, he said, include being knowledgeable and broadly educated, being able to think critically and analytically about important issues, and possessing a passion for civic responsibility that would cause them to actively seek out meaningful community service.
Southwesterns continued commitment to community-based learning gives our students experiences that nurture this passion for civic responsibility as they grow into the bright, moral and courageous leaders of tomorrow.